The ramifications are the subject of a
series by Petti Fong of The
Ula Chiu knew her elusive
cultural identity would catch up with her at some point but she didn't expect
the confrontation to take place in a karaoke bar.
The opening notes of an
unfamiliar song began and just as Chiu thought it was time to start laughing at
all the people who got up to sing, her friends began singing along. In Mandarin.
"I was shocked,"
Chiu remembers. "It was just songs in Chinese, but it felt like this very
different world I was witnessing."
Chiu thought she and her
friends were going to a karaoke bar to make fun of those who would get up to
"I thought they were
like me," she says. "A banana. I felt at first, what's wrong with
them, and then I thought, what's wrong with me?"
Chiu, a 17-year-old Magee
high school student who immigrated to Canada with her parents when she was 10,
first heard the term banana from a friend from Hong Kong. "She said, 'you
are so banana' and I had to ask her, 'what the heck is a banana?' "
After being told banana is
slang for an Asian person who has yellow skin but is really "white" on
the inside, Chiu said she was upset at first.
"Then I was fine with
it. I totally accepted it. I feel I'm not part of the group that is totally
Now she has some friends who
are "very Asian," and some who are "trying not to be so
Asian" and then the category in which she considers herself: "aware of
my background, but I don't make a point of being too Asian or too white. I think
a lot of people are in my situation. I'd like to think I'm not the only
Chiu and her family members
are among the 353,000 immigrants who arrived from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China
between 1985 and 1994.
Asian immigration is nothing
new, of course. Ninety thousand immigrants came from China, Taiwan or Hong Kong
between 1968 and 1976, and 80,000 arrived between 1977 and 1984.
The numbers more than doubled
the Chinese Canadian population in two decades. By 2001 nearly 1.1 million of
Canada's population of about 30 million were ethnically Chinese, according to
But there has been a shift in
recent years. Beginning in 1995, immigration from Hong Kong declined and
arrivals from mainland China increased.
To some, Chinese immigrants
may seem a homogenous group but immigrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland
China point out they don't even have a common language. Mandarin is spoken by
immigrants from Taiwan and China; Cantonese remains the primary language of
those from Hong Kong.
"I learned Cantonese
when we came to Vancouver," says Leesa Lin, 23, who arrived from Taiwan two
"That was something I
couldn't have done if I was still living in Taiwan. When I think about what I
like about Canada, it's because there are so many different cultures here."
Her parents sold their
electronics trading company in Taiwan just before the family moved to Canada;
Lin left the National University of Taiwan before she completed her degree in
economics. She is now taking Asian studies and psychology at the University of
"I feel a sense of
freedom here to study what I want that I didn't have in Taiwan," Lin says.
"It's not hard to seek a balance here. It's not just about money and
Since arriving in Vancouver
her father has learned to golf and plays almost every day. Lin's mother, who is
home to greet her after class, studies flower arranging and English.
The biggest change for Lin is
learning how to balance new friends from different cultures, and new friends
from the same culture.
"When my friends from
Hong Kong and Taiwan get together, we go to karaoke or shopping, indoors stuff.
My other friends, who are more Canadian, we go bicycling or to each other's
house for dinner or have natural adventures outdoors. Sometimes it gets very
confusing," Lin says.
"My friends who are
Chinese still live at home while my other friends live in their own place. When
I'm with one, we do certain things, the other group we do other things."
Emily Chi's first day in
elementary school after her family immigrated from Taiwan was spent in the
No coaxing from the teacher
could get her to come out into a world where everyone spoke English and no one
could understand the Mandarin she knew.
"At that age, I knew how
to speak, what school was like and this was totally different," Chi says.
"I was used to being understood and finally the teacher had to get this
Chinese girl in the class who could speak Mandarin come get me out of the
Chi, now 22, say 15 years ago
when she was in elementary school there was no interaction between immigrants
from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"There weren't many
people from China, we were all either from Hong Kong and Taiwan. During recess,
the guys would play soccer and you were either on the Taiwan team or the Hong
Kong team. The girls skipped rope by ourselves and the girls from Hong Kong
would play by themselves."
Shelley Feng, who came from
Wuhan, China, seven years ago, says the differences between the three Chinese
backgrounds emerge during discussions.
"Sometimes they become
arguments. We all believe we are real Chinese, but our values are different, our
histories and cultures," says the 23-year-old Feng.
Feng and her boyfriend Alfred
Chien, 22, who came from Hong Kong seven years ago, often disagree about whether
the differences are cultural, based on economic backgrounds or even just because
they're looking for the differences.
"Sometimes we say our
Taiwanese friends put more value on friends, and our Hong Kong friends put more
value on money, and we can't agree on China," Chien says.
"We can agree that
people in Canada think everyone who comes from those countries think we're all
the same," Feng says.
Burnaby writer Allen Tung
wrote a play about the differences and the perception of differences between the
groups after local broadcaster Richard Chen told him about a girl he knows from
Taiwan who loves a boy from China.
"They meet in Canada.
She has gone out to too many bars and clubs dancing and realizes she's not doing
well in her studies. She gets worried her father from Taiwan will get mad so she
hires a tutor," Chen says, explaining the plot.
But the girl falls in love
with her tutor from mainland China and when the two of them decide to get
married parents from the mainland and Taiwan arrive to try to talk them out of
"The parents say there
are too many differences between them," Chen explains. "They say the
other is not Chinese enough. They have nothing in common. To outside people,
they are all Chinese, but the parents saw it very differently."
Chen says the parents tried
to get their children to return to Taiwan and China, but the young lovers
"They tell their
parents, we're in Canada now. There are no rules here," Chen says. "In
the end, they tell them, we're not going to China, we're not going back to
Taiwan, we're going to Banff for our honeymoon."
It's a punch line that had
everyone in the audience laughing. That's because Chen says the younger
generation recognizes their parents may cling to notions of geography shaping
culture, but they know the borders have all blurred.
"We joke about who's
more Chinese," says Scott Wu, 21, who plays Gary, the mainland Chinese
tutor in the play.
Wu, who immigrated from
Taiwan seven years ago with his family, says his girlfriend is from mainland
China and can't be dissuaded from her belief that eventually there will be one
China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"I bug her and tell her
that no way will Taiwan ever join China," Wu says. "And then she tells
me when China turns its missiles towards Taiwan, it will be all over in 20
minutes. Like a good boyfriend and a good Asian boy, I can't argue with
- - -
While immigrants from the
Hong Kong, Taiwan and China can claim many things in common, there are cultural
differences, says Thomas Yeung, principal of the community organization SUCCESS
Training Institute in Burnaby.
"The youths from China
have a pattern of behaviour that is different because their parents are
different. Their parents are less likely to adapt than parents who came from
Taiwan or Hong Kong, and the children of these parents from China will still
adapt, but it will be a different struggle for them," Yeung says.
Hong Kong and Taiwan are more
westernized than China, according to Yeung.
"We suspect the parents
from China are harsher and place higher expectations on their kids."
Families from China also have
children who are older than many of the Hong Kong and Taiwan families when they
immigrated to Canada, he says.
As a result, teenagers from
mainland China have fewer English skills and are entering the Canadian school
system later than their counterparts. By the time they leave high school, many
of the students from mainland China don't have enough English to get into
college, Yeung says.
"As a community services
organization, we have some concerns that if these teenagers don't have a stream
to go into like university or college and they don't have enough English to get
a job, they may become unable to integrate."
There is a wider range of
cultural social and economic backgrounds among young people from mainland China,
says Tony Carrigan, district curriculum coordinator of ESL and multiculturalism
for the Richmond school board.
"Most of the kids who
come from Hong Kong and Taiwan with their parents come from professional
backgrounds from urban centres. They have all had some exposure to English in
the school system."
Immigrants from China come
from not just cities but from smaller rural provinces. Unlike the Hong Kong and
Taiwan education systems that taught some English, schooling in China had no
"Most of them do not
speak English and a lot of children are coming in as only children because of
the one-child policy, so they may not have the same kind of socialization as
those students who have two to three siblings," Carrigan says.
Parole officer Terence Yip
says it appears even minor crimes being committed by youths who have recently
immigrated are changing.
"Before money wasn't as
much an issue. There were many extortion cases and my observation was these
Chinese kids from Hong Kong and Taiwan came from middle class backgrounds where
money was not an issue."
Yip says some of the young
people who get in trouble with the law seem to commit crimes to gain status
among their peers or to try to improve their low self-esteem.
Selina Ma, an Asian family
counsellor with Touchstone Family Association, based in Richmond, says among
Chinese youths, the need for counselling is higher now than in previous years.
Like people from all
backgrounds, Ma says young immigrants from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan
experience the same problems with drug use, suicide, attempted suicide, eating
disorders and depression.
"I am worried about some
of our young generation. For some of them, they don't have a meaningful pattern
in their lives. Some of them have communication breakdowns with their parents,
with their teachers and with other people. These youths have poor social skills
and it seems that these problems are crystallizing," she says.
In 10 years Ma says the
number of her cases requiring counselling services for youths from Taiwan, Hong
Kong or China have doubled
"The problems come from
the difficulties some of these students have in integrating," Ma says.
"They have serious depression and in some cases, they want to go home, but
they cannot because their parents have made the decision to stay in
Francis Li, manager of
SUCCESS in Richmond, says the need for social services increases as more people
become aware of the counselling help available.
"We don't know how
widespread the problem is, but we do know that when young people lack social
support, they will turn in another direction. They may not commit suicides, but
they may turn to a peer group that is not healthy for them," Li says.
The only Chinese-speaking
counsellor for SUCCESS, the immigrant services organization, was eliminated
because of cuts in funding, Li says.
"Young people of every
background face adjustment problems when they are becoming adults. But when they
have to deal with cultural changes, an inability to communicate because of
language barriers, it becomes even harder."
- - -
Depression is always present
in some form or another for him, says Justin Lee, who arrived in Canada 18
months ago from Taiwan.
Lee got off a plane in Quebec
City, saw the trees and felt the unexpected heat of summer.
"Il fait chaud. J'ai
pensť qu'il faisait froid ici," -- It's hot. I thought it was cold here --
he says in the French he learned while in high school in Quebec.
"I didn't want to stay.
I wanted to go home. I still do, but every day here, I want to leave less. I
don't feel so sad."
Being the only
Chinese-speaking student in the small suburban high school outside Quebec City
made Lee, 18, feel too isolated and rather than going home to Taiwan, where he
wanted to go, some friends persuaded him to come to B.C. He enrolled at
University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops and comes to Vancouver on
"My friends told me I
could go to restaurants and order food that I knew here," Lee says.
"I know I'm getting a
good education in Canada, but I still want to go back to Taiwan. Canada is
boring. Sorry," he adds apologetically. "I'm here because my mother
expects me to be here."
Hong Kong-born Lawrence Yuen,
20, now a commerce student at UBC immigrated with his family 13 years ago. His
parents had to return so he and his younger brother could stay in Canada to
continue their schooling.
"There is a lot of
pressure in that they expect us to do well in university and school. I put
pressure on myself so I can be successful. I know their lives were made harder
by coming here and by being apart from us," Yuen says.
Denise Tong, 21, who arrived
in Richmond with her parents eight years ago from Hong Kong, says as the first
generation to grow up in Canada, she feels an obligation to be successful for
her parents and to show others in the community around her that she is becoming
"We are the first
generation who basically grew up here," Tong says. "We've done our
schooling here, we found our first jobs here. I don't think we're what people
expected but I know people are watching us to see how we do."
David Han, who arrived with
his family six months ago from Hebei, China, hopes expectations won't affect his
17-year-old son Chao.
"I don't want him to see
my disappointments," says Han. "I still want him to have a very
successful life here."
Han, who has a master's
degree in hotel management, says Chao cannot help but notice his father is
struggling to find work in Canada. "It's not easy for me but I hope it will
be easier for my son. That's why we came."
Despite the changing odds
against them, most of the young people said in interviews they are optimistic
things will turn around for them.
"It's tough to get into
university, find a job, get a good life here," says Alfred Chien, 22, who
came to Canada from Hong Kong seven years ago.
"But my family made the
right decision to come here. Here life is really, really stable. It is just
taking longer to achieve the things we want. But I believe it's worth it."
- - -
YOUNG AND CHINESE IN THE
Youths from Hong Kong, Taiwan
and Mainland China.
They have the same black hair
and yellow skin. But they have different social backgrounds, language, ideology
Immigrants from Hong Kong,
China and Taiwan have gone through their own unique process of integration into
Canadian culture. What emerges are circles within circles in the Chinese
Chinese Canadians are the
biggest minority group within Greater Vancouver and The Vancouver Sun and Ming
Pao will examine how youths from these three places integrate, and how separate
are they from each other.
It's an important issue for
the future development of our society.
Over the next four days, Ming
Pao and The Vancouver Sun will look at how new immigrants and immigrants who
have been here longer are dealing with each other and Canadian society. Within
this triangular relationship, young people today tell us how they are seeking
their own identity. Ming Pao will carry its stories in Chinese.
- by Petti Fong
As part of the first
generation of immigrants to arrive in the Lower Mainland since the early 1990s,
Ula Chiu straddles two cultures and is contributing to an emerging one.
At times, Chiu, 17, yearns to
be totally Canadian, yet she admits she is happy when tugged backwards by the
expectations and pull of her parents, who remain rooted to ties to Taiwan.
But the culture with which
Chiu is most comfortable is one she is designing herself, with the contribution
of friends from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.
They're as likely to go to
Japanese restaurants and the Bread Garden as to bubble tea and noodle houses,
and they see distinctions between each of their cultures.
They took English as a second
language, picked up some Canadian customs, and lost a bit of their Chinese.
They followed their parents
when they moved from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to settle in the Lower Mainland
and they are learning how to become Canadians while staying Chinese. In the last
decade, there has been a change in the pattern of immigration from Hong Kong,
Taiwan and China.
Arrivals from China have
grown while there has been a decline in immigration from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
This has created huge
adjustment issues for Chinese youths.
"I want to speak
Cantonese to my friends from Hong Kong," says 17-year-old Bella Chan, who
immigrated from Taiwan nine years ago with her parents. Among her friends are
people from all three backgrounds.
"But they want to speak
more Mandarin so we have these struggles. Minor struggles. We know we have more
in common than we have differences, so we look for the differences."
The differences are less
defined than those between Hong Kong, Taiwan and China in her parents'
"Back then, I think they
were more aware of the political differences between them," Chan says.
"But my friends and I don't talk about politics or history."
Hong Kong immigrants got all
the press in the 1990s, when Hong Kong immigration rose because of the political
uncertainty over the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China.
In 1994 alone, 16,159 Chinese
moved from Hong Kong to British Columbia.
Taiwan took over as the top
source country in 1996-97, but mainland China is now the biggest source for
Chinese immigrants. In 2001, 9,518 people from the People's Republic of China
moved to the Lower Mainland, compared to 1,861 from Taiwan and only 623 from
A team of reporters from Ming
Pao and The Vancouver Sun interviewed almost 50 young people between the ages of
17 and 23 for this four-part series on what is it like to be part of the
generation of immigrants who have come to the Lower Mainland in the last 15
What we found is a generation
of young people who are slowly adjusting their expectations of what it means to
be Chinese Canadians.
They may be from Taiwan or
Hong Kong or mainland China, but they are forming identities entirely of their
By Petti Fong Vancouver
19 Nov 2003
of Three Cities, and Work Ethic
Workers in this city are
diligent but not very loyal to their employers, while the reverse is true in
Shanghai, a survey published Sunday by City University of Hong Kong has
The survey of
2,000 workers in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei conducted in February and March
aimed to tap opinions about work, quality of life and personal feelings in three
of the biggest cities in the region commonly referred to as Greater China.
According to the
study, Hong Kong workers were the best paid but also the least secure about
their economic outlook. Shanghai workers were the worst paid of the three cities
although they were the most upbeat about their future. Taipei fell consistently
between the two extremes of Shanghai and Hong Kong on every question in the
In terms of
their attitude toward their jobs, Hong Kong workers were more willing to work
overtime without complaint and to do what they were told by superiors, the study
said. But at the end the day, researchers concluded, they were not overly
devoted to their jobs.
people would rather be bosses," said Cheung Chau-kiu, research assistant
professor of City University. "They'd like to show off their
creativity," Cheung said. "They'd like to have more freedom at
Shanghai workers were more dedicated to their bosses but the study found that
most of them did not like working long hours and that they bristled at being
respondents said they were upbeat about China's economic outlook, those polled
in Hong Kong tended to be more pessimistic about their economy. A slowdown in
the city has driven unemployment to a record high and depressed prices for 55
average work week in Hong Kong is 50 hours, which is long compared to other
countries," said Kwok Leung, head of the management department at City
University. Hong Kong workers did not seem to have time for many other
activities except for work, he said.
respondents tended to complain that they were not paid enough and that their
income level was insufficient for them to buy all the material things they
wanted. Asked if they could live their lives all over again, most Shanghai
residents said they would have done certain things differently.
despite their complaints about the quality of life in Hong Kong, most of the
Hong Kong residents surveyed said they would not change much about their lives.
In fact, the Hong Kong respondents were the most content of the respondents with
the amount of time they spent on leisure activities. -
By Patti Poon Bloomberg
7 July 2003