In Hong Kong, there isn’t much to go on. I realised this during my last days working as a reporter at a local TV station. I’d missed the staff bus that took us from the MTR station to our headquarters in the Tseung Kwan O industrial area. Reluctantly, I boarded the public bus, which always reeked of sweaty construction workers. That’s when I saw Nala for the last time. She was my Chinese-language reporter colleague who was born non-Chinese. Years before I started working at the station, whenever we saw Nala speak impeccable Cantonese on TV, Mom would encourage me, “If she can do it, so can you”.
My Chinese is good enough for me to translate it into English, but I struggle to put a “So-and-so will be speaking at our seminar tonight” into comprehensible Chinese. Nala, however, did not equate success with language skills. “People will always see me as the brown girl who speaks perfect Cantonese before they regard me as a journalist. Do you know what my beat is?”
Politics? She’s been to a number of rallies. Housing, maybe? Or Guangzhou—Nala was always stationed in Guangzhou. “Of course you’re good at something…” I beamed unconvincingly. I’ll admit—I was guilty of seeing her as the brown girl who spoke perfect Cantonese, but that’s only because I admired how she’d nailed a language I was born to master but somewhat failed. Nala was also one of the few colleagues who stopped to break things down for me when I shook my head dumbly after spending 15 minutes pretending to understand what exactly was wrong with the government. When she asked me what was next for me, I told her I wanted to be a writer. “That’s wonderful!” Nala looked so impressed I was certain I would disappoint. “In a place where we’re constantly expected to evolve, people need to be reminded of how they got from Point A to Point B. People need to hear stories about themselves.”
Thanks, Nala. No pressure at all.