I adore the name of the journal a bunch of friends from school and I created. I love it, not just because it sounds nice, poetic and round as if it softly yet decisively rolled off my tongue. I love it because it holds so much more than 6 letters and one simple meaning, like the most powerful words, it has a history which the Professeur Porphyre beautifully exposed a few months back, and a level of truth that makes it just right.
We are all Gweilos, foreign devils whose pale complexion earned the name centuries ago when light skin generally signified colonialism and brutality. Like so many terms, it went through time, gently polished by the flows of people and the voices of history that ended up turning it into a casual nickname one adopts naturally. The infinitely hopeful particle that remained in my heart in the nearly ten years I’ve spent here pushed and fought, battled with rage and long discourses just so that this word could, in my mind, remain what it had become: a teasing nickname.
I’ve recently realized that this city gave me too much for me to just leave with stars in my eyes and tears on my face at the thought of this precious little pearl of an Island. It gave me too much for me to leave pretending that I haven’t been appalled by the neo-colonialistic attitude so many of the people I interact with every day consistently come back to in an unconscious mission of making the word Gweilo sound petty, cruel and low. You might quite rightfully wonder what exactly it is that I mean by the terms “Neo-colonialistic” and where it starts in my little white mind. You might wonder how someone who has never bothered to learn more than 20 words of Cantonese, lives in Frenchtown also known as Stanley and regularly eats cheese and baguette has the nerve to call others on their way of life. You would be right to pose these questions. You’de be wrong in thinking that they really have anything to do with what being a disrespectful gweilo is.
The fact that one, miles and miles away from their country of origin, remains attached to their traditions is not only “Okay”, it is necessary and is also what makes Hong Kong this beautiful, diverse megalopolis. The fact that people, deem alright to tag obscene symbols on historical monuments, to disregard the members of one of the most prominent faculties in the world because these same members won’t understand the language in which they are being disregarded, made fun of and basically insulted, to laugh at the face of old women standing in crowded buses whilst they comfortably sit and shout in their native tongue, is not only “ Not Okay”, it is outrageous and it is what more or less happens every day, in a form or another.
What perhaps pains me most about this, although this whole mess is confusing and hurtful, is that many of the people committing these different acts of carelessness or cruelty are what one, if set with them in another context, would call “good people”. Exceptions made and out of very specific events, they’re kids that respect their surroundings, that are kind and funny, they’re kids that fuck around because they’re teens, because they’re learning and stumbling like all of us. However, the fact that they behave themselves as they never would in their country of origin, in a way that is not only insulting to our community but to the city that is giving us a shelter, is what we sadly cause ‘casual racism’.
I will probably cry if someone, reading this article has the glorious idea of coming to tell me that gweilos make this city attractive economically and that I should thank the Brits for developing the fragrant harbor. I am not here to embark on a rant on colonialism, its basis and what it left, positively or negatively, nothing is ever all white nor all black. However to these people, I’ll answer that someone working to boost their country’s economy whilst treating locals like people who not only don’t deserve a “hello”, but also can be treated as no one ever wishes to be treated in their entire life for reasons that range from them not physically looking like the foreigners populating their countries, to their language and their tradition, deserves to be sent back to wherever it is they received this disgrace of an education.
We are not at home here. The fact that we aren’t home not only means that we have to be respectful and kind as one should always strive to be, it means that we should go out of our way, and never ever forget how low Gweilo can suddenly sound.