New Hong Kong: Part One, The Resentment / Second Trip

The next day, Chang left office a bit past six o’clock as usually. He marched to the train station with his gaze fixated on the sidewalk. A zombie-like yet oddly determined gait. He entered the car and landed heavily on an empty seat close to the doors. Other passengers were preoccupied with their smart phones, scrolling through posts on social media or foreign news sites. Phlegmatic, absent-minded people. A few minutes later, the train pulled off.

Day in the office had been pure chaos, certainly. Crop failures in Brazil had called for a revised plan with soybean suppliers. In addition, Li from marketing was pushing for innovation in flavors, such as organic strawberry, guaranteeing it to sell well in the overseas markets. In face of challenging situations, Chang tended to remain calm on the outside, drawing on his two decades of experience in business. But as soon as the matter was settled, it all seemed more or less meaningless to him. Funny thing though, he had lately noticed to even enjoy the petty distractions that came up at work. Maybe they helped keeping one’s mind off the bigger issues, after all.

The train drew to a halt and picked up a few dozen passengers from the platform. Then, it continued its journey on a viaduct across the western New Territories. Chang gave away a thin smile, just noticeable, as lush green hills of the Tropic of Cancer crept across the horizon. The sight took him back to a more innocent, brighter time of his youth. Those were the days when Hong Kong was really put on the map. Both economy and culture flourished with the trusted British law attracting international investors’ money in town while figures like Wong Kar-wai and Jackie Chan enjoyed worldwide success. Much like the rapid expansion of the Mass Transit Railway, Hong Kong’s fortune seemed to be accumulating without end.

At age of nineteen, Chang enrolled at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Business Administration. Four years later, he had already jumped on board one of the top advertising agencies in the city. A great deal of his clients were international companies, mainly Japanese and American. Despite the English lessons in school and his British National Overseas passport, Chang had been shy of speaking a foreign language throughout his adolescence. But sitting in meetings with international business agents really helped building up his confidence in English which in turn would later prove extremely beneficial for his career. He bought his first own flat well before turning thirty in western Kowloon where he would stay for the next thirteen years.

Chang never married but used to be in a long-term relationship with a woman named Yue. She worked at a florist’s shop in Mong Kok. They often met up at Temple Street Night Market after work where they strolled among the endless stalls and had some curry fish balls on the go. Other times they hung out in Kowloon Park, watching birds and discussing the future of Hong Kong as the day of handover was inevitably drawing nearer. Chang assumed that after their separation Yue had met another man and started a family. It was only speculation, though, since they didn’t keep in touch in the following years.

It was getting dark outside. The train dashed into an underground tunnel. Chang remembered clearly how the impending transition to Chinese rule dominated much of public discussion in the 90s. People feared the Chinese government wouldn’t keep its promise of maintaining Hong Kong’s sovereignty; such thoughts exacerbated by events like the Tiananmen Square Massacre. As a result, the Hong Kong Basic Law was created in which the “one country, two systems” principle was ensured to last for fifty years after the handover, i. e. until 2047. The last British Governor of the region, Chris Patten, would continue the efforts to strengthen democracy in Hong Kong. Still, hundreds of thousands of people migrated to the West in the last years of crown colony.

As for Chang, warm nostalgic views about the British governance were on the rise at time—with one exception of cricket, that is, which he had never learned to appreciate. In the end, however, he decided not to leave the city.

People of all ages were exiting and entering the car. Smart phone screens flashing, the whirr of engines increasing as the train accelerated once again in the tunnel. Right after the handover, there was a general surreal atmosphere out in the streets. While many things seemed still familiar on the surface, citizens were on guard and waited for some new dramatic turn of events to occur at any moment. The Union Jack was replaced by the flags of China and Special Administrative Region, most references to the Crown were stripped, public holidays changed. A giant Reunification Monument was erected in the newly named Golden Bauhinia Square. Despite the historic transition, people continued to live their day-to-day life much like they used to do. But in fact, everything had already changed.

Three months into the rule of Chinese Communist Party, Hong Kong was plunged into the Asian Financial Crisis. It was during this time Chang quit his job in the advertising agency and later got hired by a globally expanding beverage company that focused on producing soy milk drinks—a business he would stay in ever since.

A heavily built man with puffy cheeks and a wide nose appeared on the screen. Chang felt suddenly nauseous as he spotted the Supreme Leader of nation, Xi Jinping, smirking among the crowd. He quickly looked out of the window and was surprised to realize the train was approaching his station.

He tramped through the lively Kowloon quarter, dazed and light-headed. Pictures of old and new Hong Kong kept mixing seamlessly in his mind all the way to the apartment. At home, Chang turned on the electric kettle to prepare a portion of Korean instant noodles much like he always did. After dinner, he went straight to bed. Just lying still on the mattress, breathing in and out calmfully, not thinking a thing in the world.

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