Friday, October 3, 2014

Occupy Part 2: What's At Stake

I've lived in Hong Kong for three years and three months, equal to more than ten percent of my life. At this point, it's quite clearly my second home now. By no means a visitor anymore, I consider myself fairly local. Case and point, I live with my local Hong Kong girlfriend, speak a decent amount of Cantonese, and get impatient after waiting more than ten minutes for my food at a restaurant. And because of all that, I care deeply about the future of this place. Partially because I plan to live here for a few more years at the very least, and partially because I feel a sense of allegiance to the city that has given me so much. Regardless of how long I stay here, I will undoubtedly keep an eye on this metropolis and its fate for the rest of my life.

The most common question I get from new acquaintances here is the obvious, "How do you like living in Hong Kong?" My answer varies depending on my mood. On a bad day, "it's so crowded", "too many Mainland Chinese", "too competitive in every aspect of life." On a good day, "it's extraordinarily convenient", "it's the safest big city on Earth", "the hiking and the beaches are incredible", or "it's certainly a great place to be a young, travel-hungry, English-speaking teacher." But more than ever before, the Occupy movement has given me a new respect for the spirit of the Hong Kong people.

Despite overwhelming odds that the Chinese Central Government would refuse to compromise in any way on their decisions regarding the 2017 elections, the protesters have peacefully held strong. Last night, as I sat at home glued to my computer screen, Chief Executive CY Leung stated that he is sending his Chief Secretary for Administration, Carrie Lam, to meet with the main student group to discuss political reform. It's far too early to say whether this means real change is on the way, but the fact that the government is even opening the dialogue is the first time they've really acknowledged the protesters as more than a nuisance. So in that sense, things are looking up.

The way I have been most directly affected by all this is that school has been suspended where I work in the Western and Central District. Monday and Tuesday became preparation days for staff, and on Friday, after the back-to-back public holidays, the school was closed altogether. Essentially, I was given a day off and a dozen extra hours at work to use as I pleased, with no consequence to my pay or future schedule. Needless to say, I have graciously accepted this outcome. However, I also want things to get back to normal soon as I like my job and think that the more time the kids have off, the more they'll forget what they've been learning.

But unlike the more common weather-related school cancellations around here, such as typhoon days, it's impossible to project how long this will last. I won't go in to detail about why this protest is so much bigger than any in the past, but to learn more about the complexities of why the protesters are so passionate, I highly recommend this article originally from the LA Times. 

For me personally, I don't want to live in a place where China's economy is the first priority and all else is secondary. Hong Kong is a thriving, diverse city but at the current rate, it will be a place where only the rich can afford to live comfortably. Along with escalating stresses of supporting a family for the middle aged middle class, getting a job out of university is becoming much more challenging for the youth. And similarly to many income inequality battles being fought in the USA, the minimum wage is not enough to live a human life in this city. For the lower class, if the focus continues to be only on Hong Kong as the cash cow of China and not on assisting those in dire financial need, more and more will fall into the terrifying plight of literally living in cages.

Along with that of course, it's about every citizen having a voice. I read a great quote attributed to Beijing economist Wen Kejian from this article in the Washington Post. "The economy of Hong Kong has already been so prosperous and the city has been so open and international that the people of Hong Kong have the wisdom to master their political future." I hope that China can see this isn't a war against them; it is simply a plea for trust. Hong Kongers realize that China is their future and only want the ability to elect a leader who can promise to devotedly serve his/her people, without suspicion of a greater calling in Beijing.

For me, chances are that no matter what's decided, it won't affect my life drastically in the near future. As a native English speaker, I have the enormous privilege of being brought up with a highly desired skill that the average Hong Konger my age does not have. But just because I'm not faced with the same challenges of the youth of Hong Kong, doesn't mean I'm not deeply invested in the events of this protest. This is my home and I want to see the special aspects of Hong Kong remain special and those who live here have all the opportunities of anyone in any developed country. Stay Strong Hong Kong!