why i am in hong kong

January 1st, 2017

why hong kong, of all places?

i get asked this question sometimes, and sometimes i wonder it myself.

“do you consider yourself from hong kong?”

“are you planning to stay in hong kong?”

“why would you want to stay in hong kong?”

many young people are (thinking of) leaving: 57 percent of people under 30 would emigrate if given the opportunity. so, not only a simple question of residence, or even of identity, of belonging, but also of dreams and hope: is there a future here?

i grew up in holland, born and raised in amstelveen, a suburb just outside amsterdam. i went to high school in amsterdam and lived a big part of my college life in amsterdam. growing up, i would semi-frequently visit hong kong. a place we would go to for holidays. a place where we had many relatives who would buy me gifts and spoil me. a place with good food, cool movies. to be honest, i don’t have that many happy childhood memories, but i cherish my childhood memories of hong kong.

so when i had an opportunity to “come back” to hong kong for work, i seriously considered it. this was unexpected. i thought i would find a job in the states. i never imagined let alone planned coming to hong kong. if it wasn’t for that initial job offer, i probably would not be here right now. but here i am, in hong kong, six years going strong.

maybe this surprises you, but i don’t feel that strongly about “going back” to holland. when i say that, people often give me curious looks.

“wouldn’t you want to go back to holland?

“don’t you miss it?”

“didn’t you grow up there?”

“don’t you miss your friends and family?”

“isn’t amsterdam super cool?”

yes, amsterdam is super cool. yes, i spent most of my years of my life in holland. but no, i don’t really feel strongly about “going back”, at least not right now.

christian morgenstern, a german poet, once said that “home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” i never really felt that holland was that much interested in understanding me. i am grateful i was allowed to grow up there, i am grateful for the good public education i got there, and i am grateful for the many people, including friends, who i connected with and built long lasting relationships with. but as a place, i always felt like i could only be “dutch” in holland. that i had to, what law professor kenji yoshino calls, “cover up” my otherness. and i got good at covering up. i joke that my superpowers is invisibility. but covering up also means covering up an important part of who you are. limiting yourself. and considering the growing backlash against immigrants, not only in holland, but in europe and now also in the united states, there is little reason to stop covering ourselves up. heads down. safety first.

in contrast, hong kong is not only the place where i am better understood, it is also the place that allows me to become myself. in hong kong, i think i can become the better person i believe i can be.

the better me makes a difference.

the better me helps hong kong be free and stay free.

the better me helps students to realize their own potential.

the better me helps the world understand why freedom and freedom of expression are important.

the better me is part of and helps build a community of friends and peers who have in common this aspiration and hope for a freer world.

a war of ideas on the values of freedom and democracy is going on (more on this in a later essay). i know i can make a difference in this “war”. it is hong kong where i think i can best do that.

but is there a future here? well, let’s not forget, the future is open. it is not set in stone. we don’t know what will happen. and because of this, there is hope. as leonard cohen said, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

i am grateful hong kong is (still relatively) free. i will fight to make sure hong kong stays free, becomes more free. i also believe there is much we can learn from hong kong, that hong kong plays a critical part in the larger struggle for freedom globally. this is why i am in hong kong. this is why i want to stay here.


Posted in culture, freedom, immigration, politics

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book and sword : gratitude and revenge

is the first novel written by Jin Yong. The protagonist is Chan Ka Lok, who is the leader of the Red Flower Society. The book title refers to Ka Lok being famous for being well-versed in culture and martial arts, but also for having to make a difficult ethical decision. My father named me and my brother after him.

The subtitle is from a poem Desiderata