Italians in Hong Kong
You may not notice them, because they do look like other like other Europeans. Some Italians are blonds with blue eyes; some are dark skinned and dark haired. But they are all Italians living in Hong Kong. They are the living proof that Italy through the centuries had been a melting pot. Just confider the large island of Sicily in the South of the Italian peninsula: was first Phoenician, then Greek, then Roman, then Arab, Norman, German, Neapolitan and finally, since 150 years, Italian. All these guests have left their mark on the Italian landscape as well on the character of its people. In Hong Kong we find around 2000 residents but much more come here for business and then leave. The greatest part of Italians living in Hong Kong works in the fashion sector, shipping, banking, food and beverage. Let’s meet some of them to ask what do they think of Hong Kong and how their vision of Italy has changed after spending many years abroad.
Let’s start with the president of the Italian women association, Paola Yip Caronni. She thinks that Italy is well represented here and that Hong Kong is a place of great contrasts: richness, poorness goes hand in hand, like generosity and challenges. Bruno Feltracco, is the President of the Dante Alighieri cultural society, he comes from Bassano del Grappa, a wonderful town in Veneto. Dante Alighieri, the national poet of Italy, looks a good name for a school of Italian in Wanchai. He believes that Italy’s economy is strong and well represented here when we consider small and medium sized companies but not strong enough for large companies. Nevertheless he seems convinced that Hong Kong is a wonderful testing ground for Italian companies, this is proven by the fact that aside long term resident there is a wave of young Italians coming to live in this exciting place. Gianna Bressan is a young fashion designer, who consider herself privileged to working in Hong Kong, she love Buddhism for its universal message of peace and forgiveness, she says: “ I can see many positive facets of this bustling city.” Stefano Bassanese is from the port city of Trieste, he is new restaurant manager of Domani, he has been living in Hong Kong since 2007. His family has been involved in the food and beverage business for 101 he has this to say: “Personally I was always involved in a kind of ambassadorial work for some of the best Italian products, promoting fine wines and foods. As Confucius said I am not an innovator, I am just carrying on a tradition.”
Eligio Oggionni is a don in the local shipping industry and was the founder of a successful Italian school, dedicated to Alessandro Manzoni. He thinks that Italy and Hong Kong share the same attachment to family values, for this reason he feel himself at home. Fabio De Rosa, president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce, reminiscing on his years spent here thinks that not only Hong Kong but also the Italian community has changed: “It is now younger and more integrated than before, but the image of Italy is pretty much the same: food, culture, fashion.”
One thing that amaze him to most is that even Hong Kong consul him asking: how is China and on Chinese business…” Paolo Sepulcri is from the Friuli region and he his the president for Hong Kong of the Fogolar Furlan, an organization of friulans living abroad. He set up his home here and he admit that: “When I travel oversea, sometimes I come across people who criticize Hong Kong and I am always finding myself defending it. Right or wrong is my second Country!” Gabriele Benedetti, the president of JAS in Hong Kong is a bit special, compared to all other Italians, because he committed himself to this city by exchanging his passport with a Hong Kong Passport. You may call it eternal love and commitment! Marcello De Rosa, after practicing law in the United States where he moved from his native Rome he decided to practice fine food, opening an Italian restaurant.
Francesco Cavazzoni is another old China hand that visited the mainland during the Cultural Revolution and then established his own company in 1976, he has this to say: “I still firmly believe that Hong Kong is the best place to work in term of opportunities.”
Claudio De Bedin is the Italian Lawyer par excellence in the Italian community, he is fluent in Cantonese and was born here into a distinguished and cosmopolitan family, he thinks that: “Italians are well considered in Hong Kong by all the other communities. With the Chinese and China we have numerous cultural similarities which are creating mutual respect.” He believes that he could talk for hours about his happy life in Hong Kong, but what seems to convince him that his feeling are right is the fact that when he meets friends, who have left Hong Kong, they all say they would love to return as, despite any faults this city may have, it still a great place to live and to work. No matter how beautiful is our beloved Italy, Hong Kong is the place. William Cavadini comes from Como, says that we are represented in a big way here in Hong Kong. He has two small children, which are now fluent in English and have a lot of friends from different nationalities. “They are very lucky!” he says. Domenico Antico a world expert in electronic is now planning a second career from his nest in Discovery Bay. Paolo Predonzan is a master ice scream maker; he thinks that warm Hong Kong is an idea place for fine ice cream.
Mauro Maggioni is a top executive in the fashion industry, he landed here 5 years ago, before that he had never heard of Hong Kong. Now he calls it his bets decision ever, after deciding to marry his beautiful wife, Elisabetta and have a wonderful daughter. Ciriaco Offreddu, a writer and a consultant from Sardinia Island, lives on a grand boat moored off Hong Kong Island “A bit like going back to my roots!” He says. Leonardo Messena is a young top executive of a large Italian bank. He had previous experiences in Egypt and China and his sure about the fact that: “Our country enjoys among hongkonghers a very high degree of admiration. Whenever I introduce myself and say that I am Italian, inevitably triggers a series of expression of admiration and esteem which are at time embarrassing.”
Maxy Martinello found a new life in this city, after some difficult time in Italy and he is now working for an important fashion brand. A special mentioning is reserved here for father Gianni Criveller, of PIME, an historian and a journalist who, like hundreds of fathers and sisters who lives came here is on a mission. Here is what he tells us: “I had the privilege of researching and writing on the first Italian persons reaching Hong Kong. They were the Franciscan Antonio Feliciani in 1842 and Msgr. Luigi Ambrosi from Verona in 1855. The third Italian setting foot in Hong Kong, on April 10, 1858, was Paolo Reina, a priest from the Milan Foreign Missions Society (today known as PIME). Since then about 200 PIME missionaries came to Hong Kong, building the Catholic Church and serving the local population up to our own days. Until 1968 the Catholic bishops of Hong Kong were all Italian PIME missionaries. Pime served the needs of the people creating Caritas, schools, churches and innumerous other social, educational and religious services. The religious Italian presence in Hong Kong is very significant even today, with many religious women and men belonging to various catholic institutions. Studying Italians in Hong Kong I discovered a quite interesting story, somewhat related with the issue of Italian unification.”
Here goes his interesting story, before unknown to all: “The first Italian Bishop Timoleone Raimondi, the man who built the Catholic Cathedral (a College at the Middle Level is named after him), had a brother, Antonio Raimondi, a patriot who fought with Garibaldi during the days of the Roman Republic. After the restoration of the Papal Stare by Pius IX, Antonio had to go in exile in Peru, where he become an important and very well known traveler, discover and scientist. Two brothers: one was the highest representative of the pope in East Asia; the other was a militant opponent of the same pope. The Bishop travelled from Hong Kong to Peru to visit his anticlerical brother, it must have been a quite interesting meeting! By the way, according to some historians, the same Garibaldi came to Hong Kong: it seems to me that the Raimondi brother’s connection makes this story more likely. I find Hong Kong one of the most interesting cities in the world. Occasionally it is considered a city without much history: in fact this is not the case. Hong Kong has a fascinating and unusual history, in which Italians played a significant and honorable part!”