Twenty-nine-year-old Dionne Lashley had spent five years in the United States studying Music Education and teaching in New Jersey and Connecticut. She returned home to Barbados and started teaching but the urge to leave her island home once more and take on a more challenging and rewarding job, prompted her to search beyond these shores.
Initially, she looked to the United Kingdom for job opportunities, but with the economy the way it was at the time, chances for employment were not easy to come by. Lashley was advised to cast her net further afield, which led to her making the 9,934 mile journey to Hong Kong to take up the position of performing arts teacher at an international school, where she is also the head for year 13.
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Following British rule from 1842 to 1997, China assumed sovereignty under the “one country, two systems” principle. As English is one of the official languages spoken in the country, it made the transition easier for Lashley. However, out of curiosity and to challenge herself, she still took a few classes in Cantonese.
“It is a difficult language to learn but I’ve become familiar with [it]. Before it just sounded [like] one long string of noise but now I know where words begin and end, and I know a few phrases. Like I can tell the taxi driver where to stop or ask how much something costs.”
Hong Kong has a population of 7.24 million people with 93.6 per cent of them being of Chinese descent, so it’s easy, therefore, to imagine that a Black woman with dreadlocks would indeed stand out. According to Lashley, the locals are often curious, especially when she makes the trip over to mainland China.
She recalled an incident on the train where a man discretely tried to take a picture of her and she had to intervene. There was another time when, in the company of a friend from the UK who also has dreadlocks, people were staring curiously, while some were bold enough to actually touch her hair. For the most part, however, incidents like these are few and far between.
“It has not been prohibitive or extremely uncomfortable. Just something that happens when you travel and you find a new part of yourself. I wasn’t ready for how the way I would stand out would kind of change my self-perception,” Lashley said.
In the almost four years that she has been in Hong Kong, Lashley has only returned to Barbados once. When asked what she misses most about her home, she said emphatically “fresh air” with a laugh. Our white, sandy beaches, the local cuisine, “liming” and the ease of life are also among some of the things she misses.
“Hong Kong is very fast paced. Everything is intense. That kind of slowness that we are sometimes upset about in Barbados, I kind of miss,” Lashley said.
But one perk to living in Hong Kong that she really loves and takes advantage of is the ease of travel to other Asian countries. Part of what she would like to do while in Hong Kong is to see as much of Asia as she can. With that in mind, Lashley travels at least twice a year or whenever she gets a break from teaching.
She also urges Barbadians to be more open to travelling to the East. “I know it is far but if you really put your mind to it and set it as a goal that you want to see this part of the world, it is something you can achieve. People get turned off because it is so far or so different but Asia is accessible.”
Lashley certainly was not daunted by the new Eastern culture. In fact, she decided to “see the place for what it is, take it as it is, as opposed to what some people do when they travel which is complain about all the things that they wish were a different way”.
“The way I see it, it is I who decided to pick up and leave my country and come here and this is how I found it. So the challenge is for me to be more open-minded and accept the place and people for who they are and make the most of the opportunity that I have being here.”
For Lashley, living in Hong Kong has taught her that you should always go after what you want in life and she imparted some sound advice and some encouragement.
“Opportunities are out there. It takes patience and planning but there’s no reason why ‘the world is yours’ should remain a platitude! It really is yours.”