From the Field

Edgar Avina

Saybrook College
YUNA 2016
*Photography by Wong Yam Ling

My visit to Hong Kong was my first time leaving the United States. Wow, was it a plunge! I am still awed by the differences: the attention to punctuality and orderliness, the immaculate subway system, the sheer population density, the seas of high rises, and the rich mix of Eastern and Western culture. Hong Kong is much more vibrant, in sum, than most of the cities I have experienced in America.

I walk away from this experience even more cognizant of the fact that no region of the world is perfect. Hong Kong seems like a near-perfect city at first glance, with vibrant streets, glittering skyscrapers, and a secure status as a premier global destination and hub of commerce. Upon deeper inspection, it is clear that housing shortages, unchecked power concentrated in the upper echelons of society, and mainland China's interventionism are all problems that ripple under the surface.

We all have problems: America in the form of Donald Trump and Hong Kong in the form of Article 23. Nevertheless, I am brimming with hope, for I have met many brilliant Americans, and now have met many incredibly smart and nice Hong Kongers, who cut against the tide of ignorance and hate that seems to be slowly enveloping our world. Thank you for all your hospitality New Asia College. I will never forget it.

Eric Phung

Trumbull College
YUNA 2016
*Photography by Wong Yam Ling

I spent much of my childhood watching films produced in Hong Kong and television shows produced by TVB, Hong Kong’s main commercial television station. Though I grew up in California, I was consistently bombarded by these images of street vendors and by the most popular Cantonese slang that emerged in the heart of Hong Kong. So when I arrived in Hong Kong for the YUNA exchange this past March, I finally got to see the places whose names I had heard time and time again. These were places that always existed strangely close in my imagination and memory: Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon Tong, and Causeway Bay. It felt more like a rediscovery than a first time encounter.

To be diaspora in the “homeland” is to be constantly in search of these vague memories. It is difficult to call them memories because they are often of things I have never actually experienced. Yet there is still a sense of familiarity. The food, the language, the culture. I put “homeland” in quotation marks because homeland is an odd concept for me. My parents were born and raised in Vietnam, but their parents are from Guangdong. And I was very much raised within a lot of Cantonese culture and around many Cantonese speaking people. But I have really had no physical connection with Hong Kong prior to this trip; none of my family members ever settled in Hong Kong. So why did I feel that intimate connection? I suppose that is where the complexity of identity comes in to play, especially the identity of diaspora in the U.S.

That is why I am extremely grateful for the way that the YUNA exchange pushed me to examine my own identity in so many different ways, which aptly falls under this year’s theme of “National Identity and Citizenship.” Our impressively planned stay in Hong Kong allowed us to tackle this theme from a wide spectrum of perspectives. We spoke with eminent people in their respective fields about the political and financial situation in Hong Kong to contextualize the changing sense of Hong Kong identity today. Further, we dissected the myth of a simple national identity by meeting with and taking a look at the different places that expatriates, asylum seekers, domestic workers, and ethnic minorities all occupy in Hong Kong. However, the most fruitful interactions in teaching me and informing me of identity were all through conversations with the New Asia students. The meaningful relationships I fostered with them were without a doubt the most enjoyable part of the exchange for me.

There are many travel programs in college that pretend to promote academic or cultural exchange but are really just an excuse to sightsee and be a tourist. The Yale University New Asia exchange is not one of them. This program consistently exceeded my expectations by giving me a comprehensive, in-depth look at Hong Kong and our theme of national identity and citizenship. Through my two week stay in Hong Kong, this exchange opened up doors to the past, present, and future for me. I reconnected with a fleeting sense of heritage from my childhood and realized the processes of transnationalism that contributed to my own conception of identity. I thought critically about the present situation in regards to shifting notions of national identity in both Hong Kong and the U.S. Perhaps most to my surprise, this brief trip has made me genuinely consider returning to Hong Kong in the future to continue on this journey of encounter, rediscovery, and searching.

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