Our city, our home and our place in the world

March 20, 2023 11:09
Photo: Reuters

I got back to Hong Kong late last week.

And it took me no time to come to the conclusion - there are few places quite like home. Masks are now gone (though some folks remain obstinately wedded to them), tourists are trickling in, and the airport is well and truly on its way to coming ‘back’ in full.

The efficiency of Airport Express was impeccable (especially in comparison with the delay-riddled Tube in London), and the train cabin itself was demonstrative of the impeccable cleanliness and orderliness that undergird our city.

The IFC awaits at the end of the Express line, hosting an eclectic mixture of high-end boutique shops, restaurants, and a large cosmopolitan crowd of tourists and office workers. This feels Home. I feel right at Home.

These days it’s very trendy to dump on Hong Kong wherever is possible. Reading newspaper headlines abroad would render one convinced that this city is finished - that it is well and truly cooked, with its halcyon days behind it. Throw in a few buzzwords and the standard geopolitically rooted bombast concerning China, and one would be forgiven for thinking that the city is a dystopian hellhole.

Yet such narratives just do not do justice to the city. They neglect the hyper-efficiency and interconnectivity that underpin much of the city’s magic. They pass over - almost woefully negligently - the superb recreation and leisure facilities, or food and beverage and cultural elements that proliferate the city. Setting aside the shopping and retail, there is much that Hong Kong uniquely has to offer, arguably over its many regional counterparts.

Where else in the world could you get to a lush countryside mountaintop within 5 minutes of a meeting in one of the most opulent districts in the world (save from, perhaps, the Orchard-Tanglin-Botanical Gardens stretch in Singapore, perhaps)? Where else could you spend a morning on a beach, lunch in a hawker stall within 10 minutes of said beach, and the afternoon hiking on a mountain range that grants you unrivalled views of Southern Guangdong?

This is a city that is defined by its people - tenacious, enduring, creative, and savvy. It’s part of our DNA to be dexterous, and not to be chained or shackled to particular ‘sides’ or ‘camps’ in geopolitical tussles. It’s also engrained in our zeitgeist and ethos that we adapt to the circumstances and adversities that we face - it is precisely this mindset that has enabled us to weather the many challenges that have come our way in the past, from World War 2 and the early days of the Cold War, through to SARS, the Asian Financial Crisis, and COVID-19.

Hong Kong will always remain the most international and open city on Chinese soil. This is our claim to fame, our source of importance, and our special status. There are, of course, sycophants and pedants who wish to purge our home of such uniqueness - they can never succeed. They shall never succeed.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a plethora of problems that this city remains beset by - including deeply perverse socioeconomic and housing inequalities, an uncompetitive and ossified industrial and economic structure, and fundamentally atavistic education and curricula design that are ill-equipped for the 21st century. We must also grapple with questions looming over our legal and political systems as we emerge from the quagmire of geopolitical intrigue over the past few years.

Yet none of these problems need be unresolvable. None of them is unfixable. With the right level of determination, persistence, and integrity, I am more than confident that we can find a way forward. This is, after all, our city, our home, and our place in the world. There’s no other place in the world that can compare with Hong Kong.

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Assistant Professor, HKU