Hong Kong minorities ‘marginalised’ in school

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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are “marginalised” by the education system, says a university study.

It found children of minority families do not get enough support to learn Cantonese – putting them behind in school and causing long-term problems in the jobs market.

Read the whole story on BBC News here.

Sacred or Sham: Interfaith marriage in the Sikh community

My husband and I had a Sikh marriage ceremony (Anand Karaj) in a Gurdwara in Hong Kong earlier this year.

Clinging tightly to the ends of the red cloth draped between us, we walked around the Guru Granth Sahib four times.


Photo: Davinder Chohan / Chohan Photography

With each round, a verse detailing the soul’s journey towards God was read aloud.

But according to guidelines recently released by the Sikh Council UK, some might consider our wedding to be a sham, as I’m not a Sikh.

Based on the Sikh code of conduct, the Sikh Rehat Maryada of 1932, the guidelines advise: “Persons professing faiths other than the Sikh faith cannot be joined in wedlock by the Anand Karaj ceremony.

Yet many Sikhs feel that this form of Sikhism is a hard line version of the faith they hold dear.

Sikh scholar Davinder Singh Panesar says, “Sikh teachings don’t see faith as a differentiator, but as something that enables people to come to common ground, common humanity.”

Guru Nanak, who founded the faith, emphasised heavily on the ‘oneness of humanity’.

“If the Gurus don’t accept division in faith, caste or gender, why is it being enforced on the Sikh community? It doesn’t make sense and contradicts Sikh teachings,” Davinder echoes.

Many of Sikhism’s practices are aimed at bringing equality to all types of people.


“Recognise all of mankind as a single caste” – Guru Gobind Singh Ji

In every Gurdwara’s langar hall, where visitors are served food, everyone must sit on the floor as equals, regardless of their background, wealth or status.

Every Sikh is given the surname Singh, for men, and Kaur, for women, in an attempt to reduce the long-standing practice of caste discrimination.

Guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th Guru, was executed for opposing the Mughal’s forced conversion of Hindus to Islam.

Non-religious option

Retired civil servant Gurmukh Singh, who was invited by the Sikh Council to comment on the guidelines, believes that people of different faiths are on different religious ‘ladders’.

“Though a non-Sikh can understand the universal teachings of Gurbani (compositions of the Gurus) and also those of other religions; they are on their own chosen religious ladder.”

According to Gurmukh, the Sikh Council’s guidelines don’t oppose interfaith marriages, only against them happening in Gurdwaras.


Sri Guru Singh Sabha, the largest Gurdwara in London. Photo: bethmoon527/Flickr

“The alternative of a civil marriage is there. If they are so compelled by their residual faith in religion, both sides can visit each other’s places of worship,” he explains.

Rachel and Iqbal Channa from London decided to do exactly this for their wedding.

“Neither of us sees ourselves as religious so we knew we didn’t want a religious ceremony,” Rachel explains.

The couple had a civil marriage ceremony in 2012 at Pinewood Studios in Slough.

A few months before, close family gathered with them in a Gurdwara, as prayers were read for the couple’s wellbeing.

Love bridges the cultural divide for Rachel and Iqbal, “It’s not really a big issue for us. Perhaps it makes things a bit more complex, but I’ve learnt so much.


Minority faith

The Sikh Council guidelines propose that if a non-Sikh adopts Sikhism, the Gurdwara should assess their genuine intention to follow the faith.

But journalist and author Sunny Hundal, who grew up in a Sikh family, feels that this is hypocritical and discriminatory.

“Many Sikhs wear a turban and grow their hair for the ceremony and then cut it off the day after. But the Gurdwaras turn a blind eye to that.”

Some non-Sikhs are in the process of learning about the Sikh faith, like myself.

“The definition of a Sikh is a student, someone who is learning, who is on the way to enlightenment, through self-discovery, ethical work and selflessness,” Davinder explains.

Confident that the guidelines will provide clarification, helping to protect Sikh values, Gurmukh says:

“There are certain core socio-religious values of communities which should be defended. The married life of a householder, and bringing up of children in a harmonious one faith environment.”

But Davinder feels that the guidelines have had a negative affect, “It has divided the Sikh community, misrepresented Sikh teachings and will inevitably risk disenfranchising many in the coming generations.”

Davinder and his wife Shanta had an Anand Karaj in a Gurdwara, although Shanta was born to a Christian Mother and a Hindu Father. She has gone on to be ‘baptised’ into the Sikh faith and bring her children up as Sikhs.

Sunny is certain that the guidelines are pushing people away from the faith.

“If no Gurdwara is willing to host the religious ceremony, the couple will undoubtedly feel that the Sikh community has ex-communicated them. What are the chances they will now bring up their children as Sikhs? If you have a minority faith, you should be integrating, not turning people away.”


Though my husband and I aren’t devoutly religious, we do plan to keep the Sikh faith at the core of our children’s upbringing.

My acceptance into the community has been reflected in the warmth of my family-in-law, showing the exact love and kindness that made me fall in love with Sikhism to begin with.

Hong Kong refugee welfare changes ‘disappointing’

Reugees sit on a ledge overlooking the city

Photo: SoCo

Long-awaited welfare changes to affect thousands of refugees, have come into effect today in Hong Kong. 

Increases in rental and food assistance, utility expenses and help with rental deposits are among the improvements.

But the policy still doesn’t include the right to work, even after residing in the city for a long period of time.

A Central African lawyer-turned-charity worker, who came to Hong Kong to seek asylum in 2004, is among many who say it’s not enough. 

Robert, who fled civil war and persecution in his country, says, “It’s not at all enough. In fact, in Hong Kong there’s no way you can get a room for HK$1500. It’s just a kind of cave, a place where you put your bed, nothing more.”

The value of the food bag given to refugees and asylum seekers, three to six times a month, has increased to HK$1200, working out at HK$13 per meal (£1 / US$1.7).

Financial help towards utilities has gone up a mere HK$40, though research from the Refugee Concern Network shows that 88% of refugees are unable to afford the utilities they require.

African migrants

Photo: J.Castle

Somali journalist Ibraahim Jeekey, who claimed asylum in Hong Kong around 5 months ago, says, “If I tell you the truth, 5 months and above, I am not calling my children. So I don’t know if they’re alive or dead. But the problem is that you cannot get $1 in Hong Kong to buy a [phone] card.”

The Government argues that their assistance to refugees is aid, not welfare.

But Albert Ho, democratic legislator and member of the panel on Welfare Services, explains that, “The Government says they don’t want to send a signal to the outside world that Hong Kong welcomes refugees.”

“In other words, if you want to come [here] you have to lead a very difficult life. It’s inhuman, it’s uncivilised.”

The Hong Kong Government set a poverty threshold in late 2013.

Cosmo Beatson, co-founder of refugee advocacy group Vision First, says, “the previous refugee welfare package oppressed them at 37% below that rate. And even with the increase, they remain at 20% below the poverty rate.”

Julee Allen, manager of Christian Action in Hong Kong, explains, “they struggle they really do. I see people who come and sell their belongings, their jewellery, piece by piece, to bring in a bit of additional income.”

The waiting game

The People’s Republic of China signed the Refugee Convention in 1951. But it was never extended to include Hong Kong, which currently has no refugee laws.

The city signed the Convention on Torture in 1992, yet has a near to zero acceptance rate.

Asylum claims are currently assessed by the UNHCR before a decision is made by the Immigration Department, who also deal with torture claims.

As a result, both asylum seekers and torture claimants often wait many years for a decision to be made on their status.

Research by the Refugee Concern Network shows that 13% of asylum seekers wait 7-8 years and 29% wait more than 9 years.

Ibraahim says, “Here is a community of 75 Somalis living in asylum. Really they become crazy because they sit here in the same place for 3 years, 4 years, 7 years.”

Photo: BillyHCKwok

Photo: BillyHCKwok

“Your pockets are empty. Really we are sleeping and eating only. We go to the mosque to pray, and we go to our home.”

Currently, around 1,900 asylum seekers and 4,200 torture claimants are still awaiting decisions on their claims, according to the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre (HKRAC).

“We see a lot of depression from the months and years of waiting. The people we see are former professionals. Not being able to work is enormously demoralising,” Julee explains.

“They want to give back to Hong Kong, but the laws set up around their status forbid it. They can’t work, they depend on the state, they’re not even allowed to volunteer.”

Neither recognised refugees or asylum seekers are allowed to work in the city, and face 22 months in prison for taking part in work illegally.

Cosmo points out that, “Robbery in Hong Kong, gets 7-8 months [in prison], for prostitution you get 2-3 months, so these policies are actually forcing criminality.”

Most other countries that accept refugees allow them to work if a decision hasn’t been made on their status after a year. But refugees in Hong Kong can wait 10 years or more in limbo.

Photo: BillyHCKwok

Photo: BillyHCKwok

A right to dignity

A case being heard at Hong Kong’s highest court includes three recognised refugees and one successful torture claimant, who are fighting for the right to earn a living

All of them have been in Hong Kong for more than 10 years.

If successful, the outcome of the hearing may be a watershed moment for refugees and asylum seekers in the city, allowing many more in desperate situations to work.

Mark Daly, the lawyer who is fighting the case, says, “The arguments that we’re running are based on basic law and the International Human Rights Convention – the right to privacy and the right to avoid cruel and degrading treatment.”

“So it’s really an indicator of how far Hong Kong courts will go to uphold human rights.”

At the discretion of the Director of Immigration, Robert was recently granted the right to work and spends his days helping other refugees in need.

“I have recovered part of my dignity and my privacy.  I really felt lost on one hand, and on the other hand I was feeling useless. Because I couldn’t get any opportunity to use my talents, my energy and my strength.”

“The Government should think how they can make use of this community. Among them there are many talented people and they can contribute to society in Hong Kong.”

Belly of the Tantra (Review)

This revelatory documentary by Indian filmmaker Pankaj Purohit will keep you on edge as it unveils some of the most rarely seen moments of Hindu cult rituals.

Pankaj Purohit and producer Babita Modgil travel to the different parts of rural India and Nepal that are inhabited by a secretive, ancient cult, seeking the reasoning behind their egocentric mentality and “primal” ways.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 14.05.06

The film explores the life of a mysterious and eccentric group of people, the Aghori, whose ancient traditions challenge the modern perception of morality.

The Aghori are part of a Hindu sect who worship Shiva, known to dwell in cremation grounds and believed to have a spiritual connection to the dead. The majority of the Aghori population are sadhus (holy men), who have many devout followers and believe that they are all-powerful – even able to raise the dead.

“They have no boundaries,” says Pankaj, “they try to live outside modern society’s boundaries, they are limitless.”

Cannibalism, vagina worship, animal and even human sacrifice are common practice for this group of mysterious Sadhus. And not a frame of vivid imagery short, it’s no surprise this film is censored in India.

Their practices are illegal by Indian law, but deep into the Indian wilderness, far from any governmental control, these people can continue their ways.

An unbound approach

The director’s intentions for the film were of a curious nature, searching for understanding, rather than to expose controversial rituals that continue in modern India.

“I tried to go into the filming with an open mind, without all my preconceptions of what’s right and wrong,” explains Purohit.

Belly of the Tantra was made Gonzo-style, reeling the film crew and director into many of the rituals. “We had to drink with them, smoke what they were smoking and do what they were doing, otherwise they would have suspected us,” Purohit says.

As an artist more than a documentarian, Purohit wasn’t bound by journalistic principles, giving the film complete freedom to delve deep into this sensitive topic. This artistic license is reflected in the piece’s editing style, as well as narration style.

The film’s UK Premiere was this month’s Cine Rebis Underground Film Festival at the Horse Hospital in Russell Square, London, where its full, uncensored version received much support.

The director’s next piece will expose the use of cheap, hormone-inducing drugs on child prostitutes in India.

Propaganda desensitizes Iranian public to Baha’i persecution

Bahai house of worship

Baha’i House of Worship, Delhi, India.

Daily discrimination against Baha’is in Iran continues as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad convinces the Iranian population of the Religion’s attempt to undermine the State…

Read more: http://digitaljournal.com/article/347047#ixzz2PLqeSvVR

Pakistani Film Addresses LGBT Rights

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights are almost non-existent in Pakistan. Certain sexual activities are still punishable by life imprisonment, and same-sex relationships are harshly shunned. But one film has made an attempt to address the society’s attitude towards this.

Bol (2011), directed by Shaoib Mansoor, is a courageous film about a girl on death row. She tells her sorrowful story to the crowd before she dies, and unravels every piece of Pakistan’s social tapestry and it’s problems.

The film addresses many of the social issues in Pakistan, including capital punishment, domestic abuse, misogyny and honour-killing. The heart-wrenching plot includes the struggle of Saifi, a young eunuch coming to terms with his identity in a country where it is still taboo to be homosexual.

The actor who played Saifi talks about his role as a eunuch:

Documenting Lives

Another brave director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, co-director of the award-winning documentary Saving Face, has addressed LGBT rights in her Channel 4 documentary Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret. Disowned by their families, begging on the street and heckled by society, the film shows the lives of this alienated group in Pakistan.

Diversity on the Rise

multicultural britainmixed race uk

The world is becoming an unavoidably interconnected place.

People from opposite ends of the social spectrum now often come into contact.

Social boundaries are ever-changing, and though cultural barriers are still enforced in some instances, they are being broken down in others.

Many of us have become something we label as ‘global citizens,’ our identities made up of a complex combination of ethnicities, nationalities, religious beliefs and cultural practices.

No longer is a Brit necessarily Caucasian by ethnicity. And though rarely heard of, a Chinese citizen may not necessarily be of Chinese ethnicity in today’s world.

A result of all these things is an increase in people of mixed ethnicities – mixed race people.

Now the largest and fastest growing ethnic group in the UK, were we all to be bunched together.

Even if those who deem themselves as purely of one ethnic group look deep into their origins, it’s nearly impossible that they wouldn’t have mixed ethnic lineages somewhere down the line.

Hong Kong: Party Town

A perfect mix of traditional and modern, Hong Kong is a city that celebrates ancient Chinese festivals in its own style. This article that I wrote for Asian Geographic Passport magazine includes some of the things that go on around this time of year in the metropolis.

Reconstructing Beauty: ‘Saving Face’ in Pakistan

Battery acid doesn’t leave much of a face behind apart from two holes for a nose, and if they’re lucky the sight in one eye might be saved.

This is the harsh reality for the many people, mostly women, who suffer acid attacks in Pakistan. There were 150 attacks counted in 2011, which was nearly double the number in the previous year.

Academy award-winning documentary ‘Saving Face’ takes a brave look at the women who have lived through the trauma of acid attacks and the uphill struggle to bring their attackers to justice.

The story follows the courageous British-Pakistani plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad as he travels to Pakistan to try and reconstruct some of the acid attack victims’ faces. He helps them to treat the pain, heal their wounds and gain enough confidence to step into the world again.

Acid Attacks

Throwing battery acid or setting alight to acid have become common methods of attack in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, where the acid is cheap and readily available for farming purposes. Cases are also increasing in Thailand, Cambodia, Uganda and Colombia.

The number of people who actually die from the attacks are very low, but the victims are scarred for life and forced to hide from society.

Those who carry out the acid attacks, who are often husbands or other family members, try to pin the blame on the victims for bringing dishonour to the family in some way.

One particularly sad case saw a 15 year-old girl killed by acid by her parents, claiming that she looked too much like a boy.

Honour-based crimes, that happen predominantly in South Asian and Middle Eastern countries, have been the cause of forced marriages, honour-killings and increasingly acid attacks.

Though Pakistan passed laws making violence against women illegal, the full Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act is still in draft form.

Bangladesh, which used to be infamous for its high acid attack numbers, has managed to dramatically reduce incidents. In 2002, it tightened acid storage, use and sale regulations. The attackers’ punishments can be around 40 years in prison without bail, and since the law was passed, acid attacks have reduced by 15% per year.

Behind the Scenes

Daniel Junge at the Frontline Club showing of 'Saving Face' in London.

Daniel Junge at the Frontline Club showing of ‘Saving Face’ in London.

The film ‘Saving Face’ is directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who bravely tackles this controversial topic despite being at risk throughout the making of the film.

During the documentary, Sharmeen visits one of the husbands who threw acid over his wife in prison. As the prison guards and other men surround her in a threatening manner, she continues to bombard him with questions.

In a discussion after the London showing of ‘Saving Face’ at the Frontline Club, the two directors asked the room of journalists what they thought about the duty of a documentary-maker to advocate for those in their film. They expressed that filming a documentary that makes a change is different from making a documentary and advocating for change.

A number of charities exist in order to raise awareness of acid attacks and to support the victims. The Katie Piper Foundation and the Acid Survivors’ Trust International are some of the UK based ones.

The full documentary is being shown on Wednesday 16th January 2013 on Channel 4 at 22:00. This film begs to be seen.

NOW Who’s the Illegal Immigrant?

English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for illegally entering the USA.

The irony of this is just too sweet. The leader of a group that spends half their time complaining about the problem of illegal immigrants to the UK, has been caught for doing exactly the same thing in the United States.

Having been refused entry to the US in the past, when he travelled to the US in September he decided to use Andrew McMaster’s passport instead. If that’s not illegal immigration, I don’t know what is.

Stephen Lennon, also known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, pleaded guilty to the offence for which he was caught when he was fingerprinted at JFK airport in New York, adding yet another criminal conviction to his collection.

His personal assistant Helen Gower has said that Lennon is likely to be released early with a tag on good behaviour, and their leader is “well chuffed at the result today.”

Who are the EDL?

For those of you who don’t hail from the UK, the EDL (English Defence League) are a right-wing, nationalist group who claim to be “peacefully protesting against militant Islam”. But its followers are all too happy to go on Twitter rants about their hatred of non-white ethnic groups, and to tell everyone in Britain who is not white to go back to their ‘own countries.’ At times they sound like frustrated children whose toys were taken away by their invisible Muslim enemy, hash-tagging #thicko at the ends of their sentences.

They often pick and choose their ‘evidence’ against Muslims, ignoring anything that shows Muslims in a good light, and giving a pedestal to anything they do wrong. A good example of this would be using the Rochdale grooming case, involving 9 Muslim men, to pin the blame on all Muslims and immigrants, while ignoring the 7 white men who did the same thing in Derby.

They have even gone as far as to cheer when tragic events happen. One follower commented that he was glad when the 2 year-old boy and 10 year-old Muslim children were killed in a hit-and-run in Leeds (though the comment has slyly been deleted by now). His justification was that Muslims kill innocent people all the time. What kind of person smiles at the death a child?

But it’s not just Muslims and immigrants they hate. Their followers, such as @CommonSense4Now, have mocked me on Twitter in the past for having a Master’s degree, which to them implied that I am rich and upper class (though I’m much the opposite). And he accused the University of Westminster as having a “Muslim extremist problem”.

edl convo

Anybody who bears at left of the extreme right on the political scale may also become victim to the group’s hatred. This picture posted on Twitter summarises their views on just about everybody but themselves:

edl rant

Beneath the Surface of Asia’s World City [the documentary]

With my mental bar for a good documentary set rather high, (partially down to my lecturer David) I will always have criticisms of my own work. But I am now ready to share this documentary with you all. Constraints regarding the duration of the film having to be 15 minutes did mean many things were compromised, including the depth and details of each issue covered. Please give feedback by commenting on my blog or on YouTube, and if anybody does deem it worthy or more eyes, please share it or tweet it #BeneathTheSurface via @jodylan89.

In case anyone missed previous posts about the documentary’s topic, read ‘Initial thoughts on HK’s ethnic relations‘ and ‘Hong Kong: Racism or Ignorance?’


Camera/Editor/Producer: Jody-Lan Castle

Sound: Catalin Anton

Colour correction: Aaron Kay

Translation: Elaine Yu, Manjeet Brar and my jaan.

And a big THANK YOU to everybody who helped me make this in small ways or big.

A Double Standard of Terrorism

When a right-wing extremist kills people in the name of his ideology, is that terrorism?

A clearer picture of the Gurdwara shooting gunman’s intentions have emerged since my last post. It turns out that Wade Page, who was responsible for killing 6 people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, US, was a white supremacist neo-Nazi.

Witnesses claimed that the gunman walked into the temple as if he knew exactly where he was going. Put together with his membership in white power bands and his research into white supremacy, it is clear that his intention was simply to kill non-white people.

White power bands usually just play songs with hateful and racist lyrics. But there are bands who are renowned for committing racially-aggravated crimes. The Hammerskins is one of them, a group that Wade Page knew very well.

White supremacy is an ideology that basically says  that white people are better than everybody else, and should therefore be the ruling power.

When Wade Page entered the Gurdwara last week, his message was to all non-white people – we (white people) will regain the country.

Double standards

Page’s attack on the Sikh temple certainly does fulfill the textbook definition of terrorism, which has two criteria; an act of violence, with a political message.

Yet politicians and journalists in the US seem to be very reluctant to label this an act of terrorism.

As international human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar has pointed out – if a South Asian man had walked into a Church and shot 6 people, it would instantly be called a terrorist attack. But when the tables turn, it is a “pointless act of violence” as Mitt Romney has said.

In a way, this double standard of terrorism is somehow condoning white supremacist violence, as they are then able to avoid the stigma and condemnation that is associated with terrorism from other groups.

The US government has cut back on it’s surveillance of right-wing groups in order to watch Muslim fanatics more carefully. But there has actually been a dangerous rise in the number of white supremacist groups since 9/11, according to research by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

Ku Klux Klan: One of the more famous terrorist,white supremacist groups. Photo: Arete13 / Flickr

More examples of Terror from the Right can be found here.

Heart goes out to the families of Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka and Sita Singh and Paramjit Kaur. May they rest in Peace.

Sikhs are the latest victims of cultural ignorance

Many suspect that the man responsible for the shooting in a Wisconsin Sikh Temple in the US had mistaken them for Muslims.

6 people, including both the Temple’s President and Priest, have died after being shot by Wade Michael Page, who launched an attack on the Sikh place of worship on Sunday morning.

Though the gunman’s intention has not been confirmed, the former member of the Armed Services has been related to racist groups.

This tragedy is somewhat reminiscent of the 1984 riots in India. Tens of thousands of Sikhs were killed in retaliation to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, who was murdered by one of her Sikh guards.

Confused attackers

Since 9/11, Sikhs in the US and UK have reported a sharp rise in violent attacks against them.

As many Muslims and Sikhs wear turbans, those who are unfamiliar with the Religions often confuse them with one another.

Of course, whether the gunman had meant to do the same to Muslims in a Mosque, the act would be equally as outrageous.

The Sikh turban was born out of defiance, during a time in which only the ruling Muslim majority were allowed to wear them.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji had ordered all Sikhs to wear turbans as a sign of their moral standards. In the Religion that is strongly based on teachings of equality, the turban also served to dispel the belief that turbans were only for the upper classes.

A pious Sikh man in the Golden Temple, Amritsar. Photo: Nick Leonard / Flickr

Cultural ignorance

If you think about it, on TV, there is hardly ever a mention of different Religions, or Religion at all, unless they are being blamed for something. And in the public arena, it has become so sensitive, that people are scared of talking about it.

As President Obama reminded the US, though it may have been a little late, the Sikhs have done a lot for the nation.

Broadcasters and publishers need to make religious people more visible in positive contexts. And religious leaders need to be more active in sharing the true meanings of their Faiths.

Ultimately we need to strive towards building an atmosphere in which all people, religious or not, can share and learn from each other.

Gun Legality

Just over 2 weeks ago, similar images flashed across our screens as 12 lives were claimed by the “Batman shooting” in Colorado.

But US Politicians, who currently seem to be overlooking the issue of gun control in the fore-run to the elections, may no longer be able to ignore it after Sunday’s violence.

Olympic Medalists Reflect Multicultural Britain

The endless debate about whether Multicultural Britain is working was silenced tonight as 3 Olympic gold medalists showed the value of a diversity.

3 Olympic Athletes from 3 different backgrounds win 3 gold medals.

Photo: adifansnet / Flickr

Jessica Ennis held her gold medal high for the Heptathlon, Greg Rutherford for long jump and Mo Farah became the first British man to win the Men’s 10,000m.

All three of them, including Somalian-born Mo Farah, were proud to represent Great Britain. “This is my country,” Mo Farah answered to a rather silly question – “Would you have been prouder to have done it for Somalia?”

The medalists visually and metaphorically symobolise how people from different backgrounds can flourish in the UK.

Most of the British public are feeling a great sense of pride over tonight’s victories, regardless of the ethnic backgrounds of the athletes.

And hopefully that pride will bring people in Britain closer together, long after the Olympics finish.

Is Bombing Bigots Justified?

My initial reaction to the alleged plot of the three men from Birmingham to bomb the EDL was, “good, they deserve it.” But as my morality and logic kicked in, it became a little more complicated.

The men had been stopped in Sheffield for a routine check and later arrested in possession of guns and explosives. What gave away their alleged plan was a little note on the weapons which said “English Drunkards League.” You can join the dots.

The wrong message

The very definition of Terrorism is an act of violence with a political message behind it. But the only message behind bombing the EDL is “we’re exactly like you think we are”. The worst case is that it actually helps the EDL to gain more supporters by justifying their own existence.

It makes me shiver when the odd few Muslims irresponsibly lash out in response to controversy.

The perfect example of this was after the publishing of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Those who seemed intent on making the lives of ordinary Muslims a misery waved banners which read ‘Al-Qaeda’ and ‘bomb the West.’ Why on earth would any sane Muslim feed the very fire which causes Islamophobia in Europe?

I more than anybody would like to see an end to the hostility that Muslims in Britain have to put up with. But these fundamentalists are bent on achieving their ridiculous goal of eradicating the West, no matter how much Muslims suffer on the way.

Terror vs. Terror

They are the two polar ends of an abstract war between the far right and extremist Muslims. In simple terms, nutters against nutters.

The EDL aren’t exactly non-violent themselves. In true EDL style, members beat an Asian boy up and ran another over at a protest in Lancashire last year. On the same day, they had trapped MEP Sajjad Karim inside his own house along with his wife and children, and hurled abuse at them.

The group was originally a bunch of angry football hooligans who formed on anti-Islamic principles. Co-founder Tommy Robinson has apparently thought about stepping into politics. But there really is no need. Bigotry is already more than fairly represented by the British National Party.

It is one of the thorns that comes with the rose of Democracy that fascist and racist groups must be allowed to exist and express their views, as everybody else can. Even if they are violent thugs.

See my original story on TheBowlerHat.co.uk.

Living in Limbo

It’s a strange existence to be mixed race. Fitting in, neither here not there. We spend half the time pretending to be somebody, as if playing a game in which we’re trying to merge in. Will they notice that I’m not from here?

The first time I ever went to Hong Kong and stood on the MTR (underground) surrounded by Chinese faces, a strange feeling ran over me. Have I finally been accepted?…I thought as nobody batted an eyelid at my presence. But whether I had been accepted for how I look or not, I still didn’t belong there. It was a false kind of belonging.

Face value

The simple fact is that we are judged by our appearances. Though mine can vary from day to day from looking mixed, to East Asian, to Nepalese…there is no way that I look much like my dear white (Irish-Roma) Father. I happened to take the looks from my Malaysian-Chinese Mother, something my Father said he was glad about.

My parents and I, when I was a baby

In my hometown in Kent, I can walk into a pub filled with burly bigots, and they’ll look around the place shouting “Chinese take-away anybody?” As if the only thing a Chinese face would be doing there, is delivering Chinese food.

Upon the opening of my mouth, out comes a stark British accent. That’s enough to convince most people that I’m a local. But an odd few still don’t get it, even when I’m repeating “I was BORN here” over and over again.

Some people even used to ask my Dad whether he had bought my Mum and I off the internet! And we’d get funny looks at times when I became older, as I walked down the street with my Dad, people mistook me for his disturbingly young wife – as if they had stereotyped him as a perverted white man with a thing for Asian women.

Chatting with Puja Kapai, a Law Professor at Hong Kong University, she explained how her Indian appearance sometimes dilutes the strength of her message. When she teaches human rights law regarding ethnic minorities in Hong Kong (the place she grew up), students see her as an ethnic minority advocating  for her own rights. If it were a white teacher, they would find it more legitimate.

It’s the same story for my fiancé, who was born and lives in Hong Kong, but is ethnically Indian. Chinese locals find it very hard to accept that HK-born Indians are Hongkongers too. The waiter, no matter how confused I look at him, will speak to me in Cantonese and completely ignore the true local. And ironically, it is my fiance who speaks it fluently.

Staying true

Thankfully, the UK is one of those places where our ancestors could be from anywhere in the world, and we still have the right to call ourselves British. But that doesn’t mean everybody in the UK accepts that.

Growing up, I always strove to be more Asian. I used to think to myself as soon as I get to an Asian country, I will fit in. When people asked me where I was from, my answer would be “Malaysia”. But going to Asia made my sense of British identity stronger. Now I proud and comfortable to answer “England”, accepting who I am.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I am denying my other identities. Just being honest with myself and the world about the many dimensions there are to a person’s identity. We have ethnic, national, religious identities, which all intermingle. And to label yourself as one, doesn’t neglect the others. That’s just of the fun things about being so mixed up – being able to be many things at once.


Last week my post “My Mixed-race Family” was Freshly Pressed. Thanks WordPress! And I just want to thank everybody who took the time to read or comment on it. Especially, thanks to the people who shared their own experiences and lives with me. It was a pleasure reading about them. I can’t tell you how much it means to know that people care about what I write.

Hong Kong: Racism or ignorance?

I have learned a lot since the last post on racism in Hong Kong, having filmed and interviewed many great people. Time to empty my head…

Fortunately for me, I got to chill out with the ‘Sikhs in the City‘, the first HK-born Indian Dragon Boat Race team. Team leader Gurmeet Singh expressed their excitement at getting to take part in something that even his Father’s generation hadn’t. Anyone watching (and many people did) as the 12 Punjabi men switched seemlessly between Punjabi and Cantonese (and English to speak to me), could plainly see how someone can be both Indian AND Hongkongnese. And the people around them really seemed to appreciate them (at least on Cheung Chau they did).

Punjabi Hong Kong dragon boat team

We sat to eat an array of Chinese seafood dishes. And the irony was that I (with a Chinese appearance) was the only one struggling with chopsticks. Funnily enough I prefer to eat with my hands (as I learned from my South Asian friends), but they were at home being Chinese. They didn’t even squirm at the heads left on the friend pigeons. But as they conversed with the waitress in Cantonese, I saw how everything changes when the language barrier disappears.


The opportunity to learn Cantonese properly, is something that every single person I have interviewed has said is is dire need for ethnic minorities. Schools are currently one of two groups, English-medium or Cantonese-medium. But EM children tend to fall behind in Cantonese-medium schools, as their parents are unable to help them properly with schoolwork at home. Those who study in English-medium schools then lack Chinese writing skills, an excuse for many employers to refuse them a job.

Professor John Erni from Lingnan University says that children in Hong Kong also need to be taught about different cultures and religions from a young age, and that it should be a part of the curriculum. And he agrees with Fermi Wong (UNISON) that there is a need for Chinese-as-a-second-language curriculum, that would give ethnic minorities more emphasis on Cantonese.

Legislative councillor Margaret Ng says that the possibility of this happening though, is not looking good. Though she agrees that it would be something beneficial, the government doesn’t want to invest money into this kind of thing.

Racism legislation

In 2008, the Race Discrimination Bill (later the Race Discrimination Ordinance) became the first of it’s kind, as a law protecting people from racism. I had the chance of interviewing Margaret Ng, the Chairlady of the Committee who wrote the Race Discrimination Ordinance. As she said herself, there are many flaws in it, but it is good to get the anti-racism ball rolling in Hong Kong.

The very influential and inspirational lawyer and businessman, Vijay Harilela, says that the major wrong of the ordinance was that it didn’t originally apply to government activities. This meant that the civil service, the police force and the immigration department (among others) were lawfully allowed to discriminate on the grounds of race. But the government eventually followed the UN’s advice and took that clause out.

The ordinance offers no protection against religious discrimination. This is a problem for the Sikhs, many of whom are discriminated for wearing the turban. One man. Kardar Singh, who I met in Khalsa Diwan Gurdwara in Happy Valley told me that his son had been rejected from a school for his head-wear, although his grades were very good. The Christian College, YMCA Tung Chung, has responded by saying that their admission depends on a number of criteria, including conduct, grades and extra-curricular activities, and not on religious persuasion.

Batra Singh, a teacher at the Gurdwara, explained that the narrow-mindedness in Hong Kong is leading many Sikhs to cut their hair and stop wearing a turban.  These are two of the most important symbols in the Sikh Faith, and cutting one’s hair is considered very serious. Many fear the disappearance of their Sikh and Punjabi culture.

True citizens?

The RDO is clear that it has no affect on citizenship, nationality or naturalisation laws. This makes it easy for the immigration to decide who gets a HK passport or not based on their ethnic group. Let’s be clear here. All people born in HK can get a Hong Kong ID. That is what guarantees them to their basic entitlements. But let’s say they want to travel, those who weren’t lucky enough to get a British passport after the handover, have to use the passport of their parents’ countries. And travelling with a HK passport is a million times easier than travelling with an Indian passport, for example.

The Chinese Nationality Law says that to have a HK passport, one must fulfil a number of criteria, though they don’t have to fulfil every single one. But it is still up to the immigration office to decide, depending on their mood it seems, whether someone is eligible. Some criteria, such as having to have Chinese family members, seem ridiculous for a Pakistani family, for example. And why should a person born in HK have to earn a certain amount before they’re considered a proper citizen? Can you imagine that in the UK?

Don’t get me wrong. There are many ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, some who haven’t even been there that long, who have been able to get a HK passport. But some, like Phillip Khan, whose family has been in Hong Kong for 97 years (that’s longer than many Chinese people have even been in HK), is having trouble getting one. Because of this, he is denied his right of standing for legislative election, something he wishes to do. Hong Kong is his country, and he long to feel a ‘part of the family’.

Plain racism

My friend Ramos, who is Nigerian, and his lovely local Chinese wife had their wedding at Central city hall. As beautiful as their love for each other was, the day was dampened by the sour-faced coldness of the minister who married them, and even the girl’s parents. At the moment they kissed, the minister didn’t even try to hide her look of disgust. That certainly wasn’t ignorance. She has seen many mixed couples pass through the city hall, you’d think she’d be used to it by now.

Hong Kong people just don’t want to learn about other cultures. They can’t even be bothered to take time to learn about their Filipina or Indonesian domestic workers, who live with them. Gurcharan Singh agrees. “Chinese people don’t care about anything that is not Chinese”, he says. He expressed his disbelief at his old boss who he worked with for over 10 years before she finally asked him if he was Pakistani or Indian.

Ravi Gidumal says that there are elements within Chinese culture that promote the thinking that Chinese people are superior. The Chinese word for China “Zhong Guo” means the “middle” or “central land”, a term which is China-centric. And terms like “Gwai Lo” used to describe white people have become a part of every language in Hong Kong, despite their derogatory origins. A society that allows this is bound to foster a racist attitude.

Some would argue that Hong Kong has only been independent since 1997, and so hasn’t had the time to adapt to multiculturalism yet. John Erni says HK people went from being third-class citizens under British rule, to being the main group again.

Changing attitudes

Many of the people I interviewed were sure that Hong Kong has changed a lot since the handover. It is getting better they said, mixed race marriages are becoming normal. Gary and Loretta Sharma have been married for 28 years. they say people used to look at them funny on the underground, but now thing are better. “Only the uneducated people are still racist”, says Loretta, a local Chinese lady. Their office in TST is a perfect mix of Indian and Chineseness, as are their children.

Former district councillor Gary Ahuja had a simple philosophy about racial relations in Hong Kong. He says, “if you are nice to people, they are nice to you.” Dialogue is the most important thing to lower barriers between people. Talking to someone in the lift, he explained, is were we start. He thinks organising events that share cultures and get different ethnicities together are the key to tackling racism.

Jeffrey Andrews, a local Indian, agrees. He coaches the Christian Action refugee football team, hailing from Yemen to Somalia, and arranges friendly matches between them and local Chinese teams. He believes football has no language, and so helps form a bond between people regardless of where they’re from. At half time, they talk a bit about where they come from. A step in the right direction.

Gurmel Singh teaches groups of students who visit the Gurdwara about Sikhism and the meaning of the turban and keeping their hair, in the hope that educating people will help HK become more tolerant.

Christian Action football team and local Chinese team

Most of the people I asked said that educating people about other cultures and teaching ethnic minorities Cantonese from a young age are the major hurdles for eradicating racism. But sadly, these seem like the least likely changes to happen in the near future. NGOs like Christian Action are stretching their facilities to try and help EMs out with their Cantonese schoolwork. And with the threat of a national curriculum on the horizon from the mainland, schools with sufficient EM populations, such as Delia Memorial, will struggle to support their students.

The world needs more celebrities like Aamir Khan

Miles apart from your average vain and selfish celebrity, Aamir Khan has been using his influence and popularity to spread public awareness of India’s most controversial social issues.

Indian Bollywood actor, director and producer Aamir Khan launched his pioneering TV show Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails) this May. And he didn’t begin half-heartedly. The show’s first season dived straight in at the deep end of cultural sensitivity to address female feticide, child sexual abuse, dowry system, honour killing and domestic violence.

It’s one thing to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities and NGOs. To create a charity and pay other people to run it for you while it has your name written all over it, boosting your image and your movie/music sales at the same time. This seems to be the extent of most celebrity’s humanitarian side.

But to physically talk to the people you claim to care about, stand up for them, and create a platform for discussion and awareness in an attempt to criminalise social wrongs is something else. Using your influence to make people pay attention to the issues that beg for attention, yet have never been discussed like this before.

In the UK and US, where celebrity culture has become ridiculous, documentary-makers and producers abide by the trends of the “infotainment” industry. Viewers are only interested in serious programmes if they are hosted/presented by a celebrity, resulting in shows where comedian Lenny Henry is put in the middle of a Kenyan slum.

But the only way to spread awareness and to open minds beyond superficiality is to educate. Once these issues are known to all, and their negative impacts realised, the road to change is paved.

Initial thoughts on HK’s ethnic relations

A bus drives by, splashed with intense bursts of colour. The words “Hong Kong: Asia’s World City” written across it’s side in gigantic lettering. Little do tourists know how unlike a world city it can sometimes act. Most people glide in and out of the city, without noticing the ethnic tension that exists there. But for those who stay in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hung Hom or similar areas, the multicultural face of Hong Kong is much clearer…and after a while, so is the tension.

Another day, I was sitting in Starbucks getting my daily dose of caffeine, when I noticed a plaque on the wall saying “We love diversity.” Then I looked around the room at the staff. And I couldn’t think what they meant for the life of me. It certainly couldn’t have been ethnic diversity they meant, because everyone there was Chinese.

Ethnic tensions

Having only been here for 5 days, I have already seen and experienced a number of racist incidents. The ethnic tensions in Hong Kong actually became even more apparent to me this time. Because now even I, as an Asian-looking person with a stark British accent, was beginning to be treated differently by both Chinese and Non-Chinese locals.

In the Indian supermarket, I gathered some paneer and spices in my basket and put them on the counter to pay. Somehow, standing directly in front and in plain sight of the lady behind the counter, I must have been invisible. Because she neither looked at me once, nor acknowledged my existence as she continued to speak in Punjabi another customer. I subtly but politely pushed my basket forward a bit, so that she might notice I was ready to pay.

Then a man pushed straight past me (I must have been invisible to him too), and put his items on the counter. The lady took his money and off he went. And all this time, she happened to be looking everywhere apart from at me. Finally, after every single other person in the shop had paid, she let me. I won’t even mention the part where the other shop lady swore at me in Punjabi, thinking I didn’t understand, because that would be too long-winded.

Documenting discrimination

I will be making a documentary about the dynamics of Hong Kong’s ethnic tensions through the life of HK-born Indian Jeffrey Andrews. Along with the other characters, his journey will explore the inequalities in the education system, job prospects and in prejudice in Hong Kong society in general. This video gives some idea of the kind of discrimination that happens.

Throughout the making of my documentary about racism in HK, I will be literally emptying my mind out into this blog. Watch this space for musings, rants and developments about my project. Anybody with opinions about this topic, please comment.

My mixed-race family

Embarking on a journey to discover my own ethnically diverse background.

Mixed-race people, like me, are now the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority in the UK. My own immediate family is a perfect example of the growing trend. My Mother is Chinese, born in Malaysia, and my Father was a mix between Irish and Roma travellers.

My parents and I

My Mother and Father on their wedding day

My parents didn’t go through the same challenges in marrying into a different ethnicity as many others did, including the BBC’s George Alagiah for example. In fact, for my Mother growing up as the only Chinese girl in her class, shortly after coming over from Malaysia, she luckily didn’t experience any racial discrimination. “I never thought why is he [my step-Father] white and why am I Chinese? We didn’t even think about race then,” she said.

This is quite a world apart from the England I grew up in – Folkestone, Kent in the 1990s. I had never thought of myself differently until I became of a conscious age, when people started pulling the corner of their eyes back in an attempt to imitate Chinese eyes. I got called ‘chinky’ and my Mother, Grandmother and I have all been told to ‘go back to your own country.’ Have times gotten worse?

After some time trying to reason that it is easier to live just saying I’m British, I was reminded by a lovely lady from a clinic in Folkestone today, that I should be proud of who I am. Because if I ignore it, the heritage of my parents and their parents will be lost forever.

Starting the search…

For me, the journey starts when my parents met in Pullman wine bar in Folkestone, Kent in 1987. My Mum must have been one of the few ethnic minorities that were in Folkestone at that time. Nowadays, it is far more diverse.

My parents and I in the 1990s

Admittedly, I don’t know as much about either of my ethnic backgrounds as I would like to know. All I have to remind me of it are the stories my Father told me of his Roma mother and Irish traveler Father, a few photos of my Mother’s childhood days in Malaysia, and my own face when I look in the mirror every morning, reminding me that I am different.

A huge, decrepit old Bible from the 1800s has my Mother’s step-Father’s family history written neatly in the front page. But there is nothing of this sort for my Mother or Father’s families. So it’s up to me to put the puzzle together.

My Grandmother and John’s families come together

The Malaysian-Chinese side

Though you wouldn’t be able to tell from her southern British accent, my Mother was born in Melaka in Malaysia. My Grandmother didn’t want my Mother or Aunt to know their Father after they divorced. His identity, along with my Mother’s long-lost brother, remain a mystery to us all. The remnants of an old photo of my Mother’s real Father, with his head cut off, lay in the cupboard.

My Grandmother later married an English man called John Hunter. He was an electrician and brought my Grandmother, mother and Aunt to England in the 1960s. Since a young age my Mother and Aunt then began to only speak English. This explains why none of us can speak Chinese very well. From what she and my Mother say, they were very happy with him. He was a real English gentleman – tall, well-dressed, and with pipe in hand.

My Grandmother and her English husband John.

Following clues

After my Grandmother passed away, we found a pile of photographs of our Malaysian and Singaporean family members. Most of them have also passed by now too. But one photo baffled me most. A family is posing for a typical family portrait shot. Their ethnic background is hard to work out. The Father, maybe Malay, is adorned fully in Islamic dress, even topped with a fez-like hat. His wife seems Chinese, and their children seem of mixed ethnicity. But who they are is a mystery to me. Maybe my family has been practicing mixed ethnic relations for longer than I had thought.

A photo found in my Grandmother’s cupboard

We also found an old-fashioned, yellowing photo of my Mother’s anonymous brother, smiling at the camera with a sweet innocence. Hand-written on the back reads “Your son, Ah Hong…Birthday: 9th September 1959.” But everything else about this man is a blur to her. The stamp from the printing company tells us it was printed in Malaysia.

Mum’s brother, Ah Hong

In another photo, the Chinese calendar on the wall says ‘1980’. A red and gold ancestral worship shrine is in the background. The people in the photo seem to be my Uncle (my Mother’s second cousin), his Mother and some nameless family members crowding around my Great-Grandfather for his birthday. He is a spit and image of my Grandmother. Every year, the Chinese side of my family, who now live in Singapore, still visit his shrine in Malaysia.

The more I look at that photo, the more a young man wearing Ray-ban sunglasses begins to look like a man I met in Singapore 3 years ago. He said we were related in some distant way, but I didn’t think to ask anything further.

The Irish and Traveller side

My Grandfather from my Father’s side, who I never knew, was originally from Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland. He was an Irish traveller, not that many people in the family know that. That is, the family who still speak to us. My Father’s Mother was also Irish, but was half Irish and half Roma traveller. This explains the wanderlust I must have inherited.

My Father and I

Although he was born in Essex, my Father was still never content with being called English. He had a typical Irish pride. How we came to have the name ‘Castle’ as Irish descendents still puzzles me though. Years back, I stared for hours at a map of Ireland that marked every area by the name of the descendents of each village or town. But ‘Castle’ was nowhere to be seen.

Unfortunately, when my Father sadly passed away, all the memories of his childhood and background went along with him. Of course I remember many of the things he told me about. But sadly, memory fades. And the generations of my Father’s family who came after him seem to know nothing about their real heritage. It’s not exactly viewed as something to shout about these days.

Just the beginning

The gaps in my knowledge are troubling me. After all, if I don’t make an effort to search for the answers to my questions, who will teach my future children how interesting their ancestry is.

I owe this to my parents and my Aunt and Uncle alike, who set a beautiful example through their love, that it doesn’t matter where you are from or what you look like.

This is just the beginning of my search.

My Auntie Maggie and Uncle Kevin