Reporting by Elizabeth Jerabek
Photos by Martina Yu & courtesy of Aggie Lam
Newly published non-profit photo book Dear Hong Kong seeks to increase social awareness of diversity and inclusion through interviews with 80 talented Hongkongers from around the globe. Elizabeth Jerabek sits down with three Lantau residents involved in the project
The brainchild of its two co-founders, Oskar Valles and Aggie Lam, newly published Dear Hong Kong is a non-profit social project centred on diversity and inclusion. A true homage to the city, the 200- page photo book, written in English and Chinese, brings to life the stories of 80 inspiring Hongkongers from around the globe.
“We hope that the book can be a platform to give voice to the voiceless, challenge stereotypes and promote mutual understanding,” says Oskar. “Many Hongkongers have limited opportunities to have deep dialogues with people in different communities. This project has allowed our team to learn about Hong Kong from a completely different perspective. The culturally diverse social, economic and educational institutions that have helped to build the foundation of Hong Kong; the struggles of marginalised communities; and the contributions to Hong Kong of both famous people and unsung heroes are all part of our collective narrative.”
Not surprisingly, given the multicultural melting pot in which we live, three Lantau residents – Roy Esterhuysen, Anto Aryananda and Lance Lau – have been closely involved with the project.
The new guy in town
For DB resident and photographer Roy Esterhuysen participating in the Dear Hong Kong project came about by chance. He met Oskar at a Creative Mornings networking breakfast in 2020 and quickly signed up as a volunteer photographer.
“Oskar’s passion for raising the social awareness of diversity and inclusion in Hong Kong felt very genuine,” says Roy. “I was really drawn to him and to his desire to give back to the community.”
A relative newcomer to Hong Kong, having moved here from South Africa in 2019, Roy says the project helped him learn about his new home – and its diversity.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to meet people who were profiled in the book that I might not have ever crossed paths with otherwise,” he says. Dennis Philipse (Netherlands), organiser of the Hong Kong Gay Games 2022; Raquel Carvalho (Portugal), social justice journalist; Ajmal Samuel (Pakistan), Hong Kong Para-Rowing team member; Stelios Lakovidis (Cyprus), entrepreneur and Greek food importer; and Karis Teetan (Mauritius), professional jockey were among the 10 people Roy photographed for the book.
Being around such a diverse group people might seem like a once in a lifetime experience but Roy points out that it’s something he experiences in DB every day. “Even on a short walk to the plaza you can hear four or five different languages being spoken around you,” he says. “And you never know who you might sit next to on the bus, or where they might be from in the world.”
The long-stay expat
DB resident Anto Aryananda’s inclusion in Dear Hong Kong relies, at least in part, on his 14-year career with the financial printing and communication company Toppan Merrill.
“I was included in the book – along with my colleagues – because we are part of a very diverse team,” Anto says. “I’m originally from Indonesia, my manager, Nicholas Hood, is from Granada and my other colleagues hail from the Philippines, Estonia and Hong Kong.”
Toppan Merrill’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is well-documented, and Nicholas elaborates on this in the profile in Dear Hong Kong, saying, “I am proud to manage a team where we believe that no one should be discriminated against or left out because of age, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, religion or nationality.”
In the profile, Nicholas introduces Anto, describing him as “a champion of workplace diversity… He often acts as a liaison between our clients and sales and project management teams, something that requires a great deal of diplomacy.”
As it turns out, Anto was one of Toppan Merrill’s first non-native hires in the Hong Kong office. “I provided customer service to our clients, so I was nervous every time the phone rang because I didn’t speak Cantonese,” he says. “But slowly, through lots of trial and error, and with help from my colleagues, I learned how to speak Cantonese on the job.”
Like many new to the city, Anto experienced some culture shock when he moved to Hong Kong from the US as a young graduate. While learning Cantonese helped him integrate at work, he says he relied on sport – the great leveller – to help him find his place socially. “When you play, it doesn’t matter where people are from,” he says. “You just forget everything else except for the game.”
These days you can find Anto on the beach in DB playing volleyball most Saturdays. “You can always meet all sorts of different people in DB,” he says. “It’s amazing that you can hear so many different languages simply from people cheering on their mates at a volleyball match.”
The hometown hero
A Tung Chung resident, born and raised in Hong Kong, 11-year-old Lance Lau has been striking for climate change since September 2019. The Dear Hong Kong team invited him to feature in the book in recognition of his dedication to ‘being the change.’ In a footnote at the bottom of Lance’s profile, the team notes that, “Lance has the clarity to comprehend the magnitude of the [climate change] problem and act on it without hesitation. He exemplifies how age is just a number and proves that selflessness is what matters most.”
Although Lance started his fight for climate change with a series of solo strikes at his school, he has found friends and allies throughout Hong Kong and around the world. He’s confident that people are waking up to global warming, and is thrilled that youth activism – extinction rebellion – is getting the message across. Inspired in part by Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, Swedish student Greta Thunberg, he leads by example advocating sustainability, reducing our carbon footprints, going vegan, all of it.
The clean-ups Lance helps organise in and around Lantau are well attended by Hongkongers of all nationalities and ages. And there’s no doubt he’s getting the word out. “Lots of kids have reached out to ask how they can help raise awareness of climate change,” he says. “And we were surprised when some Filipino marine biologists introduced themselves and thanked me for organising the Tung Chung clean-ups because mangroves are really important marginal ecosystems”.
“I really enjoy meeting likeminded people but I also enjoy those moments when I can inform and change someone’s mind,” Lance concludes. “People don’t realise it, but they are already being affected by climate change and not just in places far away, but also here at home in Hong Kong.”
Dear Hong Kong is available online at shop.dearhongkong.org and at select bookstores in Hong Kong. You can find it at Bookazine in DB Plaza for HK$360, and the proceeds go to support the project’s future work.