After a rewarding and busy trimester of tutoring, culminating in marking of 100+ essays within a few, long weeks, I was ready for a break. Luckily S, who had been living in Hong Kong for a year, reminded me that this was my last chance to visit her before she and her family returned to Melbourne.
Hong Kong’s heat and humidity were a welcome reprieve from wintery Melbourne. Guided by S’s expert, multilingual directions (complete with Cantonese pronunciation which would serve me well), I quickly reached her home on the southern coast of Hong Kong Island which she shared with her husband, B, and their two boys, H (5) and T (2).
Having not slept in 48 hours, S generously let me sleep in until 8am on my first day before sending in her 2 year old to wake me up. Dressing in my nicest holiday outfit, we headed into Central where I met my contact at the Australian Trade Commission.
One aspect of our conversation that stood out to me was how was how much trade policy was influenced by political and security variables, and how Australia’s strategic position between China and the USA would have significant ramifications for the trade in the 21st century.
S and I then got onto the doing our bit to strengthen Hong Kong-Australian trade relations, with exchanging of assets and free trade agreements of sorts brokered. Luckily S could represent Australia in this respect and had no hesitations encouraging my own trade endeavours and the filling of my suitcase.
Making the most of the generally sunny Hong Kong summer weather, we spent the week wandering around Stanley, Pok Fu Lam and Central, going to Kowloon to watch the city lights from across Victoria Harbour.
H and T were brilliantly behaved throughout a big day of walking and climbing uphill to Tian Tam Buddha on Lantau Island in 80% humidity. Amazing what an ice cream can do.
Despite a standing invitation to H’s Grade Prep graduation concert, I wished him good luck and took off for a day trip of casinos and churches in Macau.
This was also the first place I noticed the use of the selfie stick.
Shopping is a competitive sport in Hong Kong; one that S is not adverse to making an international day trip to partake in. Rising early on a Saturday morning we joined S’s friend and neighbour, B, and B’s mother-in-law, V, to catch the train to Shenzhen in Guangdong, China’s first Special Economic Zone. We organised our paperwork at the mainland Chinese Visa office (‘the happiest place on earth!’ – S), with S warning that the day would be ‘an experience’.
‘Can you feel the political oppression already?’ whispered S as we crossed the bridge border into mainland China. It didn’t take long to notice that this was a world away from the relative freedom which was palpable in Hong Kong.
After about five hours of shopping and a much-needed lunch, we took a cab to the art village. As our seatbelt-lacking taxi weaved across lanes, an awful realisation crossed my mind.
‘Sh*t’, I whispered.
‘What?’ S responded.
‘I didn’t take out travel insurance for mainland China’.
‘Don’t worry. If you die, I’ll drag your body back across the border’, saying exactly what I wanted to hear.
On my final night, S and I left the kids at home to take in perhaps to most spectacular views of Hong Kong at the Peak (where, bizarrely, a group of young HK men asked to have their photo taken with me, much to S’s amusement).
Before boarding the tram, I noticed a group identifying themselves at Occupy With Peace and Love singing Do you Hear the People Sing? from Les Miserables in Cantonese. I’d heard this in cabs over the week, with B explaining the connection with the protest movement criticising China’s increasing control of Hong Kong elections. Weeks later, a bigger protest shut down most of Central Hong Kong.
In August, China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee announced that despite promises for open elections, the candidates for the Hong Kong 2017 general election would be chosen from Beijing. Dissent against this amongst Hong Kongers culminated in what became known as the Umbrella Revolution in late September.
This was a world away from recent protests around the world which often descended into violence, not always through the fault of protesters. Protesters calmly distributed food and water amongst themselves, avoided the war memorial, cleaned up and recycled their rubbish, and took breaks to study.
The Hong Kong Moms Facebook page (which S added me to for equal parts networking and gossip) was full of unwavering support for the protesters, offers to deliver food, clothing and umbrellas, and tips for getting around the mostly shut-down city without adversely affecting the demonstrations.
I’m not sure how Hong Kong’s political relationship with the mainland will develop from here. I don’t see how Hong Kong can maintain its position as Asia’s financial hub and attractiveness to business of liberal democracies. I also don’t know what circumstances would lead China to back down from increasing control of the region.
The three organisers Occupy with Peace and Love, Chan Kin-man, Benny Tai and Chu Yiu-ming, recently turned themselves into police to assist with their investigations. Despite this, I doubt the politest protesters in the world can be silenced.