29 May I Remember Hong Kong
This article was written by a Hong Kong Permanent Resident. We have verified their identity, but it has been anonymised to protect them and their family.
I remember Hong Kong. I remember the way the light hit the bay outside my bedroom window growing up. I remember morning trips to school in the car with my father listening to US Forces Radio. I remember how mind-blowing it was to learn that dolphins in the rest of the world weren’t pink.
I remember Canto-pop, and Yan Can Cook, and Hong Kong cinema. I remember Triad Tamagotchis, and where to get the best pigeon on Lamma Island. I remember that you could order Almond Soup off menu at the China Club, and that you could buy a wonderful Christmas goose from the Yung Kee restaurant in Lan Kwai Fung. I remember the sound of the Amahs gathering in Central on a Sunday. I remember the lyricism of Cantonese.
I remember the subtle tipping point when Mandarin became a more important language to the Government. I remember a former British Consul General trying to impress a very senior businessman with their Foreign Office Mandarin. When they walked away, the businessman turned to me to with a confused expression: he was a noted Cantonese speaker and supporter of the language, and couldn’t understand why the Consul General insisted on showing off their Mandarin all the time. I remember understanding then, that the UK Government had lost its capacity to understand Hong Kong.
I remember the handover. I watched it in a tent in the living room with a friend of mine, while my parents partied the night away on Britannia, and then the convention centre. I remember the Mardi Gras beads that were handed out to them, that melted in that night’s apocalyptic rain and stained my father’s dinner suit. I still have the face masks they wore to the party that night. I remember a time when face masks in Hong Kong were for parties.
I remember the old flag coming down. Highland Cathedral, played by the Hong Kong police force band as the Royal Hong Kong Standard was lowered, still brings my father to tears. I remember the first time it became an offence to wave that flag again.
I remember the lecture my older brother gave me about which bars the police frequented in Wan Chai, in case I ever got in trouble on a night out and needed to find help. I remember when the Hong Kong police were on the side of the people.
I remember Britannia sailing away. The man in the funny feathered hat from the Governor’s mansion who had shown our brownie pack around, had promised to wave to us from the deck. Everyone waved, but I remember his wave being just for us. I remember what it felt like to watch the British leave.
Over time, Hong Kong lost its status as a British concern. It was a gradual process, nudged along with every little incursion the Chinese made in to the Basic Law.
One day, I watched protestors and the police struggle on a street I used to walk down on my way to Ballet class. The Hong Kong courts had just ruled that Chinese law would override The Basic Law in the train stations connecting Hong Kong to the mainland. These stations were Hong Kong soil. I remember it was the first time I wept watching the news.
I remember the letter I wrote to the Foreign Office about that legal ruling. I remember their response: the UK Government recognised the abuse of the One Country Two Systems model, but were content only to issue a statement of complaint and had “expressed their concern” to the Chinese Government over their language. The writing was on the wall: the British would not intervene.
Over the years, British Conservative politicians began to talk about British Nationals (Overseas) status reform as their solution to ‘the Hong Kong problem’. I remember the commentariat lauding this as the British holding up their end of the bargain. Nobody wanted to talk about the fact that BN(O)s had been divided by ethnicity under immigration law in the 1980s and 1990s.
Nobody talked about the responsibility of the UK Government in failing to uphold the Joint Declaration, rendering the displacement of people from their home in Hong Kong the only form of recourse to China’s escalating incursions.
Decades later, the announcement this week from the Foreign Secretary about an extension of BN(O)’s leave to remain in the UK should be welcomed for what it is; 30 years too late and a poor substitute for the actions against Chinese aggression the UK should have taken in that time.
As you remember Hong Kong, you must also remember that successive UK Governments have failed in their duties to the people of Hong Kong, and China knows it. The statement of intent from Beijing this week is the natural conclusion to years of testing the bounds of the Joint Declaration without reprisals.
I remember Hong Kong. I hope you do too. It’s gone now.