Life in the patriotic camp
There were question marks hanging in the air two years ago when I joined the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).
People asked why a liberal-minded young accountant - who had worked in a multinational firm for years - and who was an independent district councillor, would join the so-called traditional, pro-Beijing camp.
They also questioned why I would become a member of the party at such a difficult time: it had just suffered a defeat in the 2003 district council elections.
The economy was not in good shape, and the atmosphere in the community was not that favourable towards the patriotic camp.
But it seemed like a natural move to me. As a district councillor, I was pretty close to the patriotic camp, and we often worked together. I have never hidden my political stance.
I have always believed that the city must forge a close partnership and trust with the mainland - before we can take action in areas such as democracy - because Hong Kong is part of China.
DAB lawmaker Tsang Yok-sing first approached me and asked whether I would like to join the party. He wondered if I would be part of their team contesting the Legislative Council election in September 2004, running in the Kowloon West constituency.
We talked about our beliefs and, of course, my political career. I agreed to join, since I always appreciated their efforts on district affairs matters.
I first stood for the district council elections in 1999, in Kowloon City. All I wanted was to be involved and serve the community, because I had lived in Hunghom for decades.
I strongly believe that the most important thing for every councillor is to get close to the people in their districts and learn their concerns.
It was a bit of a cultural shock when I joined the DAB. After working in a foreign company for a long time, I had become used to straight-talk - discussing and debating issues with colleagues and seniors.
But in the patriotic camp, people are more discreet and indirect. Sometimes people won't tell me directly what they think of me. Instead, they send the message via a middleman.
The decision-making process in the patriotic camp is also a bit slower. In the business world, people are very decisive; but here, there is always a discussion process. I reckon this is their tradition, and you have to respect and get used to it.
I am truly touched by the passion of people in the patriotic camp. You see them burst into tears when the country wins Olympic medals, and they sat up all night to watch the launch of the Shenzhou rocket. These are real people, and they are not faking their emotions.
What also surprised me is the diversity of people in the party. There is a general perception that the DAB is a party for the grass roots. But, in fact, its members include many professionals, particularly after its merger with the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance. This is a public-image issue which will change gradually.
So far, I feel this party is genuine about nurturing and developing young members, and I have been given a lot of opportunities.
I was elected into the party central committee, named the deputy spokesman on economic affairs and have been asked to represent the party on many occasions.
All these are chances for me to develop my communication and political skills, and broaden my horizons.
There are not too many young professionals in the party, but I believe more people like me will join a party that has a bright future.
Starry Lee Wai-king is a Kowloon City district councillor and a member of the DAB's central committee.