Neon, dimensions variable
My first encounter of the term was on a dating app this summer. It was not a new term, but it was the first time it was used in a conversation, specifically to describe me:
(So you really do know Chinese)
(Why would I lie to you 👶🏻)
(Guys who study overseas like to pretend they are local 🤢)
The term 貼地 is a Hong Kong colloquialism meaning local or rooted into the culture. 貼地 literally translates into “close to the ground” or “adhered to the ground.” Since then, most of my conversations—from casual dates to late night conversations with my parents—were about my 貼地-ness. There was no questioning my locale when I was with my friends and family, but my years of living in the United States had also instilled me with the foreigner’s identity.
New friends from international schools were baffled that I was not one of them, though I spoke English with the confidence of an expatriate’s son. Then there was G. from the dating app, who showed skepticism of my 貼地-ness until I remarked on her profile, which was a string of Cantonese slangs that formed a couplet:
(Dumb, fat, nerd, failure and ugly;
Short, slow, bore, quiet and smelly)
貼地 eloquently sums up my most recent stay in Hong Kong. I was regularly confronted by the question, “am I local enough, and if so, by what standards?” I was “local” wherever I was, but deep inside, I know I belonged nowhere.