While we were all busy celebrating the end of 2016, more than 350 Nepalese people living in Hong Kong took part in their own festivities. Three junior reporters went to check out the Nepali Cultural Week, the Hong Kong Nepalese Foundation’s week-long celebration at the end of December of Nepalese culture.
On December 24, a procession began from Yuen Long Jockey Club Town Square to Yuen Long Town Hall. Teenage girls waving banners led the way, and the participants offered flowers to passers-by.
This week-long celebration, says event organiser Rai Dev Raj, is an attempt to promote racial harmony.
“It reminds our kids that they have another language, another culture and another identity,” Raj adds. It can be tough for people who straddle cultures to embrace being a part of two different communities in Hong Kong – but some, like 16-year-old Hima Gurung, have managed just that. She has lived here in Hong Kong all her life, and she speaks fluent Cantonese.
Everyone in the procession wore traditional Nepali outfits which they don’t wear in summer, simply because it’s too hot, says Hima.
“People with different surnames wear different types of clothing,” Hima explains. “For example, the Newar wear black. We also like to wear beaded necklaces,” she says. Her friend shows us the necklaces, saying they’re usually yellow or green.
One thing that everyone seems to be wearing, though, is a white butterfly. Raj tells us that the butterfly symbolises harmony and love.
This annual procession is more than just a celebration of Nepalese culture; it’s a way of helping Nepalese people better integrate into the local community.
“The Nepalese people have been here since the 1960s. Most are descendants of the Gurkha soldiers who were in the British Army, and who arrived in Hong Kong after the second world war,” says another event organiser, Dhiraj Gurung. “To this day though, we find that the language barrier is a huge problem – especially for the younger generation.”
Chow Wing-kan, who has been a member of the Yuen Long District Council since 1994, also took part in the procession. For more than a decade, Chow has contributed by setting up private schools and community centres for the Nepalese people in his district.
Chow says that his work has made him realise that two of the major issues that affect the Nepalese are education and employment.
He says these problems can be solved over time, though. Many local schools now accept Nepalese
students, and this will help them gain
the language skills that they’ll need if they want to continue to live in Hong Kong, he says.
“Historically, [the Nepalese] are only hired to do [low-paid jobs],” says Chow. “It’s important that they get language and vocational training, because without those skills, it will become harder for them to find higher-paying jobs.”
A woman passer-by adds: “Many people say that it is the language barrier that separates us, but I think it’s because Hong Kong is a homogeneous city. We’re the minority of the minority. That’s why life is hard for us.”
As the Nepali group neared the town hall, men began to beat madals – traditional Nepalese hand drums – loudly, and the women began to dance.
The procession alone isn’t enough to teach us what we ought to know about our Nepalese neighbours, but judging by the smiles we saw as we passed people on the street, it’s a good start.
Cotrina Fung and Veronica Lin
Embracing their culture
The celebrations didn’t just comprise a procession, though. On another day Bhupijayanti was celebrated, a day when poet Bhupi Sherchan and artist Lain Sing Wangdel are honoured.
The lecture and the celebration that followed formed just one of five events that the Hong Kong Nepalese Foundation helped coordinate with other institutions as a part of the Nepali Cultural Week.
This event began as members laid down flowers to commemorate their two most well-known Nepali artists. A number of poems and excerpts from stories written by Sherchan were read out loud in Nepalese. Thokar Nanda Lal, a staff member at the Islamic Kasim Tuet Memorial College, says that Bhupijayanti is celebrated every year. He added that Sherchan is known for his anthology of poetry written in Nepalese titled Ghumne Mechmati Andho Manche. In English, that translates as A Blind Person on the Moving Stage.
Amod Rai, another staff member at the school, explains that “[Wangdel mainly focused on] promoting the Nepalese arts at the academic level”. Rai says Wangdel also wrote a lot of books about Nepal.
Two students from Islamic Kasim Tuet shared artwork and film commentaries inspired by Nepalese culture. Reshma Gurung displayed photos which emphasised the importance of the Nepali Cultural Week.
“Many Nepalese students or young people live in Hong Kong because our fathers and forefathers were Gurkhas [and moved here],” Reshma explains. “[One of] the main problems that we face is that we don’t know much about our own history, culture or literature.”
Reshma says her photos were inspired by the number of Nepalese youth who are facing a crisis of identity and who may be feeling isolated. She adds that the local education system doesn’t help, as it focuses only on Chinese language and culture. But that’s why the Nepali Cultural Week is being held – to raise awareness of such problems. After all, Hong Kong should be a place that welcomes cultural diversity.