25 October 2016
Mainlanders in the city find themselves caught in a hostile environment when cross-border relations sour, but going back to the old way of life in their hometowns may no longer be an option. Photo: NetEase
Mainlanders in the city find themselves caught in a hostile environment when cross-border relations sour, but going back to the old way of life in their hometowns may no longer be an option. Photo: NetEase

Why Hong Kong drifters feel like aliens to their hometowns

Walt Disney’s 3D animation blockbuster Zootopia may have stricken some chord among non-locals in Hong Kong.

When Judy Hopps, an unsophisticated rabbit from rural Bunnyburrow, makes a beeline for the nearby metropolis Zootopia to fulfill her childhood dream, those with equally humble origins who hail from sleepy towns on the mainland find it easy to identify with the movie.

How they started drifting into Hong Kong was more or less the same: their maiden trip to the city was hardly for pleasure or shopping but was the result of an offer from a local university.

As the novelty of the sights and sounds of the metropolis fades, these mainland students bury themselves in books and dissertations in the hope of finishing the course and earning a university diploma.

And when they leave the university, they remain basically what they were before and seldom do they develop any affectionate ties with the city.

But they begin to change and delve deeper into the place when they opt to stay on a little longer after graduation. For what reason? Probably stubbornness. Probably because they’ve gotten used to life here.

And before long some of them become journalists, apprentice solicitors, or insurance sellers, and some even start their own business.

Just like all other wage-earners in the city, Hong Kong drifters need to shed the complacency of college life and gain stamina to survive the urban jungle.

Otherwise, they can stay muddle-headed and listless and let time show the way.

Fast-forward to the seventh year of their stay in the city, when they are eligible for the right of abode, and these drifters may have developed some common traits.

They fancy a cosmopolitan lifestyle, including all the materialistic trappings and the whirlwind romance that come with it. 

Brought up in grassroots families, they despise cronyism and flattery and cherish the city’s level playing field.

These drifters probably stand a little chance of beating the “second-generation rich” and other city elites, but they believe smarter and richer people work even harder. Their motto becomes “You thrive when you strive.”

Staying on in Hong Kong is their biggest bet in life so far and thus they constantly need a reason to remain here, and the longer they are adrift in the city, the less likely they will return to their old way of life.

Even with profound political apathy, they don’t want Hong Kong to lose its glow and freedoms and be absorbed by the mainland. Otherwise, if that happens, their resolve to remain in the city will be deprived of any meaning.

That is exactly why they now feel like aliens to their hometowns.

They spurn the ideology still prevailing in the mainland that a government job is an iron rice bowl or currying favor with your boss is more important than work ethic and conscientiousness.

They also dread to be swallowed by the whirlpool of intrigues and gossips in many firms and institutions north of the border.

They won’t become accustomed to a stagnant job that entraps their mind, nor will they speak the same language with their townsfolk who may be parochial in thinking and like to stick to their small comfort zones.

In a nutshell, they’d rather keep wandering as the boredom and fetters of life in a small town will surely destroy them.

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Read more:

War of words on PolyU’s ‘democracy wall’

‘Goodbye and good luck’: A mainlander’s farewell message

To stay or not to stay: Dilemma of mainland grads in HK

Profound bashing and bickering notwithstanding, Hong Kong still attracts an endless stream of mainland students. Photo: Internet

Hong Kong drifters value the city’s level playing field, something that is still largely absent even in major cities on the mainland. Photo: NetEase

Hong Kong’s work ethic and lifestyle have effectively made the city’s drifters, especially those who hail from the mainland, feel like aliens to their hometowns. Photo: Initium Media

EJ Insight writer

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