• As emigration inquiries surge, meet the locals who cannot tear themselves away from the city in its hour of need
  • 'Hong Kong is my home, so I will not leave,' says student who pledges to stay, whatever the future brings
The peerless view of Hong Kong Central is just one of many reasons why Hongkongers hope the city can mend itself. Photo: Martin Chan

When Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying feels troubled, she often goes to Victoria Harbour to take in the beauty of Hong Kong's skyline.

The artist recalls going on a summer course in ceramics in New York in 2010, where she would absorb the cityscape at night during her one-month stay.

But when she returned to Hong Kong, a wave of emotion came over her.

"Hong Kong's night view is so pretty that there is no place in the world that can compare," recounts Yeung, who is now a district councillor.

Clarisse Yeung cannot face leaving her home city when it needs its people to rally round to help save it from the brink. Photo: Nora Tam

Despite having travelled to different places for exhibitions or leisure, she says her love and sense of responsibility for Hong Kong and its people keep her rooted in the city.

Even though it is facing what is widely viewed as its worst political unrest in many years, Yeung says emigration has never crossed her mind.

Since early June, Hong Kong has been rocked by a wave of anti-government protests, sparked by the now-abandoned extradition bill.

The legislation would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions with which the city does not have an extradition agreement, including mainland China, where many fear there is no guarantee of a fair trial.

Amid growing distrust with the administration, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's declaration that the unpopular bill is "dead" did little to quench the flames of unrest, with demonstrators wanting a formal withdrawal of the draft legislation.

In addition, they demand accountability for what they believe was excessive use of force by police in the handling of protests, and genuine universal suffrage.

A mass march on August 18 passed off largely peacefully, but the city has been blighted by outbreaks of violence in recent weeks. Photo: Sam Tsang

Because of the crisis, many Hongkongers are considering leaving the city for good.

One migration consulting agency told the Post last month the number of emigration-related inquiries by Hong Kong people had jumped 50 per cent since June, compared with previous months. Another had seen a tenfold increase in inquiries.

The agencies said many Hongkongers they spoke to were worried about the political climate and lacked trust in the government.

Port in a storm: the emigrating Hongkongers seeking stability elsewhere

Yeung says the recent events have made her realise Hong Kong's fragility.

The 32-year-old recalls growing up seeing officials who were "more reasonable" than the current administration. She adds the bill also raises fears of freedom of expression being stifled in the culture sector.

Beset by fears for city's future, many Hongkongers are thinking of leaving

The district councillor, who has gone on hunger strike to protest against the bill, admits the crisis is making her tired, but she is not going to give up on the city that "brought her up in a free and safe place".

Yeung is not alone. Self-employed independent financial adviser Alex Lai Chun-hung had the opportunity in 1992 to emigrate when an American company arranged a highly sought-after visa that could be converted to US citizenship within 10 years of landing and getting a job there.

Alex Lai Chun-hung, from the University of Hong Kong, does not regret turning down the chance to move to America despite the unrest unfolding in his city. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

However, he did not take up the immigration visa before it expired in 2002.

"I felt Hong Kong had everything I wanted. I had the Chinese identity and it felt better with Hong Kong being a Chinese society," Lai recalls.

But the 56-year-old does not regret missing out on what many might now view as a golden ticket.

He is still opting to stay in Hong Kong for good, despite his 29-year-old daughter recently taking up residency in the US. Lai also has a 26-year-old son studying in Canada.

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"Back when I just graduated from the University of Hong Kong, I worked as an oil-logging engineer in Egypt," he recounts.

"Even though I was young and it was less than a year, I did not feel comfortable being overseas and missed my Cantonese-speaking friends in Hong Kong a lot."

Lai, who grew up in public housing, says he feels a strong sense of belonging to the city.

Three out of his four sisters, as well as his father-in-law and mother-in-law, aged 87 and 77 respectively, all live in Hong Kong.

Moreover, he has a strong social network, such as friends from secondary school, HKU, church and Rotary Club.

Lai, who hikes regularly with his friends, says he not only appreciates the convenience of Hong Kong's vibrant urban life, but also how he can reach the tranquillity of the city's natural locations within an hour.

The born-and-bred Hongkonger believes this is the most chaotic he has seen the city.

"I never witnessed the government faring so poorly," he says.

He adds he is ashamed to say that Lam, the first chief executive from his alma mater, and Stephen Lo Wai-chung, the first commissioner of police from HKU, are the worst to have taken up each role.

While the impact of the bill and the ensuing crisis do not affect his business significantly, he fears they will have an effect on Hong Kong's economy.

Lai hopes the government will truly connect with residents, while Hongkongers too could unite to rebuild the city.

Despite opposing political views, neither university student Zhang Yang Mario Rongjiang nor a secondary school pupil, who wished to be known as Yeung, see themselves leaving the city they call home.

University student Zhang Yang Mario Rongjiang is hopeful calmness will return to the city. Photo: Handout

Born in Ecuador, Zhang spent part of his childhood in Guangzhou before moving to Hong Kong with his parents when he was around 10 years old entering Primary Five.

The City University student, who will be entering Year Two in September, says he fell in love with Hong Kong very quickly.

"Hong Kong has a convenient transport system and is very safe compared with other countries," he says. "Hong Kong feels homely, as I can speak my mother tongue Cantonese compared with when I am overseas."

History of Hong Kong protests: riots, rallies and brollies

Despite Hong Kong's safety record taking a hit with the protests, the 21-year-old, who is also a member of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, says it is still generally good.

"You do not see people looting because of the protests," he says.

Zhang says he is heartened by Hongkongers' optimism and believes the city will return to peace.

"No matter what the situation is like, Hong Kong is my home, so I will not leave this place," he says.

The trouble with trying to turn Hong Kong's youth into 'patriots'

Yeung, who will be entering Form Six in September, says while a lot of places may have a better economy or higher standards of living, Hong Kong has a human spirit that makes the difference.

The pupil from a top school in the New Territories admits she was politically apathetic in the past.

But after learning how the bill would affect her, she took part in several anti-government protests, including a march that organisers estimated drew 2 million, and rallies at the airport.

Ahead of sitting the Diploma of Secondary Education exams in the coming academic year, the city's main university entrance exam, she laments she has not had the time to study as planned.

Yeung, 16, finds it dispiriting the government appears to not care despite Hongkongers' efforts, but feels cheered by protesters' creativity, including their slogans and methods.

"I saw this Cantonese banner that reads 'Hong Kong' vertically and 'add oil' horizontally," she says, referring to a popular local expression indicating support for the movement.

The pupil, who studies Chinese history, says she is still very proud of the culture despite taking issue with the current Chinese government.

While her father had mentioned emigrating to Australia if the family had more money, she is vehemently against it.

"No matter what is wrong with Hong Kong, I still want to rescue it," she says.

Meanwhile, Clarisse Yeung complains the night views are changing with the increasing use of LED lights, which she says deprives the skyline of its more human, Hong Kong touch.

But she still believes in the city and the people.

"Hong Kong is a place that is full of surprises and hope is in the people," she says.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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