Ashley / China in the media / Travel

Hong Kong: No Change?

Me, a freshly minted expat at Hong Kong Victoria Harbour, 2006

This past week I did a bit of traveling. I head back to Hong Kong for some retail therapy and catching up with some good friends. I hit a new Italian restaurant, spent some time at the spa, drank copious amounts of prosecco and rode the tram from end to end. It was 48 hours of getting out of China, washing the mainland out of my hair and spending some time unpacking what I’ve learned. Conclusion? Hong Kong is still absolutely freaking wonderful.

In our endless exchange of articles on China, Phil forwarded me this gem from China Daily the other week which had me thinking nostalgically during my visit. The article, “Hong Kong: Fifty Years No Change,” briefly covers the handover of the Special Administrative Region from Britain to Mainland China in 1997 and the identity crises/changes that have occurred since. As of July 1st, it’s been fourteen years since Mainland China enacted the “two systems, one party” approach to the former British colony – which leaves 36 years until the mainland really takes over. Ms. Loh’s take on what’s happened within these two systems is an interesting one. She writes:

“As [Hong Kong] slowly adapted to life under the red flag, it did receive a wake-up call that made the people look deep into their consciousness and decide who they wanted to be. For the first time, they had a national identify, rather than just a reputation for being the goose that laid so many golden eggs for a faraway master.”

The interesting thing about this identity of Hong Kong people is how grey it remains. It is not uncommon to find residents of Hong Kong, expatriate and local, clinging to the lovely enigma of Hong Kong’s identity which is neither British nor Chinese. In short, I’m not sure how much adapting actually took place.

Talking to friends around town, Hong Kong, except in cases of property prices/rent (which are insane right now), lays its own golden eggs, ones that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. When I mentioned that I was living in Chengdu, not only did I get some street cred for “roughing it” for the past year, but I also got a lot of questions on my take on what the mainland is really like. As I always say, I am no expert, but I think a life in Hong Kong is still extremely different from one in the mainland and there are pros and cons to both. In these discussions I realized how out of touch many people in Hong Kong were with China. Later, visiting friends in Shanghai, we laughed that when talking to China expats the conversation always turns to China. But this is not so with Hong Kong-ren. Ms. Loh continues:

“Much of the success story in this unique political integration stems from two main factors. One is the innate resilience and pragmatism of the Hong Kong people and their determined ability to adapt, and the second, equally important, is the tolerance and space Beijing has given this special administrative region so far. In the words of one of the SAR’s leading architects: Where else in China can you find demonstrations being held every weekend right under the noses of the SAR administration?”

Living in the mainland for almost a year now I think its pretty fare to say that the only place you’ll find demonstrations in China is in Hong Kong, who loves a good protest. Especially ones such as this, which was 220,000 people strong, protesting universal suffrage and rising property prices. The unnerving thing about this article is the assurance that while there has been “no change” to Hong Kong’s lifestyle there has been adaptation and tolerance on both sides. Of course this is merely a typical rose tinted article in the China Daily and I should be bothered by it. Just as I think the average Hong Kong expat is not bothered by the politics of Hong Kong. But the reason I am writing is that many are becoming bothered and the biggest change since 1997 is their reluctance to adapt and tolerate.

There are several old adages that fit my visit “the grass is always greener…” or “you don’t know what you have till its gone,” which probably explain why my trips back to Hong Kong, the longer I am away, seem that much more nostalgic. I have changed, and living in China has been a big influence in that, but we’ll talk more about that later. For now, Hong Kong, don’t go changin’.

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