“The Dark Room” by Leo Lau

(Part of) the proud production team

*’Ethnic Minority’ refers to a group within a community with different national and cultural traditions from the main population. In Hong Kong, the term ‘Ethnic Minority members’ refers to citizens whose origins are in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other subcontinental Asian countries.

The phrase ‘dark room’, linguistically speaking, is polysemous—a literal ‘dark room’ filled with unpleasant darkness, or a ‘dark room’ where photographers produce marvellous polychromic pictures.

For me, this analogy best describes the relationship between the majority of Ethnic Chinese and Ethnic Minorities (EMs) in Hong Kong—gloomy like a literal dark room because of the bitter hatred that stems from inadequate mutual understanding, but at the same time also enchanting, inspired by the exotic cuisines and exciting dancing moves shown in Bollywood films.

It seems that most of us have put the emphasis on the excitement, while neglecting the colourlessness of the struggle minorities face in their everyday life. One of my former students, who is now a very good friend, came up with this idea, along with her friends, of a ‘social experiment’—instead of us spoon-feeding people on the difficulty of the everyday lives of members of Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong, we want participants to experience it themselves.

Eventually, we agreed on the composition of a ‘tour’ with four scenarios where Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong find it difficult to cope with, namely language education (Chinese/Cantonese), job hunting, choosing appropriate food, and language discrimination. A discussion takes place after the completion of the tour, allowing the participants to share their views on the issues raised during the experiment and thus, prompting them to reflect on how we may take an initiative to help this somewhat isolated group integrate to the city.

Judging from their reaction, the part that struck the participants most was the one relating to language discrimination. Ah Cha (呀差) is a colloquial expression most often used to refer to Ethnic Minority members from South Asian Countries. The cha (差) is perhaps an allusion to their sense of inferiority, presuming that all citizens under the tag ‘EMs’ are low in status and ability. Many in the majority are unaware of how hurtful this slur might be for members from the minority groups, however tongue-in-cheek it might be intended, and this deepens the misunderstanding between the two groups.

To let our Chinese participants experience the scenario, we thought of addressing them Kong Charn (港燦), a comparably similar quip, belittling the status of Hong Kongers. As expected, the participants all took offence, showing an outraged expression, questioning ‘why did you say this to me? I have never done anything against you!’

You might say we are overly politically correct, absurd maybe, in promoting ‘correct speech’—Come on! It is just a joke after all and don’t take it personally. Perhaps we all consider such ‘jokes’ offensive because they are not at all accurate. Put ourselves into the shoes of others, we don’t feel right with bombardment of ‘jokes’ describing something that we are not on a daily basis. Even if we don’t feel accused, we don’t feel good either—it is just too annoying to have someone repeatedly making fun of you over the same notion.

We all are grownups. Even when we were young, our parents always taught us to think twice before passing comment on others. We can promote civility in society only if we all pay attention to the real meaning of the words we say, bridging the gap between one group of people and another. After all, we were all born equal, without boundaries.

To make the minority in our society feel wronged in a dark room, or to fill our friends’ lives with flying colours, nothing but being mindful of what we utter, will make a huge difference.

Rubina, host of the experiment, gave an overview on the everyday
life of Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong.
Hassan, one of the tour participants who got insulted
during the tour badly, shared his bittersweet experience
of being offered a row of seats on the MTR because of his
skin colour.
A snapshot in the ‘classroom’ scenario,
where participants are taught Urdu, the
official language of Pakistan in an
unreasonably fast pace, portraying the
absurdity and outrageousness of language
policy in Hong Kong in the eyes of Ethnic
Participants engaged in the discussion after
the tour, sharing their feelings on their
verbally-shamed experience.


LeoA self-proclaimed ‘ethnic minority activist, Leo Lau is completing a BA in English & BEd ELT. [Read all entries by Leo here.]

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