I’m a Hongkonger in S’pore in my early 20s & this is how I feel about the protests back home
Hongkongers don't just care about cute animal videos, we care about what's happening to us as a society too.
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The city of Hong Kong has been rocked by widespread protests in the past week against the proposed extradition bill.
The Beijing-backed bill, if passed, would entangle people in China’s courts, and damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe business hub.
While many of my friends took part in the protests, I am in Singapore doing my internship.
Heart still in Hong Kong
But even though I am physically absent, my heart is together with those who are exercising their civil rights and taking to the streets.
On the day the first round of protests broke out, my friends were very kindly showing me around Singapore, but I could not help but keep thinking about the situation back home.
Since I couldn’t do much here anyway, I thought I could at least write my thoughts on it.
I would have taken part in the protest too if I was in Hong Kong
Being a “97 kid”, there has always been a major event each time we graduated from school for the past 20 years.
SARS for kindergarten, swine flu for primary school, Occupy Central for secondary school, and anti-extradition law protest this year for university.
These are significant moments in Hong Kong, but I think I was too young to make sense of them, especially Occupy Central.
I personally do not support the legislation of extradition law, but I respect those with opposite views.
Over the past few months, various sectors have expressed their concerns regarding the extradition bill.
While the government has repeatedly reassured the public, many remain sceptical about the legislation.
In fact, I was quite upset about not being able to attend the protest in Hong Kong this time, not only because I am missing yet another historical moment, but also because I want to show my support and solidarity with the rest of Hong Kong.
I have got to exercise my freedom of assembly while I still can.
Many of my friends are actively involved
Some of my friends have always been enthusiastic about politics, so I’m not surprised to see their faces among other protesters on their social media accounts.
But not all of my friends are politically active.
Even though they are not that outspoken about their views, they still took part in the protest on Sunday.
I became more politically aware in secondary school
When I was in secondary school, my friends and I distributed yellow ribbons in our school, hoping that our fellow schoolmates would take their initiative to read more about the issue and support the student movement of Occupy Central.
Teachers were understandably on their toes when they saw us doing that before the morning assembly.
While I displayed the yellow ribbon prominently on my school uniform, I don’t think a lot of the other students did.
Right after the morning assembly, I was taken to the principal’s office, where they had a long talk with me, and asked me to take off the ribbon as it violated school rules and regulations.
Thankfully, people around me never got into trouble for speaking their minds.
But we have seen news about that for the past few years.
Hongkongers don’t just care about cute animal videos
When I saw the police use tear gas fired at the protesters during the Umbrella Movement and Occupy Central, I was shocked as I didn’t know such things would happen in Hong Kong too.
A common saying is that the Hong Kong people only care about cheap flight tickets, new restaurants and cute animal videos.
So, we didn’t really expect people to be that concerned about local politics, to the point where they actually took action, rather than just sharing posts on Facebook.
The 2014 Umbrella Movement was a turning point for many young Hongkongers
I’m not here to comment on the 2014 protest itself and its lasting impact on the Hong Kong society, as well as its relations with mainland China.
But one thing is certain — it was an important “woke” moment for many of us in Hong Kong.
Since then, people became more interested in local politics, the Hong Kong identity and our local culture.
More Hongkongers now want to contribute to the society in whichever way they can.
It can be something as simple as engaging in online discussions, or writing for online magazines to explore alternative issues, or even incorporating local cultural characteristics when designing products.
People are definitely more engaged in local politics nowadays, and introspective about what it means to be a Hongkonger, which I think is really good.
Being aware is always the first step.
Crowds silently hold up their mobile phone lights at a site where a protester fell to his death last night after unfurling an anti-extradition law banner. Floral tributes line the road.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) June 16, 2019
Hongkongers try their best whenever they can
I think Hong Kong people are trying really hard to create a better space.
At least, that’s what I can see in younger generations.
“The fast-paced life in Hong Kong is suffocating?”
Okay, we will open cafes where you can get away from the city life and just chill for an afternoon.
“Teaching Chinese language in Mandarin at school?”
Okay, we will promote the significance of Cantonese.
“Hong Kong is a cultural desert? the Hong Kong government does not support the local music scene?”
Okay, we will organise more music events, and open new cafes where local artists can come share their music.
People are actively changing the local scene, showing that they really care about their homeland.
I guess Hong Kong people grow up experiencing the tension of not really knowing who we are: We are a former British colony, now part of China under “One Country, Two Systems”.
We are Chinese but are different from mainland Chinese in many ways.
Perhaps that’s the root of wanting to preserve our unique local culture and identity.
Hong Kong’s way of life is within us, and it will not be eliminated so easily.
We will continue to be outspoken and sarcastic, speak Cantonese, drink our Hong Kong milk tea, eat soup macaroni and watch Stephen Chow everywhere we go.
Just look at the protests.
You can forcibly suppress the protest and resistance, but it will only make the Hong Kong people value our local culture and identity more.
Hong Kong will always be the place I return to
Despite the political situation, I definitely want to stay in Hong Kong because it is where I belong.
I have seen a lot of people moving to other countries for various reasons, some looking for a different way of life, some being disappointed with the Hong Kong government.
Even some older relatives have told me that it is always better to have back up plans.
After coming to Singapore multiple times, I think the culture here is similar enough to Hong Kong, and I wouldn’t mind staying here.
At least people can live comfortably here. In Hong Kong, we constantly live in “survival mode”.
Unless Hong Kong is “mainlandised” to the extent where I feel alienated, I don’t see myself moving to another country.
I might work somewhere else, but I’ll always go back.
But if I can change something about Hong Kong…
I will want the government to actually do something for the people living there.
Business opportunities in the greater bay area are abundant. New infrastructure is great too.
But many people are homeless and living on the streets. They can’t even afford to pay the rent of a tiny sub-divided flat.
Music venues get shut down often, and are constantly raided by the police.
Local places are getting gentrified, while local restaurants and shops are getting replaced by bars and high-end restaurants that residents can’t afford.
Every day we hear news about young people committing suicide.
How can you turn a blind eye to all these? The city is so developed that we forget that sometimes the city moves too fast for its people.
I’m not against China, and I think working together with them is great.
But I hope this can be done while maintaining Hong Kong’s unique identity and competitive edge.
Besides, local affairs are equally important as regional or international affairs.
I just wish the Hong Kong government would put more effort into social affairs, not just the economy, and that there would be more opportunities for dialogue with the government.
It’s not as if people want to protest every day as well.
Top image via wilfred chan/Twitter