Last weekend, to mark my birthday and the changing of the seasons, Hong Kong turned on a brilliantly sunny, blue skies day. The outlines of the city’s hills were – for once – clearly visible, and driving on the waterfront freeway I could see a flock of billowing sails on pleasure yachts out on the harbour.
Daisuke took me for a surprise birthday dinner, on the Star Ferry (the perfect day for it!) to a fancy restaurant and finally to the swanky and much-hyped Ozone bar on the hundred-and-eighteenth floor of the Ritz Carlton (pictured above. Coincidentally I took a picture of it as we crossed the harbour).
My ears popped on the elevator up, and as we emerged Hong Kong lay, surreally below us, with green lasers shooting off the hilltops for the city’s daily 8pm light show, and neon pipes snaking up the Bank of China building as we had out cocktails and churros.
Meanwhile the rest of the city was preoccupied with less frivolous concerns. My birthday was also election day- a fact of which I was scarcely aware, underscoring my isolation from the mainstream of non-expat life here. In the days before hundred thousands of protesters had hit the streets fighting for the repeal of a controversial bill to enforce China’s “Civics” programme in schools, a programme many in Hong Kong think is pro-Communist propaganda. It is viewed as a symbol of the creeping influence of the PRC in every sphere of Hong Kong life, and most chillingly, in its politics.
This Olympic-themed street mural in Causeway Bay reminded me of the very real grounds for this fear – it has recently been repainteed with China jingoistically listed as 1st and 2nd in some imaginary medal tally!
In the end the HK government caved and made the controversial curriculum an elective to be taught at schools’ discretion, but the massive show of force marked the unease of many Hong Kongers over the tightening embrace of their ‘mother’ to the North.