6-12 November 2015 #782

The tug of the motherland

The third generation of young Nepalis in Hong Kong are eager to return to earthquake-hit Nepal
Sonia Awale in HONG KONG

After my studies I want to go back to Nepal some day and contribute to my country.

Eina Gurung

Their grandfathers fought for the British Army and were stationed with the Gurkha garrison in Hong Kong. Their parents toiled to build a decent life for their families here. Now, some from the third generation of Nepalis in Hong Kong want to go back home to help their earthquake-hit motherland.

The young Nepalis feel the urge to return partly because the descendants of ex-Gurkha soldiers find it difficult to fit into Chinese society. Even those born here live in tightly-knit Nepali communities, and still regard Nepal as home.

“I felt relieved and guilty when the earthquake struck Nepal,” says Eina Gurung, 20, a student of European studies at the University of Hong Kong who has been living in the city since she was one. “I was relieved that my family was safe but guilty that I could not be of much help to my country in its time of need.”

Merina Sunuwar, 21, also studies at HKU and shares the sentiment. She moved here at eight with her siblings and is studying social work. She says: “I want to further my education and then return to Nepal and work to help people there.”

Both Gurung and Sunuwar come from the families of Gurkha soldiers who served in the British Army in Hong Kong. After the handover in 1997 some brought along their families from Nepal in the hope of a better life, and there are now about 40,000 Nepalis here working as security guards or in construction. But the third generation is increasingly trying to find its roots, and help Nepal especially after earthquake.

I want to further my education and then return to Nepal and work to help people there.

Merina Sunuwar

  As much as young women like Gurung and Sunuwar feel the tug of their homeland, there are other Nepalis too busy making a living to think about returning because Nepal has little to offer.

Mandip Limbu, 29, who works at a Thai restaurant and was born and raised in Hong Kong, is one of them. He has spent most of his life here, and doesn’t wish to go back.

“I have things going smoothly here, what is there to go back to Nepal for?” he asks. His father was a former British Gurkha soldier and now works as a security guard.

Prem Thapa runs three restaurants serving Indian and Nepali cuisine and has been living in Hong Kong for 17 years. He is encouraged that even though their grandfathers were soldiers and their fathers may have been construction workers, a new generation of Nepalis is pursuing higher education. “That gives me hope,” he says.

Many descendants of Gurkhas left Hong Kong after Britain allowed families of its former soldiers to settle in the UK from 2005. But there were some who preferred to stay on in the former British colony. “We could have moved to the UK but we didn’t want to,” says Mandip Limbu. “I like it here and it’s like home now.”

Sumyang Hang Limbu was seven when she first came to Hong Kong while her grandfather was in the British Army, and has been living here for more than a decade. Now 26, she is a welfare worker in a charity helping non-Chinese immigrants in Hong Kong. She says: “I don’t see myself going back to Nepal anytime soon but I’d like to get involved with the youth in Nepal to help rebuild the country.”

One of the reasons some in the third generation feel like going back is that they are not fully assimilated into Hong Kong society, and few speak Cantonese. “I still feel like an outsider despite having lived here 19 years. I grew up in a Nepali culture, we hang out among ourselves, have our own circles,” says Gurung.

Sumyang Hang Limbu agrees: “We all have an identity crisis, in a way we don’t really belong in Hong Kong, there is a language barrier, immigrants are stigmatised, the system doesn’t favour minorities and we Nepalis also don’t make an effort to integrate into Hong Kong society.”

Says Gurung: “We have to try to fit into Hong Kong society and at the same time help develop Nepal. After my studies I want to go back to Nepal someday and contribute to my country.”

Nepali students at the University of Hong Kong launched an earthquake relief campaign in May and have raised US$40,000 which they plan to spend on improving health care in Gorkha and other districts where their families are from.    

Read Also:

Soldiering on, Badri Paudyal

The flags of their fathers

Where to be a Gurkha?, Kunda Dixit

Becoming their fathers, Chong Zi Liang