When I was three months old my parents boarded a BOAC flight at the notoriously dangerous Kai Tak International Airport to take the three of us to England from Hong Kong where they had been living for two years. My mother and father may have been going home, but I was travelling to a foreign country, 6000 miles from my birth place. At that time, I was the youngest child to fly this distance on BOAC Airlines.
My father was serving in the RAF and was stationed in Hong Kong, flying there a short time after the wedding in their home town of Prescot, Lancashire (now Merseyside). My mother joined him a short time later.
Both would have been leaving a grey homeland, still yet recovering from the ravages of WW2. In 1956, few ordinary people flew, let alone fly to the Far East. For them both, culturally; and to all intents and purposes geographically, this would have been like flying to a different planet.
THE TWO-YEAR-LONG HONEYMOON
In Hong Kong, life was wonderfully rich and diverse. Based at RAF Little Sai Wan they were given an upstairs apartment in a block housed by fellow servicemen and their wives. Both still in their early 20’s they fully embraced the social opportunities afforded to them, and in particular grew to love mixing with the local population.
They would make regular trips throughout the island and take in ferry rides around the insanely busy Hong Kong Harbour. Normally used to visiting corner shops for milk and butter back home, they soon got into the habit of haggling at street markets for the latest camera tech, clothes, jazz albums, or else searching for ingredients for curries, a ‘delicacy’ that wouldn’t ingest itself fully into every day British culture for another two decades.
Life was a daily adventure; the horizons wide and exciting. This was enhanced further by my mother’s pregnancy in late 1957. On the 5th July 1958 at the British Military Hospital in Kowloon, kicking; and most probably screaming, I was born.
HOME TO STAY
Once back in England, neither of my parents returned to this land of Asian adventure. The practicalities of raising a growing family rightfully took precedent; the closest prospect of another life-changing adventure being an attempt at immigration to New Zealand in 1975 that fell just short of fruition. Had this application been realised, this possibly would have made a visit to Hong Kong a little more likely.
Within months of immigration falling through, my mother passed away quite suddenly to lung cancer. Although in later years myself and my father tentatively raised the prospect of us returning to holiday, financial restraints never really brought this close to happening. My father died in 2018, aged 85.
For myself however, Hong Kong still feels like unfinished business.
THE GRADUAL ANNEXING OF HONG KONG
In 1997 Britain’s lease on the island ran out and it returned; with great reluctance on the part of its native population, to the control of the Chinese government. An agreement was signed between Britain and China to introduce a ‘one country/two systems’ state; allowing greater cultural and financial freedoms to Hong Kong than operates in mainland China, until 2047.
Like spoiled children eager to get hands on their presents before Christmas arrives, the Chinese government have progressively trespassed on the terms and spirit of this agreement.
Since 2019 there have been protests over extradition plans for criminals; since abandoned, from Hong Kong to mainland China. From individuals to the press, there has been a general creeping intention to curb freedom of speech. People of intellectual influence have disappeared, only to re-emerge under incarceration in mainland China.
The land that had been a peaceful and thriving base of financial and democratic equilibrium has been imploding. I’ve watched in despair as the island has been savaged by social disruption spilling over into violence. Businesses have been attacked, muddying the waters between legitimate protest and wanton destruction. Heavy-handed authorities have regularly dragged away protestors, and, it has been heavily claimed, employed local triads to incite unrest.
THE SPIRIT STILL IN PLACE
The rapid development of Hong Kong since the late 1950’s would make it unlikely either of my parents would have recognised the streets they walked down, if indeed many of them still exist at all. However, I would be hopeful that much of the essential soul of the place my mother and father had grown to love is still remaining.
For how much longer, only time will reveal. The people of Hong Kong are fiercely proud and resilient. This is still the only place where the events of Tiananmen Square are commemorated. Hong Kong may well turn out to be a hornet’s nest the Chinese will continually be attacked and stung by the more often they try to poke away at it.
If, indeed, I ever return to Hong Kong I know in spirit my parents would return with me. In Little Sai Wan and in Kowloon particularly, I know how close to them I would feel. More than anything, these are the sentiments that would inspire me to return to the place a small but significant part of me still thinks of as home.