Homesick at home

From the South China Morning Post:

We all have a story. A foot run over by a suitcase. A flight delayed by an unrestrained child. A quiet night at the cinema or a nice restaurant thrown asunder by a tantrum. This is our warzone—remember, in this city, umbrellas are deadly weapons—and these our battle scars. We share our stories, we bond over them, the hurt they cause eased by the implication in every retelling that we are not like that. We are better.

My favorite story to tell is not my own. Last autumn, my girlfriend lined up for a minibus one evening in Admiralty. She was 14th in line for the 16 seats on the next bus when a young mainland Chinese man and his father rushed to cut in front of her. The father then counted heads and turned to my girlfriend.

“Lucky,” he said to her, in accented Cantonese. “You’re 16th!”

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From The Atlantic:

Earlier this month, I swam across Victoria Harbour—the lifeblood of Hong Kong since our inception—in an annual race that was only recently revived after decades of concern about the water being contaminated. Hong Kongers of my father’s generation talk wistfully about the old cross-harbor swim and how wide the harbor was in those days, before the land-reclamation projects began, before the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.

Their reveries reflect an existential fear: Without our harbor, even the meaning of our name, “fragrant harbor,” becomes obsolete. We would suffer the fate we most dread—the crux of what has driven our students into the streets over the last month in their umbrella-toting droves: We would be just another Chinese city.

Hong Kong officials met with student protesters for the first time on Tuesday, and if there was one message the government conveyed, it was this: Give up on your dreams. That happens to be a line from the unofficial anthem of the protest movement, a rock ballad by the local band Beyond, and if you have visited any of the protest sites, you know how the next line goes: Anyone can do that.

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Night One

From the South China Morning Post:

It’s one a.m. Another round of tear gas in Admiralty, another pack of green riot police scurrying away. The crowds disperse, the crowds return, larger. I have given up trying to decipher what rules of deployment the police have for tear gas, assuming there are any rules. The chief executive has asked us to be rational; I would like to think that applies to the police as well, but it’s one a.m., and they seem to have just fired another round of tear gas into a stationary crowd for no reason at all.

Let us be clear about how we got here.

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Out of our hands

From the South China Morning Post:

I once thought I would never say goodbye to Hong Kong. Or that if I ever did, it would be by my own choice. I should have known better. In this city, the choice has never been ours.

We are used to this. Coteries of old men—and three extraordinary women—in faraway places have been signing away our rights for 172 years. No one on that ship in Nanjing ever thought to ask how the people on this barren rock felt about being ransomed for heroin. No one in Beijing negotiating the terms of the lease on the New Territories considered bringing its occupants to the table. No one at the table in suite 336 of The Peninsula on Christmas Day, 1941, was even Chinese. And no where in the declaration Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher toasted 30 years ago is there any reference to the people of Hong Kong.

We are used to this, and maybe like we have before, we will soldier on, even on a battlefield where it sometimes feels like no one is fighting for us. Maybe we will yet squeeze a few drops of democracy from this lemon, even if its sour taste lingers. Maybe we will reinvent ourselves one more time, and make our administrative region special one more way.

But maybe not.

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Over the Top

From the South China Morning Post:

I used to occupy Central. I used to grab a sandwich and sit in Statue Square or Chater Garden and feel like I owned the place, because unlike the rest of Central during lunch hour, I never had to wait in line to get a seat. These outdoor areas are sometimes so sparsely populated, even on a cool, clear day, that a couple friends and I once entertained ourselves in Statue Square by watching a solitary cockroach scamper across the concrete tiles. It was the only one of us who needed unimpeded access through the Square to go about its business.

The rest of us, once lunch was over, returned to our respective offices in Prince’s Building, the Cheung Kong Center, and ICBC Tower through the series of covered, elevated walkways so interconnected and comprehensive that the Hong Kong Tourism Board tells visitors, “Once you’ve arrived, you never have to come back down to earth.”

It’s not an exaggeration: someone arriving in Hong Kong can never touch the ground from the moment they step off their plane until they reach any given destination in Central. From the jet bridge to the Airport Express, through IFC and over Connaught Road, you can reach as far as Star Street to the east and the Macau Ferry Terminal to the west, as far north as the Star Ferry and as far south as Conduit Road without ever setting foot outdoors at ground level.

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25: Cognitive Dissonance

From the South China Morning Post:

The first time you go to the June 4 vigil at Victoria Park, expect to be unprepared for a number of things. The difficulty of affixing, with dripping wax, a candle to a conical paper cup. The funeral rites that without warning evince the hardest kind of loss, of a parent losing a child. And the cognitive dissonance triggered by the act of memorialising students whose deaths led in part to Hong Kong becoming the city it is today.

I was six years old in 1989. My mother worked in Hong Kong for a multinational chemical company whose business, like all business in China, evaporated after June 4. Two months later, my mother was among the first businesspeople to re-enter the mainland and attempt to resuscitate foreign trade. The deal she ultimately secured was the only one her company completed in China that year, and it set her apart from her peers and on a course of career advancement that underwrote my liberal arts and legal education. I am today able to specialise in human rights law as a result of the opportunity that the June 4 crackdown gave my mother.

This is the paradox we can never seem to escape in Hong Kong, forever and at once benefiting from and resenting Chinese–and, before that, British–rule. When the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, we were eight short years from the same tanks rolling across the Shenzhen River, and the predictive trauma of that moment is not only what brings many of us back to Victoria Park each year; it was what sent thousands of us to Canada, Australia and elsewhere.

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Tindog Tacloban

From The Common:

We stood among the wreckage of the barangay captain’s house and his furniture shop and his crumbled internet café, where three months ago you could put a ten peso coin in and for a few minutes connect from this little island to the world out there, beyond Cancobato Bay, the San Juanico Strait and Tacloban. CPU shells lay stacked up like carcasses against one of the few walls still standing, ghosts in the machines, severed cables and keyboard drawers jutting out like compound fractures. The barangay captain has not had time to rebuild. He has a job to do; he is the barangay captain.

“Thank you,” the barangay captain says to me. “With all my heart.”

I don’t know what to say.


In the dark

From the South China Morning Post:

Some time ago, the chief executive and I exchanged letters, in these pages, on the topic of universal suffrage. In a developed society, I argued, it was an inevitable evolution, and Hong Kong was as ready for democracy as any society ever could be.

Leung Chun-ying wrote that any proposal “to elect the chief executive by universal suffrage is half-baked without proposing consequential changes to other provisions” and, far from guaranteeing universal suffrage, the Basic Law stipulates that “the appointment of the chief executive without any form of elections, let alone universal franchise, is allowed”. He spelled the doom of a constitutional crisis if the central government refused to appoint whomever was returned by a direct election, and cited the “gradual and orderly progress” clause of Article 45 in calling for a slowly, slowly approach.

That was 10½ years ago. Mr Leung, are we there yet?

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Privé, all over again

From The Common:

There used to be an actual line.  That we had to actually wait in.  We used to line up from the elevator bank in the Harbour View Hotel across the bridge and over to the Great Eagle Centre, or double-backed towards Central Plaza, and we used to wait.  We waited in the balmy near-summer heat if it was the prom after-party, or in the wincing wet cold when we were back from college for the holidays.  We waited, we paid cover, we had tickets.  We were young.

We didn’t drink as much then, at ing.  We did shots, but not hard shots; we got tables and bottles, but we didn’t stand on the tables and we didn’t drink from the bottles, didn’t hoist them over each others’ mouths and count to three.  The whole place, and the space, the pace, felt less frenzied, if no less drunk (we tolerated less), and the hip-hop floor in the front or the bar in the back with the karaoke booths off to the side always had room to linger.  The time between now and then, its passage between Privé and ing, is like a decade-thick dampener, and it makes me want to say they used to play the music softer at ing, that conversations used to be audible, though I know that can’t be true.


A Ballot Cast in Betrayal

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

… My parents gave me everything: they indulged me with the comforts they didn’t have growing up and sent me to the best schools, so that I might think outside myself and aspire to work for an organisation such as the United Nations. I went to law school, studied refugee and human rights law, and left corporate law to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But now that I’m here, where I thought Kevin Rudd would want me to be, he tells me that what I’m doing–and where my family’s half-century Australian journey has led me–is part of the problem.

This is strange for me. Chinese families such as mine have a particular affinity for Rudd, who, my grandmother would note, speaks better Chinese than I do.

I should be excited about Jason Yat-sen Li, Labor’s new Chinese-Australian candidate for Bennelong, but instead I am wary he is being parachuted in to pick up easy Asian votes. Because if the new asylum seeker policy is any indication, Rudd seems to be taking me for granted. …

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