OPINION: A Lesson in Expat-Bashing, or #expatbratproblems

French children at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2011. (Photo: Stefan Lins via Flickr)

 

Chop suey, chop suey!
Mixed with all the hokum and bally hooey,
Something real and glowing grand,
Sheds a light all over the land.

 
 – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song

 

The South China Morning Post has yet again proved their prowess regarding the ingenious use of irking its readers by hitting far too close to home in order to drive more traffic towards its paywalled website.

The article “Expat Brats: The Sad By-products of Colonial Hong Kong Society“, published in last Sunday’s Post Magazine and penned by “expat”, historian and regular Post columnist Jason Wordie, damningly declares the offspring of expatriates in Hong Kong or “Third Culture Kids (TCKs)” as “emotionally shallow […] serial hypocrites [with a] chillingly utilitarian attitude”. 

Indeed the development of this alleged “expat brat syndrome” is among the numerous sad byproducts of the colonial era, which include roads named after British PMs, rampant bureaucracy and binge drinking. 

Who is Wordie kidding?

His polysyllabic diatribe fails to provide any empirical evidence for his claim that this “privileged” demographic is among the most likely to develop drug and alcohol addiction, cannot speak a word of Cantonese and are raised by a “revolving-door cavalcade of transient ‘helpers’”. 

Not a word mentioning the affluent Chinese parents who cart their sons and daughters abroad at an early age to boarding school. But that’s another story.

The SCMP swiftly launched another article documenting the online reaction to the piece in a half-handed attempt to further this non-debate. TIME’s senior editor Liam Fitzpatrick hit the nail on the head when he called Wordie’s piece a “personal vendetta”.

This begs the question – aside from “Which ‘expat brat’ rubbed him the wrong way?” – of: “Where does this stereotype of the ‘expat brat’ stem from?”

As the child of an expat mother and a mainland Chinese father, I was raised and educated in the city from birth. From Wordie’s perspective I also hold the “grave misfortune” of having attended an international school (ESF as it happens). 

Perhaps Wordie has a point. A melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and languages taught a curriculum that encourages diversity in all subjects is undoubtedly to blame for my achievements and failures in life. 

His article’s bitter conclusion that those who remain in the city turn into nothing more than superficial shells relying on “alumni networks”, however, left rather an acidic taste in my mouth:

“All the more pitiable they are for having enjoyed, at one time, the highest level of privilege”.

What “privilege” is he referring to? I do not recall owning a yacht or a chauffeured car. Though perhaps my parents’ “underlying prejudices”, as Wordie puts it, includes the reduction of carbon emissions. 

Yesterday’s RTHK “Backchat” featured a roundtable discussion which revealed that most regard the upbringing of TCKs as successful. Wordie’s absence on the programme was proclaimed by the host as “work-related”, although he apparently insisted he would be more than up for a “fight”. 

I admit I suffered from being unable to speak Cantonese fluently, and Wordie is correct when he briefly touches upon the “transient” relationships that are formed in the city. But this is not unique to Hong Kong. 

London, New York, L.A., Berlin – in any of these cities you will more than likely find a TCK living, working and making their mark. Integration is not simple. If we do ever decide to “drift” back to our hometown, we will not live “marginally” but fully and whole-heartedly. 

Since Wordie so aptly quoted musical veterans Rodgers and Hammerstein, I feel obliged to return the favour. From a R&H classic “Flower Drum Song” which tells the story of Chinese immigrants in the USA: 

 

Living here is very much like ‘Chop Suey’

Multi-cultural, frenetic, frustrating and confusing at times (particularly when no one can clock your accent), but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you would like to have your say about Jason Wordie’s words, tell us your #expatbratproblems on Twitter.

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