What is there to love about Hong Kong

September 18, 2023 01:01
Hong Kong. AFP

These days, it’s trendy to talk down Hong Kong.

After all, who doesn’t enjoy trashing a city that has seen, in the span of four to five years, unprecedented political turmoil, a pandemic that has left many of its once-thriving sectors bereft of life, and a mass exodus in talents stemming from a multitude of reasons - with the social upheaval, seismic institutional transformations, and long-standing socioeconomic inequalities all contributing towards the case for leaving.

What is there to love about Hong Kong?

For starters, there’s something loveable about the compactness of the city - the fact that you can get from the lush and lusciously rolling hills dividing Kowloon from the New Territories, to the Star Ferry pier and a front-row view of the Victoria Harbour, within the span of 10 minutes. Or that you can cycle and take three stops to take you from a beach in the south of the island, to Central - the focal point of hustle and bustle in town. Or that you can schedule eight to nine meetings within three hours, for it would only take you minutes to get from one meeting venue to another. There are few other cosmopolises in the world as efficient and cohesively integrated as Hong Kong.

Then there’s of course the cultural diversity that has made its mark on this city. The prominent ethnic Indian family who have made and call this place their home for almost a century. The Brit who landed in this city fifty years ago as an aspiring civil servant, who has now retired to a life of modest, rustic comfort in Sai Kung. The Japanese investment banker who found his first pot of gold in this city, and decided to stay in order to bridge Hong Kong and Japan -- come what may. And this is not to mention the plurality of migrant groups from all corners of China (Fujian through to Sichuan, Yunnan to Tianjin), each speaking dialects or languages of their own, enriching our cultural and artistic landscape. Not everyone can become or live as a Permanent Resident on this soil. Yet this is one of those rare cities in the world where migrants and visitors don’t just become a part of the city - they define this city’s ethos and constitute a vital part of its character and culture.

Lest I be accused of disseminating propaganda (though, truth be told, I’d like to think this is more effective than most propaganda), I do want to affirm that I have much skin in the game. I have found myself a prime beneficiary of Hong Kong’s culture of openness, inquisitiveness, and audacity to welcome constant bricolage and synthesis of ideas, traditions, and values. The city does so much more than merely ‘bridge’ East and West - it epitomises the higher ideal, the higher proposition, that everyone stands to gain from great powers and civilisations working together, as opposed to against one another. Whilst some have dubbed this city a casualty of the past few years of geopolitical intrigue and global balkanisation, I remain adamant that this city can and must do more in shining light on the path ahead for China - as the country’s most progressive and cosmopolitan city. To naysayers and those who believe we are thus consigned to the dustbins of history, I’d say - not quite just yet.

“What is there to love about Hong Kong?”

I was asked by a friend whom I hosted a brief dinner to bid farewell to a couple of months back, over a well-done steak on her plate, and a blue on mine. I suppose one could term this a divergence in tastes, and draw analogies between our steak preferences and our views on Hong Kong.

She continued, “No, tell me, why is it that I find it so hard to say goodbye, and yet I also feel that I would be much better off elsewhere?” Apparently, it wasn’t so easy to go, after all.

The inherently conflictual and murky nature of deciding whether one should go - or stay - renders the decision to migrate an almost-intrinsically individualised, personal decision. Some opt to leave this city because they see themselves as bereft of choices; others are disillusioned and jaded by the socioeconomic stratification and the cultural metamorphosis; still, many are hoping to turn a new leaf and embark upon a journey with their family and young children.

Yet what is oft-overlooked, on the other hand, are those who have opted to stay, whether it be out of a fear of the unknown, a sense of resignation, or a firm belief in the prognosis that things will get better. Many have opted to build, to reform, and to fix the plethora of problems confronting us, for despite their political and ideological differences - which could well be vast - they all share an undergirding love for this city, and the conviction that they, as Hong Kongers, can and must do more to advance pragmatic change on the ground.

This is not to say that those who have left are thereby fools, or necessarily selfish. It’s just to say that we can each love this city in our own ways. And the most loveable part about this city, is its people - the resilient, perseverant, organic, dynamic, fluid, and uncompromisingly aspirational 7,500,000 who make us who we are, and who shall take us into the future.

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Assistant Professor, HKU