Published: 00:11, July 9, 2024
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A word of thanks to grumpy critics of Hong Kong
By Richard Cullen

The failure of Hong Kong to accept being petrol-bombed onto the road of everlasting Western democratic bliss in 2019 was a turning point. Over the years since, as the mainstream Western media turned to the topic of Hong Kong, the denigration volume has typically been wound higher. These Western media outlets have felt a need to address such disobedience.

It is unsurprising that various people have expressed widely differing views on the radical and necessary legal-political reforms introduced into Hong Kong following the extended 2019 insurrection. The recent grouchy evaluations of Hong Kong — first by Dr Stephen Roach and then by Lord Jonathan Sumption — which made headlines across many Western media outlets provide striking examples from the negative sector of this spectrum. 

However, those who have loved Hong Kong through both good and difficult times still owe them a significant debt. Their energetically self-marketed, tilted assessments have provided an excellent prompt to reflect on our conspicuous good fortune to be living in this marvelous city.

We are all familiar with the more challenging aspects of living in Hong Kong, including cramped living conditions, the hectic pedestrian experience, and long, hot, humid summers (garnished with regular typhoons). However, a robust love remains for most of those brought up in Hong Kong and most of those who have moved here. Moreover, countless short-term visitors repeatedly experience a similar response, often as they recover from the intense humidity after stepping into a super-air-conditioned convenience store.

Those visitor numbers are now ticking upward, too. As is positive mass media coverage. After slanted headlines, some foolhardy travel warnings and the COVID-19 pandemic, which all helped dramatically reduce visitor numbers, a visitor rebound is gathering pace: Absence, it appears, does make the heart grow fonder.

Some, of course, don’t like Hong Kong because they feel too uncomfortable generally or for more intense political reasons. However, many in this category come to miss Hong Kong rather a lot after they relocate to some presumed grass-is-greener destination like America, Australia, Britain, or Canada.

As it happens, many long-term residents who have experienced Hong Kong through thick and thin (including the 2019 insurgency) find that they love Hong Kong yet more firmly. At the same time, they naturally continue to grumble (as they should) about all the varied negative aspects of living in Hong Kong that need to be put right.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong continues to be a remarkable, always changing, and captivating place to live. Varied factors that make it so include the almost manic public love affair with education, its pragmatic and intelligent residents, the food, the endless hard-working energy and vivacity, and the exceptionally beautiful mountains-by-sea, continental-tropical landscape.

And then there is the extraordinary, integrated public transport system. Every week, it provides decisive confirmation of what makes Hong Kong such an engaging, conspicuously safe, and civilized place to live for millions of users. In 2022, Bloomberg reported how Hong Kong was ranked as having the best metropolitan public transit system in the world, ahead of Zurich, Stockholm, Singapore and Helsinki (Public Transport Is One of Hong Kong’s Wonders, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, Dec 15, 2022).

During the American boom period of well over 100 years, which extended from 1865 following the US Civil War, the development of modern American transportation options was extraordinary. Many of these advances were celebrated musically, for example, in popular songs like Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Public transport systems and routes in Hong Kong are still more striking and diverse than in premier American cities, even though none have been the subject of globally memorable songs.

Many residents develop serious personal affinities with particular bus, tram, ferry, mini-bus, and MTR services arising from long, regular usage. And just look at the extraordinarily popular initial response when new public transit services begin operating in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

For me, the 970X bus route from West Kowloon to Southern District on Hong Kong Island is a particular favorite. The original Kowloon terminus was at So Uk Estate, which was later moved to Cheung Sha Wan. In both cases, the terminus on Hong Kong Island has remained Aberdeen. I have used it so often over the last two decades that I have regularly wondered what I would do without it.

Southbound, the route runs down Nathan Road, right through the humming heart of Kowloon, before turning right onto Jordan Road en route to the Western Harbour Crossing. The sea and island views from Pokfulam Road, descending into Aberdeen, are breathtaking, especially from the upper deck.

Northbound, you swiftly plunge from Pokfulam Road down to the Western Harbour Crossing using the extraordinary Hill Road Flyover. What an experience. You have an eye-level view of compact flats 12 floors up on either side as your brightly painted double-decker bus threads through a canyon of high-rise apartment blocks. This would be hard to beat in any global city, anywhere.

One of the other delights of bus travel is that, in so many cases, you can alight at various points en route, walk a little, and then relax at yet another one of Hong Kong’s countless lively dining outlets, where strong tea or coffee and short-order meals are always available.

And if you prefer to travel further afield to relax in Shenzhen, Zhongshan, or elsewhere in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, the MTR, High-Speed Rail, and new Pearl River-spanning bridges make this easier than ever.

Even though Dr Roach and Lord Sumption have been looked after exceptionally well, while they have been based in Hong Kong, they both appear to have intuitively slipped into pining after their preferred understanding of days-gone-by Hong Kong, when Western influence was far more intense. This has plainly helped nourish their ensuing critical evaluations. This is a pity. If you are always looking down, you will never see the sky. 

Fortunately for the rest of us, Hong Kong adamantly retains its unique charisma.

The author is an adjunct professor at the Law Faculty, the University of Hong Kong.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.