Day 3 of 5, 26 May 2020
Frame Ambition Writing Challenge
The task: Consider any place – or aspect of a place – that was different than what you had believed before you got there… (find the complete prompt by signing up for the challenge on the Frame Ambition website)
This is a tough one because I always visit places with no expectations. Or at least I try to. But Hong Kong. It has got to be Hong Kong.
Hong Kong was supposed to be cosmopolitan. Open and free. Everything that mainland China may never be. English-speaking, melting pot of cultures. It was all of those things. But what it was not, is black-friendly. And I was disappointed.
I am usually hyper-aware of my blackness when I travel outside of Africa. I know to expect stares. I know that people will take pictures of me, especially in Asia. And I generally know to expect racial profiling. But Hong Kong? Hong Kong was supposed to know better. Be better.
Well, apparently not. I visited HK in 2018 as part of a two-week trip. Before HK, I had been in Bali (Indonesia) and Singapore, both of which were amazing experiences. Everyone was friendly and I felt really welcome. Enter HK.
The airport was well-organised, and while there were long queues, I noticed that people were going through immigration really fast. 30-60 sec per person. “Great, this will be a breeze”, I thought to myself.
It was not.
When I got to the immigration counter, the officer lingered with my passport. Maybe 5 min. He then queried another officer, and I asked him if anything was wrong. HK is visa-free for most nationals, including Kenyans, so I had expected things to go smoothly. He ignored my question, wrote a slip that he tucked in my passport, then escorted me to a back room where I was interrogated.
“What brings you to HK?”
“How long do you intend to stay here?
“What work do you do?”
I answered all of their questions – all fair questions for an immigration officer to ask. I showed them my return flight ticket, proof of accommodation, bank statements, and work contract. None of these were requirements to enter HK, but I was the only one that had to present them. I was the only person that was ushered into a back room. And I was the only black person in that immigration hall. I was being racially profiled. I remember wondering if I was reading too much into it. But here’s the thing with micro-aggressions, they are subtle, almost impossible to put your finger on, but you feel them, and they sting.
After I had convinced the immigration officers that I was worthy of visiting their territory, they stamped my passport and told me to ‘enjoy my stay’. I walked to the baggage hall. My bag was waiting for me (priority tings you racist mofos) ahead of some other people on my flight that had gone through immigration before me. It felt like God was giving me a small win to make up for what had just happened. I collected my bag and headed for the exit door.
Does it come as a surprise to anyone that once again, the customs officers stopped the only black person in sight? I had to scan everything: my suitcase, my handbag, my shoes, even my travel pillow! Then they patted me down. Nobody else around me went through this. Not the white people, not the brown people. But hey, “it’s random” checks.
Several other things happened while I was in HK. I remember going to a fancy bar at the Ritz Carlton alone and waiters completely ignoring me for up to 20 min. They were not busy, and the white folks got attended to. I made sure to order the most expensive cocktail on the menu and I did not tip. #Petty
Goes without saying that I will not be running back to Hong Kong. And you’ll be fine passing as well. Black people need to take their money where it will be appreciated.