I grieve for my beloved Hong Kong

It has bad air. I was still a smoker when I worked there, and I joked it was protective. It’s impossibly expensive, though plenty of people live there cheaply. It’s a culture clash, crash, and fusion — Chinese and Anglo, old and new, rich and poor, metropolitan and tropical, high-pressure and laid-back. It’s fast, so fast. After you leave, for a long time, everyplace else feels slow.

Of course I set part of my first novel there, the most raw part, the true climax. That romantic imagined life was my consolation prize. Had my parents been younger when I left my corporate life, I would have moved back there.

I love Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Lion Rock lit up as protesters gathered at its peak. Photo: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

I swore a while back not to write about politics, but this is more. Unique places are an endangered species. Hong Kong is its own strange ecosystem, married to change but in love with constancy. I admire its people. They are courageous and vivacious and more honest than most, except when haggling. I fear for them.

I’ve feared for them since the handover from British rule to Chinese rule, 22 years ago. I was happy for my Hong Kong friends after the handover — there was a pride then, akin to what African Americans felt with Obama’s election. Still, my parents fled Soviet rule. I saw this conflict coming — honestly, I expected it sooner.

It’s not the same, of course — unique is like that. It’s not left-right, not occupier-colony, not exactly rich-poor. For a shorthand, maybe old-new. Hong Kong is decades older than Communist China, but far younger at heart.

Call it this, now: One country, two incompatible hungers.

I’ve never lifted a billion people out of poverty. I do know something about the rare and the special. They are easy to milk and maddening to sustain — but if you don’t sustain them, if you don’t help them thrive, they dry up. There is no more special, and others know you for a fool.

China made a big deal, the biggest deal, about adopting this shining child, and then refused to understand it. Maybe it was jealous. Maybe it felt threatened. Maybe it wanted a trophy. Maybe it was just indifferent. Hunger, like justice, is blind.

China risks being a fool now. Soon, I fear, it will risk worse.


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