Learning a tinny tiny little bit more about the big word CULTURE.

This is just a quick blog post about what I learnt / what inspired me today.

Even if you are a CUHKer, you probably haven’t heard of i-Lounch. It’s a new place. But anyway, tonight I went to the i-Lounch to join a talk, hosted by Inter Cultural Education 互文教社, and the guest speaker was Mr. Vivek Mahbubani, a famous Indian-Chinese comedian (well, don’t bother with the name, many Hong Kong people just refer him as V).

On Stereotype

The topic was Identity Crisis. Despite how serious this might seem, Mr.V shared with us how the mixture of having an Indian face + Indian blood + a Chinese up bringing led to many hilarious experiences of his. I can’t/ won’t repeat what he said because his way of story telling was so so unique and funny, you will get bored if it is me to retell the whole thing. But in general, his experience showed us how many stereotypes we have towards other cultures, and that many of them are incorrect.

Okay sorry, now I am tempted to retell a joke. Let’s hope you get it.

Hong Kong people call Indians 「呀差」. The story dates back to the time when many Indians were police, and the Indian police were very accommodating that they always said “A-Cha” (अच्छा), which is “good” in their language. So Hong Kong people basically turned what is “good” in Indian language into something insulting to the tribe.

So Mr.V reversed the situation and applied the same logic:

In Cantonese, “good” is 「好」(pronounced as: ho). If you say「好」to refer to people, with an insulting manner, than Hong Kong people will be a bunch of “holes”.


So when you form a stereotypes about people, say “Indians eat curry for every meal everyday”, or “Indians do Yoga”, try to reverse the case into your situation. Ask “Do Chinese eat rice every meal?”, “Do I eat rice every meal?” or “Do every Chinese / I do Kung Fu?”.

On Sweden and its Stereotype

After the V’s talk (well, it’s more of a comedy show. An educational, inspiring kind of course), I somehow got to talk a Swedish guy. Let’s refer him as GoodStuff, ’cause his real name had similar pronunciation with that.

To us, the Northern Europe is always a mysterious world, and the four Northern European countries, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland, are THE SAME. Since I applied exchange to Sweden (one of my top priority), I was particularly curious about the place.

When considering Sweden as a destination of university exchange, two things are concerned. One, is the high cost of living, which is and will be always true. Two, is the cold weather, and the whole atmosphere. My mother always have a theory that in extreme cold countries, people are less welcoming, more likely to be introvert, people always stay indoor, etc. AND, as my parents say this repeatedly, I slowly believe in it.

So I asked Mr. GoodStuff, if this is true. And he explained that Swedish people are rather said to be conservative.

For example, a French like to ask “Yeh let’s get a drink together sometime!”. Then a Swedish will really pull out a calendar and say “Yeh sure! What time are you available next week?” Then the French will be shocked and think the Swedish is weird. Because in fact the French is only “saying”, he doesn’t REALLY mean to have a drink. It’s just a casual / polite / habitual thing to say.

Mr. GoodStuff also say that Swedish people treat the identity “friend” seriously. In Hong Kong we have “Hi-Bye Friend”, “Head-Nodding Friend” (點頭朋友), “Wine and Dine Friend”(酒肉朋友). But for Swedish, friend is FRIEND. A Swedish may not have a lot of friends, but those who are friends, are those who are the dearest to him/her. So that’s why Swedish people may seem less open and passionate in “making friends”.

So here you go Mom. It’s not about the cold or the sunshine. It’s something “value”. It’s something “culture” (or “cultural”).

Invite Yourself

Mr. GoodStuff reminded me to invite myself during exchange in Sweden, or basically every / any places I travel. Ask a Swedish what he/she has scheduled next weekend, and ask if you can join. He/she will welcome you and may feel that you are making effort in bonding with him/her. I might like to have interesting conversations with people and discuss things actively, but I really never tried to “invite myself”. I will certainly do so next time!

On Identity

Mr. Till, host of today, asked us, What would happen to us/ to our identity/ to our next generation/ next generation’s identity if Hong Kong is “returned” to China after the 50-year-contract? Will we be people with “Hong Kong blood” but Chinese ethnicity? Will we be people with “Chinese blood” and Chinese ethnicity and the identity of Hong Kongese just disappear? Will we be an ethnic minority of China? Who are we?

“These are very serious questions we need to think about.” He said.

Well to me these are more of “interesting” questions than “serious” questions. ‘Cause no one is going to know what happen in the future and no one is going to have a correct answer to that. But these are interesting questions that will trigger discussion and further exploration into cultures. Next time if I meet people,not limiting to only Hong Kongnese, I will ask them this question and see how they view it. And maybe we will look into each other’s cultures.

A Game

We also played a game during Mr.V’s talk. The better moderated instruction as follow:

Label yourself with an identity (ethnicity/cutural wise).

Find another 2 persons, different an identity different from yours.

Construct a story:  Tell 2-3 sentences from the angle of your own identity.

Follow the flow of the story and take turns.

There’s no “end” to the game but through this activity you will be exploring what your identity represents and what other’s identity represent.

Further activity is even more fun: exchange the identities among the group and start to construct a story again. Thinking from the perspective of another identity you may or may NOT know. Ask: Where do you get these impressions from? And through this you will see the many stereotypes we have towards different cultures.

AND, I find that this is a very good game to play in a work camp to engage people around the world in meaningful conversations.

Tonight’s i-Lounch session is only 2 hours (well, we talked afterwards), but i feel that I am inspired. What’s inspiring is not only the arranged talk, but also the after conversation it inspires. Seems like CUHK finally have space for the so-called “cultural exchange”. I feel that if more small events are held in here, it will really attract people who are interested in travelling, curious about cultures and desperate to know/ learn more.


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