Vast quantities of ink have been spilt around the world outlining all the things my generation – the millennial generation – is to blame for.
People love to hate on us. Millennials are entitled and lazy, say commentators. We expect everything to be handed to us. Our priorities are wrong. Because we prefer experiences over purchases, we don’t know the value of anything.
Everywhere you look, millennials are given flak for spending money on avocado toast instead of buying property, for contributing to the declining use of bar soap, for imperiling the future viability of golf and other leisure pursuits, and even for not getting married at the ages our parents or grandparents did.
In a Hong Kong context, though, I really believe the urge to criticize younger people is innate. Sure, this generation gets it laid on thicker than most but for older Hongkongers the global trend for savaging millennials is just a bandwagon on which to ride. Put simply, people of a certain age in this town enjoy nothing more than asserting their authority over younger folks a little too much.
It’s a cultural thing. Hong Kong Chinese people, of Generation X and older, love to trash my generation. They do it constantly and indiscriminately. They see themselves as being above the fray, hovering in a comfort zone which they refuse to vacate. And the worst of it is that we are compelled to agree with everything they say (thanks for that, Confucius).
The “When I was your age…” lecture is one I’ve heard my entire life. “A thousand dollars can’t buy the kind of hardships we faced in our youth,” a popular Cantonese expression, is rehearsed with great frequency. The implication is that the experience of growing up poor, and having faced hardships, has taught the speaker not to take things for granted – as opposed to those of us more fortunate in our upbringing who do just that. The sentiment of counting one’s blessings is not a bad one to have, but when it’s thrown at you every time you open your month, then trust me, it gets annoying.
A more amusing example? While tracking down a particular brand of cookies for a ‘Hong Kong local bites’ article I was working on, I was yelled at by an elderly shopkeeper who told me “young people eat too many unhealthy snacks.”
There’s another factor that plays its part in Hongkongers giving their millennials a hard time, though, and that’s the Hong Kong style of parenting.
Chinese people are not supposed to sing their children’s praises – at least, not openly so. “Why can’t you be more like so-and-so’s son/daughter?” is a fairly common refrain everywhere from the playground to the dim sum restaurant.
My own mother, who I know loves me dearly, has certainly thrown me shade. “My daughter is so bad at everything,” she said to my teachers when I was at school in England. “The only thing she’s good at is English. I think she’ll probably end up getting a job at a coffee shop in Hong Kong where she can greet customers in English, because that is the only skill she has.” (The response from my teachers? “Mrs Lo, we think you should apologize to your daughter.”)
More recently, friends of hers were apparently complimenting my work when she responded, “Well, what else is she going to do other than be a journalist in English media? Her Chinese is crap.” (It’s really not!)
I have no doubt at all that my mom is proud of what I do, but maybe she’s as much a victim of this deep-seated culture of youth-bashing as my own generation is. She apologized to me afterwards. “You know it’s not okay for us to brag about our kids.”
So, what gives? The millennial blame game seems to be going strong, aided by cultural shifts that continue to take place. But will these tides be strong enough for Hongkongers my own age to move away from maligning young ’uns when they get a bit older themselves? I wouldn’t hold my breath.
"My generation" would have worked twice as hard in an effort to prove my parents or anybody else who tried to intimidate me wrong, instead of vocalising yourslef as a victim. If your full time job is being a blogger disguised as true journalism for Asia Times, you do not have much to show for your career. And yet, you managed to degrade and insult all the baristas who work proudly in coffee shops. They may have more to contribute to society than your article which comes across narcissistic and self-absorbed on the part of the author and utterly pointless. Your lack of respect to your mum is evident, you have no right to criticise your parents’ skill in raising you on the w.w.w. Instead, focus on becoming a better parent to your own children.
If you ever consider people in your generation have it tough, look up the genocide of Cambodia, the Chinese famine late 1950s, the Vietnam War, Nanking Massacre by Japan…
I think we are responding as we do because we are net victims as employers. True, there is no use to cry over a major shift of our demographic profile. But that shift will turn into a wrong cycle — not even as extreme as wars or famines — when everyone has to be equipped to compete for the basics. I think this generation has to work harder to find motivation to bring vitality into their life, unlike during our time, our drive to seek for better life is well defined as we grew up. For whatever reason, we are frustrated for the change we also have to cope with. Our career life is longer, and during that long career, we have experienced times when we were out fashioned, then mid life crisis, constantly asking whether we are still valid for the world, and finally when all of these are over, we face the challenge of a generation we think we understand but unable to engage them. The solution: be patient. There are nice sparkles around in any generation. You just have to spot them adopting a different approach.
You think you are smart and so avant grande! Reflect and contemplate before you regret in your old age about being a stupid ‘banana’. OK play your self-deprecating music to the Western audience and be beguiled by their acceptance of you belittling the Chinese elders and blind to the fact that you are making a fool and mockery of yourself. Try writing in Chinese and publishing your this same article in a Chinese journal with a wider audience and readership. That my dear girl should be your real test.
Anyone can play the tart and the wrench to the Western audience. Trust me you are not the only Chinese who have gone to study overseas in a Western university. Yes, when you are in Rome do what the Romans do. We too did that. But we have returned from Rome. We are now back in our home or birthplace. And back home we do what is expected of us back home.
Your parents have been too indulgent with you. Mine told me when I got back in simple terms – change our Chinese society for the better by any means now you have a Western education but make sure any change is not rejected like in an organ transplant – you need an immunosuppressant by way of modifying any possible change with ‘Chinese characteristics – if we are a cat we cannot be a dog (their disparaging way if describing gweilos – I use the term ‘banana’ instead).
So do not write like a dog telling a cat what to do! Every generation is going to be different from the one or ones before. We are not going to behave the same in mindset. But culturally and traditionally some things are immutable – filial piety and family relationship.
However different we might be generation wise we do nothing to disrespect our parents or our elders. Which Chinese son or daughter has had no disagreement with their parents? But what keeps us Chinese as a living perpetual antiquity is that no matter what we still honour and revere our parents.
We do not demean their ‘face’ in public? Have it behind the curtain, in quiet whispers, perhaps. Only dogs do shit like that in public! And that is why dogs have bitches.
Trust me, every generation before yours and mine were in turn ‘bashed’ ‘in the ears’. But that is part of the Chinese ‘rite of passage’. Why make a mountain out of a mole hill, just to salivate and satiate the whims of the West?
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