A Traveler’s Perspective
I woke up this morning thinking about writing a hip travel article about Hong Kong that would go off the beaten path for the best dim sum and it just didn’t feel right. How could I write about the dim sum when protestors have been fighting for their freedom since June?
First, I think it’s important to encourage and empower the protesters in Hong Kong who have been fighting to preserve not just a place, but a way of life. My heart goes out to those who have been injured by tear gas, rubber bullets, real bullets, and sexual assault. The police brutality needs to be stopped. I also want to emphasize that I personally advocate for non-violence and do not approve of violence on either side.
For those who aren’t fully up to date on what’s going on in Hong Kong (no judgments here, just keeping up with Trump on the daily is a full-time job), the BBC recently posted a great summary which you can read here. Protests began in June and they were incited by proposed legislation of a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China. For those who want a more extensive look into the bill, this is an in-depth article.
Protests have continued, despite the government’s announcement back in June that it was suspending the bill. There are still four other demands which the government has not met including amnesty for protesters who have been arrested, complete universal suffrage, to cease characterizing the protests as “riots,” and an independent inquiry into police brutality.
But this goes beyond the extradition bill and the demands. Protesters are fighting because they are afraid of losing their autonomy. Put very simply, they’re fighting for freedom- freedom to assemble, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.
Today I would like to express my perspective as someone who has traveled extensively in both mainland China and Hong Kong. It seems that so much of what I have been reading continuously brings up Hong Kong as a “financial hub.” The world stands to lose so much more than a financial hub if Hong Kong protesters lose this battle.
There are many things about mainland China that I have come to love. Once I spent an entire summer making clay teapots with a welcoming family whose family has been making teapots since the 15th century. Friends who I am still in touch with today taught me about tea and culture, trekked me through bamboo forests and opened their homes to me.
But there’s something about traveling in China that I don’t enjoy, and that’s the nervous feeling you get when you see police patrolling the streets even though you didn’t do anything wrong, when you try to access your Facebook or email account and the website is blocked or you catch yourself making a questionable political comment in public and look over your shoulder. Even being a tourist it doesn’t take you long to understand that the authoritarian government is in control and the people are not free.
Hong Kong is different. Hong Kong is a haven for not only ethnic Chinese but also expats from many western countries, South Asians, Vietnamese refugees, creatives and tourists looking to explore and learn about the culture.
My husband and I once traveled to Hong Kong on a whim to meet my brother and his girlfriend for my 30th birthday. While we were there, we went into a bookstore café and there were ethnic Chinese students chatting with expats about books they were reading and ideas that they had. We joined right in and asked questions about life in Hong Kong without fear. We grabbed beers and drank them in public while watching the sunset and observing the famous Hong Kong Island skyline. We had access to all of our typically visited websites and social media accounts.
The experiences I had in Hong Kong were unexpected. When I visited Hong Kong, I thought I was going to “China” but it’s not the same, or at least it wasn’t when I was there. I don’t know what Hong Kong looks like today in the face of police brutality but I hope I don’t ever have to find out.
This is a battle that the protesters must win. The elections this past Sunday are a good indication that Hong Kong’s general public’s sentiments stand with the protesters. The world needs to speak up and stand with them too because freedom has always been and always will be worth fighting for.
Happy Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving I am choosing to be thankful for my freedom.