Of Luck and Lottery
As the Chinese New Year comes to a close, I find myself thinking of the things I am fortunate for.
On a regular Saturday morning a month or so ago, I was at a neighbourhood Starbucks with my dad, ploughing through pages and pages of news in my fascination of the weeks’ events. (Such is the joy of reading the news; you never know what you’ll find or, even more beautifully, how it’ll pique you enough to write a blog post about it a month later.)
It was around the time when the Charlie Hebdo incident – along with its branching themes of religion, speech and diversity – was emblazoned across many pages in the major newspapers available at that tiny coffee shop. That particular morning, I was especially intent on forming an opinion on Charlie Hebdo: as a debater and an aspiring journalist, I found it to be in my duty to settle my own thoughts on and (if any) boundaries for the freedom of expression.
But however much the Charlie Hebdo incident deserves a blog post on its own (belated it may be), there was a particular title in the International New York Times that day that struck me as incredibly intriguing:
Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea
As a Korean, I soon found myself engulfed in the text. It was a beautifully written piece on Korean adoptees, now adults, after having been adopted in a time when many Korean single mothers were heavily ostracized for having a child but not a spouse. The story was on a series of adoptees who were adopted by Western parents, and the turmoil they faced in growing up in a world where they were viewed as ‘different’: being called ‘dirty’, being laughed at and not being able to be fully understood by their parents were all experiences that they had to endure.
In the context in which I live, I am technically ‘different’. I live in Hong Kong and I am not Chinese. I can certainly speak Mandarin, but with Cantonese… well, it’s a different story. And the funny thing is, in the grand scheme of life and the many circumstances it orchestrates out of whim, the reason why I am in Hong Kong is almost as arbitrary as why the Korean women in the paper ended up in the States. If my dad hadn’t gotten a job in Hong Kong and instead had gotten one in the US, who knows? I could have ended up as a completely different individual, with a completely different set of values, different kind of personality and different kind of outlook on who I am in retrospect to the rest of the world.
More than anything, I am so fortunate to have grown up in a place where, although I am an ‘alien’, I am not alien enough to merit the kind of explicit discrimination faced by so many people who grow up in places that refuse to be called ‘home’. Because of my Asian ethnicity, I am widely accepted, my presence never questioned and I am never viewed as being very ‘different’ at all. For 12 years I took this for granted. I tell those I meet that growing up in Hong Kong is a wonderful experience – it makes me feel ‘right at home’ – but is this the case with everybody? Am I just standing on the other side of the void? How significant is my skin color to my experience? My cultural values? My upbringing? What if the Korean and Chinese cultures didn’t overlap so much at all?
Touching on these issues, it is important to tie these questions to other experiences unraveling across the globe. Many of the articles centered around the Charlie Hebdo incident were about French Muslim youth who, although they are French in nationality and personal identity, are ‘too Muslim for France and too French for the Arab world’. Undoubtedly, many of them are French in the way I’m not – and cannot be – Chinese, and yet they are treated like complete aliens. Of lottery and luck: is the birth lottery really cruel? Or is it the contexts in which we find ourselves that paint it as such?
As an individual, I subscribe to the latter belief. We are never less fortunate to be what we are, who we are; what defines our experiences as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, ‘native’ or ‘alien’ is really about where we find ourselves in the first place. And for me, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have found myself in a place where I cannot be easily distinguished from the community. Which sounds like a blow to individuality, but human psychology and anthropology all points towards man as a social animal that forms communities, and being an outlier? Well, we’ve seen what dangers that can pose. A shame, but an undeniable truth.
Diversity is great, acceptance is something we must work towards. But sadly, a portion of this ideal remains just that – idealistic. It’s time to realize that the things we should feel most fortunate for are the things we take for granted.