07/08/2015 11:22 BST | Updated 06/08/2016 06:59 BST

How My Other Half Lives


(Photo: Sarah Kwong)

It began as a sudden need to urinate.

Spotting the oversized 'M', protruding from the side of a shop building, three metres off the ground, we wriggled and sidled around the oncoming stream of human migration, trying not to break their tide. After navigating our way downstairs, we ended up sitting on the off-white, criss-cross chairs McDonald's is known for, interrogating my father about government policies.

We had been in Hong Kong for five days, marvelling at their mild December. Through osmosis, I'd learnt even more about the culture than I already knew. But there were still parts of my history that I hadn't really considered until I was here, having dinner with long lost everyones and watching everyday life play out for the people who shared my DNA.

'The government's different here because they care about the people,' my dad said, as I contorted my hand to fit into the rigid cardboard container of waffle fries. 'Hey, they even gave money back to their citizens a few years ago.'

I knew that last part. I remember him casually mentioning it at the time.

'I'm getting some money from the government.'

Real casual. Just like that.

It was called Scheme $6,000, part of a tax rebate programme in 2011. The government gave all citizens with Hong Kong ID cards $6,000 in a bid to 'leave wealth with the people'. They'd had billions in reserve after budget surplus, apparently.

Of course, my dad was right. London, let alone England, would never employ anything like this. Never see the money and think of the people first.

This conversation wasn't the first that had prompted me to wonder how the Chinese half of me would've grown up if I'd had a Hong Kong ID card. I'd be speaking Cantonese and English, rather than English and broken fragments of Cantonese, feeling proud of my country's history and policies, rather than disappointed, and yes, in possession of an extra $6,000 just for belonging somewhere.

How the other half of me really grew up was in dim light, not getting enough to photosynthesize and nourish itself. I was oblivious to it as a child, happy and carefree, and it doesn't hurt me now, either - but I can see that this other half of me, the non-British half, contained a gap. A gap I'm sure had been left for the Chinese traditions to permeate. But they didn't, and so the hole was filled with Westernisms, things I was familiar with, instead.

But, as my boyfriend nodded eagerly at my dad, I realised that that didn't matter now. After all, our situation - three people with very different life and cultural experiences, discussing diluted world politics in a tiny lower ground McDonald's - said everything about us, and those around us.

We were everyday fish, swimming the pavement's waves, trying to create meaning. It might sound like I'm condensing it down into a 'just' revelation. 'Just' can feel reduced and belittled, embarrassed and simplistic. But far from 'just', this realisation finally helped me understand that it didn't matter if I was brought up here or there, if I was taught one thing and not another. We were all following the same current - only with our own autonomy.

However developed, or under-developed, the two parts of my being are, if I want, I can locate within me the qualities I see in Chinese family members and bring them to the forefront. I can follow those traditions if I want to. I can be more generous, more respectful. It's a choice, as an adult, I can make, no matter where I am or what's passed me by.

It took a journey over three continents and a simple insight from my dad. But there, in a Hong Kong McDonald's, I think I found peace with my two worlds.