Nepalese in Hong Kong
“If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” ~ Former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw
Their famous war cry, Ayo Gorkhali! translates as ‘The Gurkhas are here’; their motto, Kaphar hunnu bhanda marnu ramro ‘It is better to die than to live like a coward.’
Most Nepalis in Hong Kong, who constitute about 0.2% of the population, can lay claim to this proud heritage, being formerly part of the Gurkha brigade of the British Army, who came to Hong Kong in the 1970s and continued in this employment until 1997, or being offspring born in Hong Kong during their parents’ service in the territory. Nepalis constitute about 0.2% of the population, some 13,000 by official figures, though scholars suggest it should be closer to 40,000.
Gurkhas played a key role in the British armed forces for almost 200 years, recruited to serve under contract in the East India Company’s army ever since they made an impression on the British during the Gurkha War (1814-1816) between the Gorkha Kingdom of Nepal and the British East Indian Company. In 1948, after Indian independence, the British sent the Gurkhas to the New Territories, where they carried out security duties and border patrols. They have had a presence in Hong Kong for more than 50 years. Before the 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty, the city played host to the brigade’s headquarters and was then home to more than 10,000 Gurkha servicemen. During the period, the Gurkha lived and worked in an isolated life in the military camps separately from local Chinese. After Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control in 1997, while many of the Gurkhas transferred to other units of the British army, most were discharged. However they were allowed to stay in Hong Kong. The Joint declaration and Basic Law has protected the right of abode of those children of Gurkhas’ who were born in Hong Kong. Moreover, many ex-Gurkhas left their homeland when they were in their teens, and they see themselves as belonging in Hong Kong.
Before 1997, many soldiers and their families lived in army barracks in areas such as Happy Valley, Stanley and Shek Kong. After the handover, the Gurkhas were eventually offered Hong Kong residency, and many moved to areas with more affordable rents.
Because Kowloon Park and Shek Kong in Yuen Long were the main military camps for the brigade from Nepal, many Nepalis chose to live nearly after they left the camp, with about half of the community residing in Kowloon (mainly Yau Tsim Mong) and a third in the Yuen Long area – these areas also being strongholds for Nepalese fulltime students – with some living in Wan Chai, where they first arrived. Moving into public housing would mean being dispersed to different districts, and most prefer tenement houses, dividing a flat amongst family and friends. Their settlement patterns have implications for the maintenance of strong social networks.
While the majority of Nepalese work as security guards and construction workers. While many Nepalis who are former Gurkha soldiers are recruited by security service companies as security guards for residential estates, warehouses, commercial buildings and major events, due to their prior armed forces training, many younger generation Nepalis are in the hospitality industry, especially nightlife. More than half of the male working Nepalese were found in the accommodation and food services sector while the majority of female Nepalese are working in miscellaneous social and personal services. Their working locations are mainly in Central and Western district and Yau Tsim Mong.
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Contemporary challenges and opportunities
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Chan Yuk Kei Maggie, Uchi Chiu Pui Chi, and Jessica Tai Ching Lam (2013) The Nepalese community in Hong Kong. LCOM3001 Cultural dimensions of language and communication project, School of English, The University of Hong Kong.
Chan Kin Sing, Chan Ka Hay Michelle, Hau Irene Chi Shan, Ma Ka Chun Chris(2014) Nepalese expats in Hong Kong. LCOM3001 Cultural dimensions of language and communication project, School of English, The University of Hong Kong.
Chiu, J. (2012, December 7) Jordan, home to a battling Nepali community. South China Morning Post. http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1099239/jordan-home-battling-nepali-community
Ip, Kelly (2012, January 6) Shadow warriors. The Standard. http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?we_cat=12&art_id=118553&con_type=3&d_str=20120106&fc=8
Lin, Jennifer (1996, July 9). Gurkha Soldiers, Facing Loss Of Hong Kong, Look To The Sea Britain Will Give Up The Territory Where It Stations 1,500 Nepalese. Philly.com. http://articles.philly.com/1996-07-09/news/25620905_1_gurkha-soldiers-landlocked-nepal-british-soldiers
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