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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 11:13am
Universal Suffrage
CommentInsight & Opinion

Is it time to leave beloved Hong Kong?

Joyce Man says Beijing's decision on democracy has dashed hopes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 11:58am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 11:43am

In my family, we like to joke and call my father the "insurance man". An insurance consultant for more than 40 years, he goes to extraordinary lengths to minimise risks in any and every situation. As such, he's tried to ensure the family has a soft landing, should anything untoward happen.

In 1989, amid uncertainty over the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, my parents took out the ultimate insurance policy: they moved me and my sister with them to Canada, where we obtained citizenship first before moving back to our home city.

Now, 25 years later, I am thinking about putting that insurance policy into action and leaving Hong Kong permanently for Canada.

I recently moved to Bonn, Germany, temporarily for research, and like many millennial transplants abroad, I followed Beijing's decision on elections in Hong Kong through online news reports, Facebook posts and Skype calls home.

When I first read the news on my phone during my morning train ride, I couldn't help but get emotional, my eyes welling up with tears right there in a crowd of German commuters.

I wanted to be with my fellow Hongkongers at this vital moment. But, more than that, I was moved to tears out of frustration, because this is the latest in a string of disappointments for our city.

Over the past few years, I have grown steadily less hopeful about Hong Kong. At 30, I should be contemplating buying a flat and starting a family, but neither of these prospects entices me. I resent that being a homeowner in Hong Kong means saving for over a decade to buy a miserable hovel in the boondocks. I cannot contemplate having a child when the only options in education are pressure-cooker local schools and overpriced international institutions.

My friends and I stopped going out - there were too many tourists everywhere. I no longer know where to shop. With affordable stores disappearing and visitors crowding the ones that remain, buying clothes, shoes and basic necessities became a daily battle.

Then, there are the signs of Beijing closing in: the plans for national education in 2011, and the white paper released in June proclaiming China's comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong.

The right to vote for our leaders might not change all the things that are wrong in Hong Kong, but at least, with a ballot in hand, we could take ownership of our problems and try to resolve them. With Beijing's announcement, these hopes have been dashed.

For those of us who moved all those years ago - to Canada, the US, Britain, Australia and beyond - we had a very clear idea of what we were running from. Images of the violence and bloodshed in the Tiananmen crackdown were etched in our memories. The same thing could befall us, we thought. If ever a tank rolled over the Lok Ma Chau border, we could take our passports and run.

What we didn't visualise quite as starkly was a threat of this kind: the gradual encroachment on our way of life, and the sustained restrictions on our ability to decide how our home is governed.

I care a great deal for my city. I believe inherently in Hongkongers' ability to innovate, endure, thrive and reinvent ourselves. But I'm not sure I have it in me to stay.

Leaving is not something that any of us talk about lightly. It feels like desertion and betrayal. But I suspect that many, like me, are starting to have that conversation - not because they do not love Hong Kong, but because they can't bear to see the home they love slip away.

Joyce Man is the author of the blog Criss Cross Culture, at www.crisscrossculture.net


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Many of my friends come back to HK because they cannot get jobs in Australia or Canada. It is always like that, you become the second class citizen when you go to other countries and become their PR or citizen. You never feel belongings there no matter how long you stay there. So forget the politics. This is the fact. If you want to leave, then leave. Stop talking all kinds of nonsense. Nobody stopping you.
Most people seem to forget:
1) It's also expensive to buy a home in Sydney or Vancouver and most normal middle-class folks there are struggling to save enough for a downpayment on a nice house as well.
2) Hong Kong is a city built on the backs of mainland migrants, most of us present-day Hongkongers are no more than 2nd to 4th generation at most.
That said, it was always likely that Beijing would ruin Hong Kong after the handover, which is why so many Hongkongers wanted to leave in the run-up to 97. Why does what's happening now surprise everyone?
Democracy does not necessarily mean "one person-one vote", there are plenty of places with universal enfranchisement which you would normally not call democratic - that is Beijing's gambit. The core principal behind democracy is having a relatively free society in which every individual is respected and their right to a happy, productive life within the community is protected. This is never going to take place under a country where it is enshrined in the constitution that the rule of law should play a secondary role to the leadership of the Party.
Joyce, what you wrote resonates very closely to my friends and I who were fortunate enough to find a second home elsewhere (in my case Australia) while also finding decent jobs in industries and firms which will allow us to move shall we wish to.
The conflicted feeling of whether to leave or not is something that is increasingly being discussed in our circle of expats and returners, as we were brought up in an environment where being critical and having room for individual expression was a right, not a crime.
Sadly, bringing up the consideration of leaving will often attract criticism such as "well of course you can" and "if you don't like it, Hong Kong doesn't need people like you." And there is a sad reality for both points:
1. The first criticism is very true, to be able to have dual citizenship and escape to a safe haven is only an option for a previledge minority, and what is most painful is the people who are left behind are normally people who suffer the most under the regime that China is implementing.
2. The second criticism is something that I have heard most, and also the most ignorant - Hong Kong does need people like us, we got educated offshore where we weren't a burden to Hong Kong's budget, and now we are back paying taxes (and a lot of expats volunteer); to Hong Kong, the ROI is incredible.
We love Hong Kong, that's why even under these circumstances, we continue to live and contribute to society, and that's why it hurts everytime we consider leaving.
HK has a ton of problems - overcrowded streets, insane property prices, troubled politics, and a general mentality of 'i only have time to deal with my own issues so don't bother me with yours.' its no wonder that people in this city, despite being economically prosperous, struggle to grasp at happiness. the fact that mainland China is slowly assimilating HK doesn't help matters worse - at least Taiwan has an ocean and a larger landmass to separate itself from the mainland, but HK doesn't have those luxuries. it's no wonder that people drown theirselves in their work in order to have control over their lives, and it's no wonder that those who can are choosing to leave. i greatly emphasize with the author of this article, but my heart also goes out to thousands of other HKers who do not have the luxury she has of simply picking up and moving to a better place.
What do you mean by "to leave" Hong Kong. To be honest, you people who thought of "leaving" HK had already LEFT HK. You have never treated HK as your home, nor which ever country you have immigrated to. You are like a nomad, going to wherever that you can access benefits but not taking up **** of that place. When you run into problems, you flee, and that's an act of coward. You blame the government that you can't find a decent job so you fled to somewhere else. You blame the government for not fixing social problems, not granting you democracy so you fled somewhere else......And legitimize yourself because,oh guess what, you are also a citizen of some other country. This is upsetting. I don't know if I should blame this on the poison of colonization - making us HK-er become this community that lacks vision but only focus in personal satisfaction. You only think of running away when there are obstacles ahead, but not fixing them. What is more upsetting, then us who are brought up and educated in the overseas, end up running away and not contributing our knowledge when our root needs us.
I know. I totally understand why one would want to leave facing with all those culture clashes and differences in political views between HK and China. But instead of thinking about fleeing to somewhere else more desirable, why don't you be more genuine and try to fix the problem with your neighbors, who doesn't have anywhere to flee to, as a community?
I am gloomy about the future of HK but it is not due to the universal suffrage issue. I am tired of the fight between the pan-dem and the government. I hate those blocking the government to do something meaningful for HK. I am totally fed up with the legco which is now served only as a showroom for those political actors but not doing anything to move HK forward or giving useful solution to address the long list of problems. I hate those vested interest group which kowtow to CCP for their pocket but pretend to be the voice of HK people. I feel furious when the residents and those idiot district councilor put personal interest ahead of community interest. HK is in a turmoil. It is not because we don't have universal suffrage. It is because HK people are getting increasingly self-centered and refuse to scarify their own bit for the community's good.
I can truly understand your perspective. I don't want to raise my children in a place where there is control over the free flow of information, and a clamp down on the ability of the society to dialogue openly about its best possible future. We are not at such a point yet - but we are headed that way. Certainly Beijing wants that future for HK as it is what they impose within the mainland.
The sad thing is, Beijing will welcome your leaving. They will be happy to see all the culturally creative individuals leave. Those remaining will be more easily manipulated and controlled.
Ms. Man - taking into account your Canadian citizenship, residency and age, you could have not spent much more than 1/2 your life in Hong Kong. What makes it your city? You are from a fairly privileged class having been able to take out this insurance. What about the other 95% in 'your' city? You want to just leave them to their fate? You seem quite educated, also due to your privileged position I assume, and if you care why are you not here to make a difference? There are problems in any country you move to, once you get attached will you always turn your back and run rather than make a difference? Hong Kong will change & will become a integral part of China in 33 years. What will you do to make Hong Kong and later China a better place to live? I hope not hide in Canada or Germany and complain!
Anyone with an ounce of brain realises that HK will become just another Chinese city plagued by censorship and communist propaganda. So if you are not willing to live in Shanghai/Shenzhen, it is probably not worth staying in Hong Kong either. I don't live in HK but I feel compassion for its citizens and very sad to see this turn of events.
My advice: "Never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." - George Bernard Shaw
@shouken - I can assure you that most of my expat friends and I had easier lives while in Australia and Canada before coming here.
One of the determining factors for why I came here was because of the volunteering opportunities outside of work which were allowed me to help the people who are in the lowest social economic band. Unlike Australia and Canada, the welfare system in Hong Kong is not even sufficient enough for survival, which is why I moved to help people in a city that I hold so dearly in my heart.
I can't say for Joyce, but plenty of my friends also do the same here as expats, in fact, a lot of volunteers we meet are surprisingly all people who studied overseas, while attempts to get my local friends have all been rejected.
We are trying to make the city better, which is better than what the Government is doing at the moment to help the poor or make this a fairer city to live in.
I think what might drive people away is the restriction on press freedom and intellectual freedom, not the love of the people.



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