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By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: Greg Hutchison on the right and yours truly in Hong Kong, shortly before he and his family returned to Australia, after 15 years there.
Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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In May, on my way back from Mainland China, I met Greg Hutchison in Hong Kong, who had lived there for 15 years. We had a wonderful conversation. His experiences were so valuable and interesting, literally boots on the ground, because he had been living there for so long. We did an interview together and the hyperlink is provided here,
2019 Hong Kong Riots As I Experienced Them, by Greg Hutchison. With photos.
We have stayed in touch since then. He moved back to Australia with his wife and daughter, so he’s another expat who has gone home, like I have on more than one occasion, 1) 1982 from Tunisia to the USA, 2) 1997 from China to France, 3) 2001 from France to the USA, and 4) 2020, Thailand to France. It really struck me when Greg sent me a really nice letter, as it was so informative. I said, I’d like to share this with the fans out there, because people have a hard time understanding how difficult it is for expats to go back home. He agreed. Remember the great 1940 Thomas Wolfe book, You Can’t Go Home Again? In a lot of ways, that’s true.
After I read his letter, I reflected so much about my return to the United States, when I came back from the Peace Corps. I was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1980 to 1982 in Tunisia, in North Africa. I led a very simple life working with rural dairy farmers, to help with their newly imported Holstein dairy cows. I slept on a small mattress on the floor, took cold showers, went to the public bath when it was too cold, grew a garden, washed all my clothes by hand, lived in a cinder block house, lived a very agrarian life. I bought a typewriter and learned type in Arabic. Out of all the other volunteers, I was the only one who spent days of my life learning Modern Standard Arabic, which is what you read in the newspapers and here on the radio and television, which I was able to use with my career in Africa and the Middle East after that.
But it was really strange going back because we were inculcated in the Peace Corps to achieve three things. Our goal in being in the Peace Corps, and I was there for 25 months, was first to impart what we knew with our Tunisian partners. And I did. I had a lot of success. I wrote a dairy production handbook, my local partners and I got it translated into Arabic, it got published and was picked up by the Ministry of Agriculture. I later learned it was republished many times over the years thereafter. So that part was a really big success.
The next goal of being a Peace Corps volunteer is for the Tunisians to teach me things. Thus, I learned a lot from them, too. I taught them, they taught me. The experience changed my life forever, for the better.
The third one is to go back to the United States and educate people about Tunisia and what I learned there, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Till this day, this goal is the most frustrating and difficult to deal with.
When I got back, of course, 25 months away from family and friends, and like Greg’s situation today, I had the same kind of experiences. I was supposed to take that knowledge back to the United States and share it with Americans, to educate them about other people from around the world.
My experience was the same. People were apathetic. They were interested for about 30 seconds and they really didn’t care. They just flat didn’t care. Maybe a couple of three easy questions, weather, food, et cetera, but that’s it. And then it was time to talk about football, baseball, basketball, the weather back in Oklahoma, what’s going on in the family. Nobody really cared much about what I experienced.
It was not just right there in Oklahoma, but in general. For years after that, I would tell people I went to Tunisia, 90% of the time, they didn’t even say anything and again, change the subject to the local scene. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to go back. You really have to lower your sights, be humble and accept the fact that 98% – there would be a couple of people who,could relate to it, “Oh, I went to North Africa”, or “I’ve been in Europe”, or whatever. But for the 98% who have done little to no travel, they really couldn’t care less.
That is even true today. I tell people about all the travels I’ve done, I’ve traveled to over 85 countries. A few people raise their eyebrows and go, “Oh, wow, that’s wonderful”. But nobody really asks me questions. The only question I’ll usually get is, “What is your favorite country that you visited”? But no real sincere interest in the people, the culture, the way of life, their philosophies, their religion, et cetera. Or, I get all the Western Big Lie Propaganda Machine soundbites about evil, totalitarian China, Arab countries (where I traveled extensively), etc. Thus, I think Thomas Wolfe’s book, You Can’t Go Home Again is right, at least for expats, it really is true.
As you read Greg’s letter below, he is having the same kind of issues as I did and continue to have, since I’m living overseas and talking to people all the time.
Thank you, Jeff
Greg Hutchison’s letter
Where we’ve moved back to, it’s not the liveliest of places after Hong Kong.
I miss catching up with my friends from the gym, and other people from our complex. Even our security guards at our tower. People I’d gotten to know at the wet markets and local restaurants and dai pai dongs (street stalls). There was this dai pai dong at Yuen Long I visited maybe every week or two. I was always made to feel welcome. Lovely people! And was always great to have lunch at a Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong café/diner).
One place I really miss is the Silver Dragon Cafe, or Kate’s Cafe. It was a morning out for me. MTR (metro/subway) to Yau Tong, then a short walk to Lei Yue Mun. Lots of seafood restaurants, but I always went to Kate’s. Kate was always friendly and so were the ladies who worked there. I still keep in touch with the fellow who worked there on the weekends. We became good friends. The owner Kate, recently was a winner in the annual Spirit of Hong Kong Awards. Great memories and sad I don’t have my regular visits.
To be able to walk around the streets thriving with people at the local street markets. Yuen Long, Wan Chai and To Kwa Wan areas to name a few. Had a different place to go each day. Tsuen Wan was my regular Sunday outing. Shopping at the markets, then I only had to cross the road to a modern shopping mall for a Pacific Coffee and pick up some groceries at Don Don Donki, then the local supermarket. It’s a different world here. Hard to explain to people.
Can’t get to grips with the lifestyle here. Things do shut down so early. One of the large malls I shop at, coffee shops close before 4.30 pm. We walked around one day in the centre of the city. Coffee shops closed at 2.00 pm. There are small some restaurants and fast food places, but a coffee shop after 2.00 pm, couldn’t find one.
This has happened to me every time, I’ve said to someone, I’ve been living in HK.
“How was lockdown”? Then I have to explain we were never under lockdown. Not one single day during the covid years. There were apartment complexes that were locked down, if covid was found in the sewage, but only for 2 or 3 days, until everyone was tested. “Not what we heard” they say. “Yea. why do you think the media and govt. say that”? “Propaganda” they’ll say. At least they can think and come to that conclusion.
I always tell the story of while the complexes were locked down, the HK Govt. did supply some basic food. There was a photo and story in the SCMP (South China Morning Post), I think it was. A photo of tinned food, that was supplied without an opener. Do some research and you find another photo with the tin flipped over with a ring-pull. No need for an opener, but anything to smear the Govt.
This happened when a guy came to our house to do some repairs.
We got talking and I said I’ve just returned from Hong Kong.
It’s terrible what China is doing he said. Fake news I said.
Told him stories about school kids being recruited to protest. At a friend’s kids primary school, older students were standing at the front gate, handing out flyers to encourage the kids to go onto the streets to protest. Also that University students had special bank accounts, where money is paid into when they protest. First thing he said was, “China is recruiting kids and paying students to protest”. I said no, western countries.
It was funny when I told him a friend wants to move to China to live. “Even after what China did to Hong Kong”, he said.
Once again I said western countries caused the trouble. Nice guy but so indoctrinated that China caused the trouble.
I did mention white power. Then he said yes, America is like that .
I had asked a good friend in Hong Kong, “Why do you think western countries can have a security law, but Hong Kong can’t, was it because of racism?”. He just said it was “white power”.
Now I always jump straight in and tell people HK was safe, don’t believe the bull shit in the media.
I tell people about the friend and what he said about “white power”.
Why can Australia have a National Security Law, but HK can’t?
I never get an argument back.
I have yet to catch up with a couple of my good friends. I know I’ll get the typical force fed western news about how bad things have gotten in Hong Kong and what China is doing. Then I’ll get all the “gotta bless Israel” talk, “they’re the chosen one’s”, so I’ve been really avoiding them. I’ve had discussions in the past with them. Just gets me angry.
Anyway, hope to get back to Hong Kong for a visit early next year. Will keep an eye out for a cheap fare.
Best Wishes, Greg
PS: Just had a friend message me. He had moved from HK to Zhuhai. Sent all these photos of food. 600 yuan for 7 people. Food prices outrageous here in Australia. I know I’ve been away 15 years, but it’s crazy. Others say the same as well.
Do yourself, your friends, family and colleagues a favor, to make sure all of you are Sino-smart:
Google ebooks (Epub) and audiobooks:
44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YBKHEAAAQBAJ
China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YNmLEAAAQBAJ
BIG Red Book on China: Chinese History, Culture and Revolution
Amazon print and ebooks (Kindle):
44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass
China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations
BIG Red Book on China: Chinese History, Culture and Revolution
Praise for The China Trilogy:
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
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