PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, CUHK
"Nepalese Drug Users in Hong Kong: Ethnicity, Transnationalism, and Marginalization"
19 Oct 2012
Mr. Tang provided a rich ethnographic picture of Nepalese young immigrants’ lives in Hong Kong, and tried to explain their drug use.
The young Nepalese came to Hong Kong as immigrants in search of better living conditions. Tang called the immigrants’ goal the “Lahure project”, referring to the image of a successful returnee, and indicating immigration was a farsighted decision. A significant proportion of the GDP of Nepal comes from immigrants who have provided labor globally since 1990. Migrants themselves are respected and have high social status.
Tang pointed out, however, that due to a number of social and cultural reasons, in Nepal public attitudes towards the Lahure migrants have changed in recent years. Children of Lahure families are often viewed as spoiled. In 2005, the Nepalese government even banned Lahure from joining the army.
Only a small percentage of Nepalese could afford to come to Hong Kong, which was considered a desirable place to live, creating high expectations in immigrants. The barriers for Nepalese coming to Hong Kong have increased since the 1997 handover (some even later said the Nepalese were “cockroaches” left by British on purpose). At the same time, the Nepalese also could not entirely assimilate into the Hong Kong society. Like in Nepal, structural barriers in Hong Kong also emerged in the public discourses, which accused Nepalese of being destructive to the social order of Hong Kong.
This awkward identity of being accepted neither by Nepal nor Hong Kong made their life contradictory as a result. Tang raised an example of a Nepalese student, Rahm, who was studying in an immigrant school in Hong Kong. Rahm on one hand was excluded from Hong Kong mainstream society, but on the other hand he still held the idea of freedom and human rights and enjoyed his freedom in the school in Hong Kong. Tang argued that drug use became a way Rahm and his classmates gained social respect and self-esteem.