Photo 1: Kimberley Watt

Minorities at HKU #2 – Kimberley Watt the Jamaican

May 14, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

Kimberley is just one of a cocktail of ethnic groups in Jamaica.  After her arrival in Hong Kong, the conservative Asian culture was a challenge to adapt to when compared with the forthright culture of the Caribbean.  But despite this precarious beginning, Kimberley is not the sort of person to give up, and eight months after she came she believes studying in Hong Kong was one of the best decisions of her life.

Series introduction:  In this series I will be interviewing different students at Hong Kong University (HKU) who are also members of ethnic minorities in either their home countries or in Hong Kong.  I’ll be finding out about their lives as members of an ethnic minority, and what their experiences at HKU have been like.

 

I got the message that Kimberley had arrived. I left the library to and into the hustle and bustle of something about Welfare Week.  We wondered whether the people queuing under an arch of blue and white balloons were there for jobs or ice-cream.  After a few snaps we got a drink and found a table on University Street where we sat in the comfortable temperature and started talking.

“So you’re Jamaican?”

“I was born and raised in yaad, that’s what we call home in [Patwa], our dialect.”

“In Jamaica there is quite a mix of ethnicities, right?”

“There is a myriad of ethnicities.  This is why Jamaica’s motto is ‘out of many, one people’. For example, my great great grandmother was a Jamaican Indian and my great grandmother was German.”

We spoke a little about Kimberley’s history.  She was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica’s second-largest city, roughly three and a half hours from Kingston, its capital.  She went to good preparatory and secondary schools which have systems very similar to schools under the British system.  She then went to the University of West Indies where she studied Spanish and French and graduated in 2013.  She even minored in Mandarin as there was a Confucius Institute on the Mona Campus which she was part of.

As she searched and prepared for her Postgraduate studies she was certain that Hong Kong was the right place and that the Master of China Development Studies was the right course.  Despite being late applying she still got in, and so she was headed for Hong Kong.

“I remember when I got the email it was 3 o’clock in the morning.”

A curious looks appeared on my face: “Are you normally awake at 3 o’clock in the morning?”

Kimberley laughed and thought briefly before saying “I was watching a movie.”

“It’s okay, you don’t need to explain it to me” I said.  We laughed – she moved on.

“I was so excited.  But after that it was quite difficult in terms of finding a place to live, being half way on the other side of the world and not knowing what Hong Kong is like.”

She described how she applied for postgraduate accommodation through CEDARS.  After not getting a reply she stayed up late one night and called Hong Kong.  “It’s lunch time” she was told, “please call back later.  Did you see the disclaimer about getting postgraduate accommodation?  Not everyone can get it” she was told.  And she didn’t.

“I didn’t know where I was going to live. My mum came with me to see me settled in. It took us 3 weeks to find a place.”

“When we first arrived, after a few days, I came to the campus and found it very confusing.  I tried to find CEDARS but I didn’t know the back of the university from the front.  It’s very hilly; I’ve never seen such a hilly campus.

“After I found them, CEDARS gave me a list of people looking for tenants, but the rooms were all taken so quickly.  In the end my Auntie back in the United States found a place through an estate agent on-line.”

“It seems to have been quite a difficult experience?”

“It was.”

“So you’ve finally found an apartment, but it’s been really difficult.  How are you feeling at this point?”

“I was looking forward to the course.  I was really happy and excited about it.  In terms of the culture, when I landed I just felt shocked.  I didn’t know if it was because I was in Asia for the first time.  I found people were looking at me and I didn’t know why.  Was it because of the colour of my skin?  I felt so lost.”

“Before you came to Hong Kong, did you have any idea how much you would stand out as a person who looks different?”

“A friend from Canada who is ethnically Chinese did warn me saying, ‘I just want you to be aware of people staring.  Don’t be shocked or surprised.  You’re just different from the norm’ – so I definitely became mentally prepared.”

“Did that surprise you when she said that?”

“I understood but I felt a little scared.  I’ve never experienced getting into a staring contest [with strangers].”  She laughs at the ludicrous idea of her being so new in Hong Kong and walking around playing staring games with random people.  But as she recollects the experiences she sees them more clearly.  “I was scared.  I even spoke to my mum afterwards.

“After reading so many forums on-line, I felt like people here like white skin, they don’t like dark.  I felt a little upset.”  She wasn’t smiling any more.  “I just felt that was ridiculous.  I mean, why would you want to look white like a ghost?” she said sadly.  “Every colour is beautiful.”

“What has been your overall experience of Hong Kong so far?”

“I’m very happy I came.  I think this is one of the best choices I’ve made in life.”

A fuzzy memory painfully comes to the fore: “I’ve definitely learnt to find out about things beforehand – I learnt the hard way.  Once I went to the hairdresser for a trim, but in the end it cost me over HK$700.”

I gawped in surprise.  She laughed.  “I think hearing that price would make all my hair fall out” I said.

“What has the hardest thing about living in Hong Kong been?”

“It can get a little lonely in a population of over7 million.  That is the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with.  Normally I wake up with my family, or I go home to my family.  If I’m sick here, I’m alone.  I’m really grateful for the friends I’ve made.  But I don’t find Hong Kongers the friendliest of people.”

“Do you feel you’ve made any really good friendships with Chinese or Hong Kongers?”

“I made a really really good friendship with Fanny, a [Chinese] Malaysian.  I got to know her on the field trip.  On our course I’ve made really good friends with Yuting and Mengjia [a couple of Chinese mainlander girls].  I’ve [also] made a very close friendship with [a New Zealander named] Jordan.  He’s been marvellous and has really stuck it out with me.”

“What advice do you have for anyone thinking of coming to Hong Kong University?”

“I’d encourage them to come.  It’s really a nice university.  When you come here you feel the prestige.”

Kimberley Watt outside the Main Library during Welfare Week

Photo 2: Kimberley Watt outside the Main Library during Welfare Week

“Ethnically you are mixed descent, are you in a majority group in Jamaica?”

“I’d say the majority are black, but black mixed with something.”  We laughed.  It sounded so strange to talk about people as if they were something like paint.  “Many people are of my complexion but maybe a little darker.  Many people have Asian eyes.  Our first Miss World, Lisa Hanna, is a Lebanese mix.”

Even though Jamaica is already ethnically very diverse, we spoke a little about how there is a propensity for girls with “good hair and brown skin”, which typifies a Jamaican beauty.  Of course, not everyone fits this ideal and even though Kimberley believes Jamaica has improved over the years at reducing racism and embracing all peoples that live there, there is still more work to do.

“What do you think needs to be changed in Jamaica to continue getting rid of discrimination?”

She thinks deeply for a few moments.  “[I want the] people to encourage each other to have confidence.  Some people bleach their skin.  It’s terrible.  ‘I’ve grown up around light coloured skin’ she quotes a documentary, ‘I’m tired of being black’.”

“The main thing I’d encourage in Jamaica is to love one another.  I think we need to learn more about unity.  I think some Jamaicans try to oppress each other too much.  I’ve heard many times that we’re still living in slavery.  We need to step out of that – and it needs to be every individual.”

And so it is that as we listen to Kimberley’s experiences we should remember that she speaks in that candid Caribbean manner.  In this interview she’s mentioned difficulties with Hong Kong and getting to know Hong Kongers.  Don’t misunderstand her as disliking this place or its people – it’s just her openness about her experiences.  It’s an openness she hopes will help us all think about how we behave.  She’s loved being here and thinks others should certainly come here too.

In fact her advice for her homeland is good for all of us living in Hong Kong as well.  This is a diverse location and there are many tensions because of space and race – but perhaps we should try to follow Kimberley’s advice and try to love one another.

Photo 3: Kimberley Watt after the interview heading back to Chi Wah Common Room

Photo 3: Kimberley Watt after the interview heading back to Chi Wah Common Room

 

by Martin Archer – Interviewed on 23rd April 2015

The Series so far:

Thursday 30/04/2015: #1 Jin Peng the Manchu from China

Thursday 07/05/2015: #2 Kimberley Watt the Jamaican

Thursday 14/05/2015: #3 Ai Weihua the Tujia from China




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