Gurung Sher Bamadur, whose father was a Gurkha, was born in Hong Kong in 1967. He was the only one in the family who was born here.
Bamadur grew up in Nepal and returned to the territory in 1994 when he was 27.
Since he only knew a little English and did not speak Chinese, he could only find work at construction sites. Fortunately, in those years before the handover, there were a lot of infrastructure projects.
He was among the hundreds of workers who built Tsing Ma Bridge, Tai Lam Tunnel, Ting Kau Bridge and Hong Kong International Airport.
Later, Bamadur decided to move his family to the city. After saving enough money, he and a few friends and relatives opened a Nepalese restaurant.
“My children were so young and I often had to visit either the hospital or the Immigration Department. If I continued working in construction, I wouldn’t have time to do other things. That’s why I decided to put up a restaurant.”
As a father of five, Bamadur became busy looking for suitable schools for his children. His eldest daughter and third son continued their studies in Nepal. But his second and fourth daughters urgently needed to enter primary school. The problem is looking for one that caters for ethnic minorities.
“My friend has nine kids, and they all went to Delia School of Canada, where English is the medium of instruction. I went there, but they had no places available. My children stayed at home for 18 months.”
One day, the principal and some teachers of a local Chinese school, Yuen Long Long Ping Estate Wai Chow School, had lunch at Bamadur’s restaurant.
When the principal, Lau Ming-kei, learned of his problem, he offered him to send his daughters to his school.
“I had made up my mind to send my daughters to Nepal, but a civil war was raging there and schools were suspended.”
He was very grateful for Lau’s offer, but he was hesitant to accept it because his daughters didn’t speak Chinese.
At the same time, he thought of his own situation. “Living in Hong Kong for quite a few years, I felt frustrated about not being able to communicate with the locals. When I went to the wet market, for example, everything was written in Chinese. Our chefs were not locals and they often had to renew their visas at the Immigration Department; communication was so difficult.
“Then I started to ponder, some of my children must learn the Chinese language and the local culture. Only then could the two cultures blend. If my children master Chinese, they will be able to find a job here in Hong Kong. Not only will my family benefit, but also the Nepalese community and society as a whole.”
Back in the 1990s, it was was a bold and unusual decision for a Nepalese to send his children to a Chinese school. Not everyone agreed, and even Bamadur was having doubts in the beginning.
His Nepalese friends thought it was a crazy decision because Bamadur had enough money to support his girls’ studies in an English school.
Bamadur was also heartbroken, seeing his children getting so tired and frustrated trying to learn a foreign language and attending extra Chinese lessons to keep up with the schoolwork.
His family fully supported his decision, however, and so did his brother in Switzerland. Principal Lam also paid frequent visits to his home, explaining the girls’ learning progress.
It didn’t take long for Bamadur to realize that he made the right decision. While strolling down the street one Lunar New Year evening, his daughter showed off what she had learned so far by reading aloud to him the Chinese shop signs along the way.
After a few more years, his daughters became fluent in Cantonese and managed to keep up with their Chinese studies. He also enrolled his youngest son in the same school.
Seeing the success of the two girls, Bamadur’s Nepalese friends started entertaining the idea of sending their kids to the same Chinese school.
His daughters continued their studies in a Chinese secondary school. Upon graduation, they told him that they wanted to pursue their studies in the United Kingdom. So Bamadur decided to close the restaurant and started getting ready to transplant his family to a new environment.
However, in the end, Bamadur only sent his girls to the UK, while the family stayed in Hong Kong.
“Though I am a British citizen with a UK passport, Hong Kong is my second home in which I feel comfortable,” he explains. “If we move to the UK, it wouldn’t be easy as we have to adapt to a new environment and we have to start all over again.”
Bamadur’s girls also decided to return to Hong Kong after their studies. “They both said studying in the UK was good. But people in the workplace were not so friendly.”
Their competence in Chinese and Nepalese comes in handy for the family. The girls are often called upon to act as interpreters when Nepalese relatives want to communicate with government personnel.
In the meantime, Bamadur is always kept abreast of the latest local news and information.
Few Nepalese are as enthusiastic as Bamadur in reading Chinese newspapers and watching local news channels, even though he can only understand simple characters and use simple Cantonese in daily conversations.
“Why don’t we all make the effort to understand Hong Kong Chinese culture and traditions?” he asks.
“Living in Hong Kong, I feel obligated to look after the others. Being ethnic minorities, I believe we have the responsibility to understand the place we live in and know what’s going on in the city.”
Speaking of the changes in Hong Kong, Bamadur believes that the younger generation of Hong Kong people are more open-minded and willing to accept people of a different ethnic background.
More people from the ethnic minorities are also able to understand and speak Cantonese.
Bamadur hopes that Hong Kong can become a truly international city with no language barriers.
Despite the soaring cost of living, Bamadur still considers Hong Kong the best place to live and work, and he has no plans to return to Nepal.
Currently working as a driver, he is thinking of reopening his curry house. But it is more difficult to do so now because of the higher costs.
“Back then my curry was sold for HK$25 per dish. But now the meat and veggies are so expensive, I can’t offer it at that price. My wife and daughters are also looking for place to open a store, but the rent is too high.”
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 17.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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