Hong Kong drifters facing less cultural disintegration & communication barriers
The term Hong Kong drifters, or gang piao, was coined to refer to those young and educated mainland Chinese who work and live in Hong Kong. The word “drifter” reflects the restlessness and anxiety experienced by the young elites in trying to find their position in the society. They are regarded as “expatriates” from the same country, when they have to deal with a culture and language that are different but similar.

Some events were believed to have further complicated the situation. For example, the Apple Daily, a popular Hong Kong local newspaper published its infamous “locusts” advertisement in 2012, accusing mainlanders of swarming the city and pillaging its resources. The “Hong Kong-mainland animosity” was ignited and “drifters” in the city found themselves caught in the middle.

Like a 2013 South China Morning Post story put it, “they think twice about using broken Cantonese when ordering food at restaurants, but also hesitate to use Putonghua, to avoid being seen as yet another uncultured tourist.”

After several years, are mainlanders who’re shaping the city’s future still facing the same identity dilemma? Sino-US.com recently talked with a veteran gang piao to learn about his Hong Kong stories and perspectives about gang piao’s future in transforming city.

Cai Jin came to Hong Kong in 2005. As one of top scorers of China’s College Entrance Examination, he was enrolled by the renowned University of Hong Kong. “Back then, there were fewer mainlanders in the city, so I learned to speak Cantonese in half a year,” he told Sino-US.com. Now, things have become different, and mainland Chinese have become the main source of non-local students in the city.

“There are now more efficient connections between the two sides, so it’s getting much easier for mainland youth to attend Hong Kong universities,” Cai said, noting that a growing number of student organizations and community associations are also facilitating the formerly difficult assimilation process.

Different from the alienation from each other several years ago, Cai has the feeling that the Hong Kong society is becoming more friendly toward gang piao. “In the past, locals and mainlanders had their separate networking circles, and most local people could barely communicate in Putonghua,” he recalled. Now, starting with the booming development of the city’s service and retailing industries, “Putonghua has become more and more widely used, indispensable for people in various sectors and gradually developed into some kind of local language like Cantonese.”

And, with more and more mainlanders coming to Hong Kong to attend college, start their own businesses and work for companies, people on two sides of the border are truly melting into each other. “Some cultural disintegration and communication barriers fade away step by step,” Cai said.

On the other side, after living in the city for over 10 years, Cai thinks that compared with the Chinese mainland, young people may not be have as many entrepreneurial opportunities in Hong Kong.

“With a high base, Hong Kong is now in the backwater of economic and social development,” Cai commented, adding high start-up costs and comparatively small market all mean limited opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

In his observation, more mainland Chinese are choosing to come back after they acquire degrees in local universities. “It’s a change of mentality. Several years ago, young people regarded gaining permanent residency as their ultimate goal, now they know there is a bigger chance for them to get decent jobs at home.”

After graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a Bachelor’s degree in accounting & finance, and then the Hong Kong Baptist University with a Master’s degree in economic journalism, Cai has worked as the associate editor of the Phoenix InfoNews Channel’s financial news desk for many years.

He suggests young people who plan to work in the economic and financial sectors to gain working experience in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong still boasts more sound financial system and a full range of financial products.” Meanwhile, he agrees with the general opinion that the city’s position as the financial hub in Asia has been crippled by the rise of some domestic free trade zones in the Chinese mainland. And with tighter constraint on capital outflows, Hong Kong is now feeling the pain, Cai said.  

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