It’s hard to identify what factors are at play when you’re talking about how a people or a city changes in a short amount of time. The waves of economic changes are a constant pressure on a city whereas the nuances of cultural differences are sometimes subtle and hard to identify if you’re not sensitive to them.
In general, once a people of a place recognize a substantial change has happened it’s often too late to rectify it. Especially in instances where the change isn’t necessarily something everyone feels they have ownership of or are able to participate in and have a result beneficial to their own circumstances.
That’s the case with Hong Kong. It’s hard not to see and observe how much the city has changed in the years since I was here in the early aughts.
The buildings are largely the same. Some are newer than others, but they’ve not really changed. The weather hasn’t really changed (if you exclude the effects of increased from pollution from the Mainland Chinese factories along with what Hong Kong itself produces) as the weather is still hot and humid during the summer and damp with rain during the winter.
The change I’ve observed is in the people and the feeling of the city. When I first came to Hong Kong in 1999 it was still recovering from the global economic crisis of 1997 and the handover back to the Mainland Chinese government. And yet there was a feeling amongst everyone I talked to that the city again would be dominant and the economy would recover while being stronger than before.
For the most part that optimism was rewarded as the city was able to rebound and become dominant once more both in Asia and globally as a conduit to the emerging markets of the surrounding SE Asian countries and it’s proximity to the growing superpower in China to the north. Hong Kong was again a place of overabundant optimism and bravado for the future.
Nearly thirteen years later, the feeling from those Hong Kongers both locally and abroad isn’t so optimistic. There’s a sense of fear that the uniqueness and what it means to be from Hong Kong will be gone in one or two generations. What’s identified them as being different will be lost in the sea of being merely Chinese.
There’s not a lot of opportunity or options available for the average citizen of Hong Kong to control their destiny in relation to the events occurring around them. It’s hard to stake a claim in a place where the cost of living has far exceeded the average median salary of it’s citizenry. More and more people are forced to live farther away from their neighborhoods as they scramble to have a place to call their own.
The HK government (HKSAR) seems to find itself in a quandary with internal struggle amongst its own officials both leery of Beijing’s strong hand on the shoulder and their own clumsiness in doing what’s right for their own people.
Only time will tell what the Hong Kong of the future will be like. I know the city of my memories has already been replaced, but hopefully sooner rather than later the people of Hong Kong will again find that optimism I recognized in the past to persevere in retaining their own cultural uniqueness and identify before it’s lost for future generations.
* 砵仔榚 ~ Is a rather unique and acquired dessert for most non-Hong Kong people. It consists of a rice pudding with red bean in it that’s presented eaten on a stick. It’s available in various places in Hong Kong, but not all of the places use the older recipes so the taste according to aficionados isn’t always correct.