Monday, 17 June 2013

Clamouring to be Heard

We love Hong Kong, but does the government love us back?
I just came back from a party where I reconnected with some people, one a British expatriate and a Hong Kong-born resident who seems more comfortable speaking English than Chinese.

The local was complaining about the dire situation in Hong Kong, how our institutions are breaking down, the chief executive is not showing any kind of leadership and how we are fast becoming a mainland city.

Meanwhile the expat seemed to think everything was ticking along fine -- and this is someone who has lived here for more than half her life and established a prospering business not only here but regionally as well.

She thought it was great that locals were protesting every weekend, exercising their freedom of speech and admired the fact that they stood in the rain on June 4. She said she supported them all the way. And she has seen Hong Kong come back each time after a crisis such as SARS and the financial crisis, and admires its resilience.

After saying her two cents' worth, the expat left the party and while she and the local are friends, the latter was not surprised nor pleased by her friend's response.

The local said this was the expatriates' typical reaction to Hong Kong. They love living here because the city gave them an opportunity to find work, establish businesses and enjoy the high life; they are not really interested in what is going on in terms of politics or the environment or social issues. As long as they can make a comfortable living compared to their home country, then were happy. If there was ever a problem they could get on the next plane back.

But for locals, there isn't much choice (unless they are carrying a foreign passport). This is their home, and they are frustrated seeing how life has turned out post 1997. They don't see "one country, two systems" actively enforced -- instead they see Hong Kong fast becoming another Chinese city. They want democracy -- universal suffrage -- and yet they feel their interests being represented. And then don't get them started on the mainland invasion...

While Hong Kong seems to be of two solitudes, that is probably the same result in every other city where expats live.

However, I have to say that for overseas Chinese who live in Hong Kong and have settled here, they are fretting like the locals. I can't speak for everyone, but in my case, I left Hong Kong after seven years in 2001 and at the time thought Hong Kong was a good place to start off my career and it was time to move onto the next chapter.

But distance makes the heart grow fonder. When I was back in Canada, I found myself eagerly following any news about Hong Kong and wished I had the chance to participate in the July 1, 2003 march against Article 23 in which half a million people turned out.

And then my three years in Beijing made me appreciate Hong Kong even more -- how its freedom of speech and press need to be protected even more than ever.

Now that I've been back for almost three years now, I feel more connected to the city than say the expat speaking earlier, but obviously I don't know all the rants and complaints locals have because I can't read Chinese media.

Nevertheless I feel I have some kind of stake in the city and am disappointed to see our government not really interested in our concerns, but those of Beijing. We have become second-class citizens in our own city -- where else do you see that in the world?

We are seeing more cases of corruption and not enough checks and balances... the list goes on.

Yes we protest every weekend -- but that hardly changes the system; it just disrupts traffic for a few hours. Do the officials really care?

But yes life goes on. More local groups are setting up to represent every other interest, and meanwhile a man by the name of Benny Tai is organizing an Occupy Central protest next year.

So everyone is trying to find their way to change the system. Some are doing it legally, while others, like Tai, feel there is no other way to get government to listen except by breaking the law.

Hong Kong residents are unhappy. So why not listen to us for a change, CY Leung? We're paying your salary!


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