Why do you love Hong Kong so much?
This has been a question I have recently often been asked. It is not because I exude the positive glow of a man loving his life in this great city. Those who have asked me this question are people who know me well. They are people with whom I share a similar experience of Hong Kong; people who share my joy and also my pain.
It is a question they ask already knowing my answer. I love Hong Kong because it is home. It is an answer that they too would give if asked the same question. But they ask me still because they feel our answer increasingly rings hollow.
Hong Kong is increasingly an unloved home. It has become a burden rather than a joy. A source not of hope but of regret and disappointment. If I had a choice I wouldn’t choose Hong Kong as home. But this is a choice I do not believe I have.
One may be able to choose were to live, but our roots are inherited and remain firmly embedded in a place and among a community. For some, these roots are shallow, and spread out over a wide surface. Not reliant on a single patch of ground, they are often more adaptable and better able to weather changing conditions. With shallow roots a sapling can be replanted in a new and more fertile patch of land. But shallow roots feel only the topsoil.
In others these roots run deep. Having taken root, an old oak now stands in time, a witness to the changing seasons. We value those with deep roots differently. They do not add to the garden, but define the natural landscape within which a garden is itself set. To sever these roots is to kill the tree. It is also to remove a relationship between the living and the earth that can not just be replaced. The landscape itself must change fundamentally.
It is not a matter of time, nor of generations or heritage. It is an attitude, in how one is by nature connected to a place – both a physical and social environment. It depends on what home means to the person. It depends on how we understand it, which in turn depends on how we love.
I feel my roots deeply. Hong Kong has defined all that is important to me. It frames my earliest childhood memories, and provides the values, the traditions and the culture that guide my relationships. It is my first and defining love as it is my hate. It provides the context within which I have grown, the backbone around which my person is built.
I may have a foreign passport. I may have the right to reside elsewhere. But I do not hold this passport as a foreign national, but as a Hong Kong man. It is neither my ticket home nor my escape, but a mark of the (admittedly privileged) local community in which I was raised. I retain it because it is a Hong Kong things to do, a relic of a shared and local history when under a more direct threat the passport served a more obvious purpose. I am sure there will be a time when I give up my foreign passport, but this will be when as a Hong Kong person it no longer feels rights.
We never know what the future has in stall. Perhaps I will leave Hong Kong. Perhaps a landscape crafted by many generations will be deemed unfit for the new estate our lords in the North are building, and every oak will be felled and every hillside levelled. If stranded in a field of weeds my tree may whither. But even should my seed be carried on foreign winds to a new patch of land the tree will remain. It may never again blossom, it’s roots cut, a dead stump hollowed out, but it will not go.
To leave Hong Kong is to leave everything that I am. It is to reject all that I experience. It is to turn inward, to reject one reality in search of another; to understand myself not as a part, of a community and place, but as merely a self. It is to reject my past, to sever my roots and to realign my perspective; to reframe reality around a new context. It is, in short, to accept the death of who I am now and to embrace the uncertainty of being reborn someone else. This is a decisions I never wish to have to make. It is also a decisions only I should ever make.
I am not a patriot. I love no political entity, nor do I hold any national ideology dear. As with all ideologies, their place is in the mind and not the heart. They are taught and not felt. Let them be our studies.
But I love my home. I love those people, and the community that I am a part of. I love the places, and the institutions that have framed my understanding. I love the culture and traditions that forged my sense of my humanity, and my heritage that has given me a context. All have shaped who I am. This is home.