A Thank You to Hong Kong

To everyone for these past 10 years

To friends in Hong Kong,

Due to the ongoing crisis in the city, the month has come and gone without being able to fit you all in or do a proper farewell.

To everyone in Hong Kong, and friends elsewhere who have contributed to my time here, thank you. Given the general lack of digital privacy, you will be mentioned through the things you have done and the imprints you have left in place of your names.

My greatest debt goes to the people who welcomed me when I first arrived ten years ago, offering a foothold that I have used countless times throughout my years in this city. Throughout the years, I have been sheltered on both sides of the harbour by people who have grown up under Lion Rock and by others who have chosen this place as home. For every person who has offered me a bed or sofa, you are one of the reasons I have managed for so long in this city.

The next set of thanks goes to all the people who invested in me — the bosses who took a chance on enthusiasm over experience and bankrolled my professional education. Despite Hong Kong’s notoriety for dysfunctional and stress-packed environments, a handful of dedicated and supportive leaders have nurtured a hardy optimism in me for people. From them, I have the kept the conviction that adverse environments are where one goes to dig for diamonds. And from the colleagues who have stood by me fighting chronic fires (a number of which I caused), I have learned that mettle is forged through the flames of meaningful challenges. Thank you for teaching me not only how to face messes with grace, but to endeavour to help my peers do the same.

I thank my classmates, most of whom came from the Mainland. Your patient support for my Mandarin practicing laid the foundation for me to access a limitless repository of Chinese culture, from books through to podcasts. A special thank you to those who persevered in Mandarin on topics you knew I could barely grasp and even braved editing what I wrote in Chinese. Nor would my Cantonese be where it is without you. Your good-natured encouragement became the reference point for me to ask Hong Kong friends to help me more effectively.

Of course, equal credit goes to the HongKongers who continue to decipher my Cantonese, spoken and written. It is your trickle of articles sent over the years, sometimes read out loud in person, that tipped me into literacy.

A big set of thanks goes to all of of you former strangers, collected through stray introductions, chance seating conversations, one-off hikes by organisers who don’t show up, accidental Facebook friend requests, CMB matches, WhatsApp group invitations, and Twitter DMs. Many more of you responded to cold e-mail invitations and exposed yourself to candid conversations at conferences and work events. I hope you never stop giving chances to strangers like you did to me. Thank you to the people whom I have known longest and kept in touch. Thank you to the people whom I have just met and still gave our limited months your all.

Given Hong Kong’s rather career-oriented culture, work (paid or otherwise) has been my most reliable excuse to spend time with many of you. For those of you who did that over several unfortunate years, deep gratitude. Thank you to all of those who gave space to or supported all of the causes I cared about — from gender, LGBTQ, race, and the global south — and expanded the issues I should be aware of — trans, accessibility, migrant workers. A special mention goes to the few who stuck around to entertain my succession of ideas and projects. Sustained by compliments and bribed with meals, you supported me to tinker and build things big and small.

The special mentions have accumulated like change casually dropped into overflowing jars. These memories slip the warmth of the past into the present — the times we bushwhacked up the mountain in search of a non-existent trailhead, slipped down from paved roads to climbing crags, criss-crossed the urban paths illuminated by city lights along the island tramway or the Shing Mung River. Thank you for those many small shared moments, zooming in to Google Street view around the world, fixing plugs, going on kitchen misadventures. Thank you for keeping up the late night conversations even when our eyelids had dropped. Thank you also for squeezing in the time for one-day stop over catch ups, and for coming together to offer your board games, places, pots, pans, hands, and help. Thank you for offering what you had — locally grown daikon covertly exchanged in TST.

Thank you to all of you who work tirelessly to make Hong Kong a better place and for inviting me to be a part of your events and projects. Thank you to all of you whom have offered your enthusiasm, networks, concern, and compliments. Ten years ago, Hong Kong barely had a Pride parade to speak of and now it has Pink Season and a Pride march. Advocacy for trans folks, migrant workers, single-parent households, and accessibility is on the rise. In 2009, no-one would have believed so many could come together for the Umbrella Revolution, and yet this year this city has taken it further to prove how brave and resilient its people can be. There is a long way to go, but you have also taken Hong Kong a long way.

Though Hong Kong is a place that I have only really lived after reaching adulthood, it is the city I have grown up in. It is in this urban metropolis that one realises how disparate, yet connected, lives can be. Thanks all of you from so many walks of life, I have a better grasp of inequality, my privileges, and how one begins to address such systemic issues playing out in personal ways. People who move me with their generosity share the same city with people who have hurt me most with how little they care or want to know. Sitting above a street with thousands of people streaming past below, one falls into the vertigo of loneliness. Hong Kong is a city of possibilities, and yet it often seems to be caging so many in their place. This is a city that has driven me into rage, disillusionment, despair, apathy; it is a city that I have become better at handling at every return. For those who have seen me through these phases, thank you for forgiving my failures and for bearing witness to my lows. Thank you to those who have opened your doors to requests without question, without the gratification of knowing the difference you had made then. Thank you also to the people who have invited me into your lives to help me build the foundations of mine, from badminton groups to book clubs. Thank you also for not begrudging my preference for Japan. ;-)

These past ten years, I have shared Hong Kong with many people who are not from this place. The friends from abroad have accompanied me through breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, taking advantage of our time zones to make a late-night call or mid-day catch up. While I may not be here as often, Hong Kong is no less present where I am now. If you are doing something you think I would have enjoyed, please share it with me. If you find yourself wanting to talk, give me a ring. Nothing would please me more than hearing about your latest efforts to make Hong Kong a more equitable and inclusive place for all the people who call it home, folks of South Asian descent, migrant workers, disabled folks, and people of all genders.

Hong Kong is a city of do-ers. The city that has brought us together also urges us along. It’s hard to make time when there’s so much to do. Thank you for making time. Thank you for showing up. You have all wrapped me in a bubble of kindness, laughter, curiosity, good food, and comfort that I will look back at fondly, and bring along as I move forward. Thank you. I hope you can do the same for someone else too.

Until next time, somewhere in the world. :-)