Recently I passed my 7 year mark in Hong Kong. For those that don't know, this is the time a person can apply for their permanent residency which provides a life time visa and more importantly a sense of belonging. I had looked forward to this day from the moment I had first stepped foot in Hong Kong more than 7 years past and with it came a flood of memories.
By many accounts Hong Kong is an unlikely city for me to live. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest with cold winters and dry summers. Hong Kong humidity makes me sweat so much and I wonder if I will ever adjust. Try as I may, I have never managed more than a few words of Cantonese, and over crowded places tend to make me uncomfortable; preferring the quiet of my small Sheung wan flat to the bustling streets. So what is it that made me want to stay?
It is all those things and more. It is the uniqueness of Hong Kong that makes me want to stay. And, arguably, it is what makes others want to come as well and quickly fall in love with this city; opposites attract? I don't know, but I do know that if I wanted sameness I may never have had left the US. Whereas shopping malls, high end restaurants and luxury shops maybe the mark of a good city, and Hong Kong has clearly won this race, those things can be found in most places. So what compels a person to choose one destination over another to visit? Partly it is the familiar but mostly it is for that something different, something special. What makes a person choose one place over another as their home? That is connection.
I remember the big lunch I was taken too when I arrived in Hong Kong. It is the long running tradition and joke, repeated over and over that the new Westerner gets taken to Dim Sum. Inevitably the chicken feet arrive. The Hong Kong hosts chide and smile while the guest shows shock. For my initiation the shock was on my Host's faces when I stuffed one in my mouth easy as you please. Not my favourite Hong Kong cuisine, but can't get that back home for sure.
Language is seldom a barrier in Hong Kong, less so than in some other English speaking countries. My most flabbergasting experience was during a trip to the U.K. While trying to buy tickets to the theatre, the language barrier of a common language was so frustrating for us both that the sales person ended up presenting a printed list of times and prices to short cut the embarrassing exchange. In Hong Kong I still often face issues with language, but in a different way. For those of us that do not speak Cantonese and those that do not speak English a second language has emerged. Simple sentences, gestures, smiles, patience and on rare occasion a reach for the mobile to call a helpful interpreter. Hong Kong has held strong to its unique and ever evolving Cantonese language, even when English was dominant in the governing class. Hong Kong has adapted to accommodate those that find Cantonese undecipherable and that some say you need to be born to in order to speak. So even when I listen to Cantonese and understand all most nothing at all, I realise I maybe separated by a language but not a language barrier.
I highlighted these two experiences because they were the focus of the two videos mentioned earlier. There are four videos in total, but only two were released. The videos received warm to neutral reviews for three weeks. Over 50,000 views and no negative comments. But when it was suggested that the videos portrayed Hong Kong and its people in a bad light some strong, but isolated, negativity started to emerge. The possibility of negative interpretation is not lost on me, but I see if very different. The real situations shown were ones I have lived through and can be seen repeated every day. Real people, real culture, rich and alive, intriguing and inviting. Tourists stream up and down the side streets every day looking at things they would never see at home. Some jump in and others maintain a distance, but they take pictures and, I would imagine, smile when they tell their friends. These videos showed a reality that is seldom seen in Hong Kong promotion. When you pull back the faux facade of the picture postcard-esque promotional campaigns usually associated with Hong Kong what lies below is the real essence of Hong Kong; the people and its culture. Hong Kong has strongly protected it culture and selected the best of the West to build a modern city steeped in long standing traditions. These make the real stories that are remembered and told over and over long after the memory of the generic luxury shop indistinguishable hotel room has faded.
So what is the point of this winding blog post? It is that I came to, and fell in love with Hong Kong, like I believe so many others do, not because of the picture perfect promotional campaigns but because Hong Kong is a real and vibrant city full of contrasts and culture at every turn. So after 7 years I wrote and signed to the Immigration department that
"I have, do and will consider Hong Kong to be my only place of residence".