South Asian in Chungking Mansion is greeting tourist with basic Cantonese. Most ethnic minorities in Hong Kong can speak Cantonese, however, they are facing major difficulty in reading and writing Chinese. (photo by author)
Najma is a Pakistani. She has been living in Hong Kong since 2009, together with her two sons, whose aged 11 and 9 years old. (photo credited to Najma)
In Hong Kong, there is a total of 451,183 ethnic minorities, representing about 6.4 percent of 7 million people in the city, according to Hong Kong 2011 Population Census by Home Affairs Department.
Even though Chinese and English were declared as the official language of Hong Kong in 1974 but Cantonese remained as the most common language in the city.
89.5 percent of 7 million population speak Cantonese and only 3.5 percent of the population are English speakers, as stated by a statement released by Hong Kong government.
“The Hong Kong government has been promoting the use of Chinese as the main medium of instruction for most local primary and secondary school over the years.
In other words, an ethnic minorities’ students would have to struggle if they couldn’t catch up with subjects that are taught in Chinese.”
A group of people stepped into the woods consciously, every footstep were synchronized with a soft but firm rhythm. Everyone keep their pace at a constant speed, no one was in hurry. Along the path, only the sound of the wind in the trees and rustling of dry autumn leaves could be heard. Most of them shed layers of clothing to keep themselves warm in the crisp weather. The cold breeze was mixed with heavy breathing, which came from the members as they climbed up the hiking trail, which was rather steep and uneven.
They weren’t hiking but were practicing walking meditation, a form of meditation in action. Watching from afar, it was a line of people walking with freedom and solidity, trying to keep their awareness involved with the experience of walking. The meditation activity, which known as the “Days of Mindfulness” was organized by Plum Village Hong Kong, the Mindfulness Practice Center located in Ngong Ping.
“I’m here to relax. I am an engineer who works five days a week and alternately on Saturday. Sometimes, even though I’m on holiday, but in fact, I couldn’t really have a good rest as my mind is still with the unfinished work,” said Chan, one of the meditators who have travelled from Tuen Mun, catching the early 8:40 a.m. bus from Tung Chung to Plum Village.
Meditators of “Days of Mindfulness” were mostly local with few foreigners, either joined as an individual or as a family. Some of them were regular while the rest were the first-timer, like Chan. In the full day of practicing mindfulness, the meditators kept their phone in a locker to disconnect from the hectic and loud part of the city, immerse in peace and tranquility, at least for seven hours.
Throughout the day, the meditators were being introduced to several practices, for example, sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, relaxation, smiling and breathing. During the break, some of them laid out straw mats on the verdant fields and threw themselves under the warm sunlight, with arms spread out freely and gently closed their eyes, listening to the birds chirping in the park.
Adapting mindfulness practice in city life
“Emotional pain hurts more than physical pain and indeed more difficult to handle,” said Tsultrim Sangye, she nodded her head slowly and raised her eyebrows. She is a Buddhist nun and at the same time working as a personal assistant in a trading company.
Sangye was in her velvet monastic robes, the edge of her robes was bedewed but her face was calm and tranquil, despite the howling wind bursts of heavy rain outside. “I was a workaholic, I’m easily getting nervous and stressed up, not saying that I’ve changed completely, but now I’m learning how to slow down my life, and it’s getting better,” she spoke firmly after a sip of Pu-erh tea.
Sangye described her first meditation experience as “life-changing”. She joined a ten-day meditation retreat course which organized by Vipassana Meditation Center Hong Kong, and it was when her meditation journey began.
In the retreat, her day began at 4:00a.m. with a wake-up bell and continues until 9:00 p.m. Each day about ten hours of meditation, interspersed with regular breaks and rest periods.
“The meditation was physically challenged, throughout the course, each day about ten to eleven hours, we did nothing but sitting, back pain and hurt in my knees were killing me and I can hardly sleep every day,” Sangye touched her lower back as she recalled her first meditation retreat. “I can deal with it because I knew deep down I can live with it, the physical pain hurts only temporarily,” her eyes sparkled.
Stressful life in fast-moving city
Taking off the monastic robes, Sangye is like ordinary Hong Kong people; she has to travel from her home on off-island to Wan Chai every day to work, in order to support her living expenses.
“I would rather stay at home during the weekend, I don’t like the crowd,” Sangye rolled her eyes and slightly turned her head to left and right to relax her neck and shoulder. “Hong Kong people are busy, always in rush, and tense up, I wonder why can’t we slow down?”
“Dot-dot-dot”, the door of the train would close after few seconds of the sounds, the passenger should stop when they heard the sound, however, it is common to see someone runs at their top speed and jumps into the train, nearly got clamped by the door.
Hong Kong MTR is a metaphor for fast-paced lifestyle of the citizens. Living under such circumstances, Hong Kong people tend to be mentally and physically overstressed. According to Hospital Authority of Hong Kong, four percent of the Hong Kong population (over 0.02 million people) were affected by Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a kind of emotion disorder which caused by the mood disorder.
The finding also identified that many GAD sufferers are aware of their physical symptoms but unaware of the symptoms are caused by mood disorder, in short, lack of self-awareness.
Meditation is one way to cultivate mindfulness and is seen as an effective way for stress reduction. A study by Mood Disorders Centre of the University of Exeter shows that a mindful person tends to be less negative emotion and anxiety, as mindfulness meditation alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling.
Mindfulness practice is an ongoing effort
Plum Village Hong Kong is a mindfulness community practice centers established by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Monastic Sangha.
On Nov.12, 2016, the center and Wake Up Hong Kong, a young meditation practitioners community organized flash mob meditation in downtown Hong Kong, to bring mindfulness meditation to the city and in a more creative way.
Brother Phap Chwng is a Vietnamese monk who in charge of Wake Up Hong Kong, he is concerned about the condition of the city’s psychological wellbeing. “I think meditation really need for Hong Kong people, because with mindfulness, you can slow down, and be aware of what you are doing. So, you can observe what happened, and you can release the tension,” he said firmly.
With the right method, meditation can be carried out in anytime and anywhere. However, most of the people are not aware of their inner consciousness, and often end up struggled with negative emotions and take meditation as a way to ease their emotional pain.
“Everyone likes to be like that, if you are happy, then have no time (for practice). But when you have a really serious problem, then you remember, how to find some places to resolve the problem,” Chwng lips were sealed whilst his mouth was slightly downturned.
Sangye has the same thought on this phenomenon and supposed that meditation should be an ongoing effort to raise mindfulness. “Meditation isn’t about a perfect timing or venue, if you want to practice, anytime is a good time,” she smiled.
This is a feature writing assignment for MAIJS Program, Hong Kong Baptist University