We’ve still got much to offer, and to love for our city

September 23, 2022 08:27
Photo: RTHK

These days, reading commentary on Hong Kong is a tad like watching someone kicking when down. Y’know – it’s easy to hate on and dismiss Hong Kong, and it’s even easier to give into the scaremongering and doomsday narratives: “This city is dying!”, “This city is dead!”, “Long live Hong Kong – its glory and halcyon days are behind it.” These narratives have enduring power, and they resonate far more viscerally with those who lament the fading-out of the old ways of yore. I get it.

Indeed, there are times when I, myself, am guilty of letting such sentiments overwhelm my writing – and the way I view and imagine this city, which has given me birth, love, and the prospects of daring to think beyond the box in which I was born. Hong Kong taught me what it’s like to have dreams that may get eventually dashed – and yet are worthy of pursuit.

So here’s an attempt to do something different. I want to talk about what makes this city, in 2022, still fundamentally beautiful, loveable, and worthy of our contribution and fighting for a better tomorrow – not for its government, not for some lofty ideals, but for the 7.3 million people who still live here, call this place their home, and cherish Hong Kong greatly for its vibrant blend of retro-chic and metro-modernity.

To start off, this is a city with some of the most impeccable infrastructure to boot around the world. We’ve got a world-class public health system – with devoted personnel and easily affordable operations, procedures, and top-tier care; we’ve got a transportation system that can whizz you through the town to anywhere you’d like within 30-40 minutes; our streets remain packed to the brim with footfall and bustle, yet you wouldn’t see litter or trash-bags strewn across their paths (unlike New York, which – for all that is mesmerising and fantastic about it – isn’t exactly the cleanest metropolis out there!). This is a city that serves 7.3 million residents – and millions more of tourists, investors, and visitors during better times.

Hong Kong is also a place where cultures – as with peoples and persons – meet. Take a stroll through Soho or Chungking Mansions, and you’d be astounded by the variety and diversity of ideas, norms, rituals, and beliefs that conjoin in making us by far the most international and welcoming city in China, if not Asia, for folks from all corners of the world. Our expat community, whilst dampened by recent exodus due to the inane quarantine restrictions, remains a vital bridge between China, Asia, and the world. Avant-garde and radical art alike line the walls of establishments such as M+ and the Hong Kong Museum of Art, whilst local eateries – e.g. the dapaidongs, the cha chaan tengs – have come to epitomise the resourceful craftiness of Chinese immigrants that had left the mainland for better lives in the 1950s and 1960s. These deeply engrained and embedded sources of comfort do not come by easily – I shudder to imagine (for I have indeed tried) trying to find instant noodles in the middle of the night on the streets of London or Paris. Kebabs you may stuff into your mouth – but it’s the wonton noodles and char-siu that truly make one’s mouth water.

And this brings me onto the final roster of strengths that Hong Kong has retained throughout the highs and lows, the ebbs and flows of history: its robust, resilient legal, financial, and corporate institutions. From its being the only common law-practising jurisdiction in mainland China to its absurdly (and potentially to be further reduced) low tax rates, from the high degrees of transparency and non-corruption in its civil service to the substantial levels of English (and increasing Mandarin) proficiency, this is absolutely the city to be for those who are seeking to make their forays into Asia. Yes – Singapore has its virtues, has its strengths, and its appeal. Yet when it comes to a smorgasbord of at-times inchoate, at-times incoherent (yet endearingly so) fun, there are few places that could rival Hong Kong in the continent.

We’ve still got so much to give to our city. By “We”, I’m not just speaking of those in positions of office and power; or those who wield economic and cultural influence. I’m talking about you and I, ordinary Hong Kongers who find solace and comfort in seeing our city thrive again. I’m talking about migrants who view Hong Kong a welcome and distinctive sanctuary of institutional robustness and rule of law. I’m talking about those who, whilst perhaps perturbed and alienated by recent political patterns, remain firmly convinced that this is the time to stay and build. I’m talking about those who have made up their minds that they – having been born and raised here – shall die here. ‘Tis not a time for sentimentalism. ‘Tis a time for us to reflect upon what we can do, and how we can give back, for our city. That’s the greatest challenge of all times – of our times. Our city, we pledge to serve.

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Assistant Professor, HKU