12th May 2021 – (Hong Kong) A post-graduate from U.S., Nicholas Robert who studied his Master degree at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2017 shared his opinion on Quora.com today on why he left Hong Kong. The post has garnered lots of online feedbacks.
The following is the excerpt of his post:
Let’s start with why I went there in the first place:
I started my masters degree in Hong Kong in 2017.
The reason I went there is because, for all intents and purposes, Hong Kong was a thriving, globalized city full of opportunities for foreigners.
Having previously done internships in Beijing and Singapore, I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to continue my Asia journey, to learn more about Chinese culture, improve my language skills, all the while living in another world renowned city – a mix of East and West, a culturally rich city with the best of European/British culture, rooted in the thousands of years of Chinese history before that. The glimmering “Pearl of the Orient”.
I had initially planned on working in Hong Kong after graduation. I thought it would be ideal; HK being an international travel hub, I would be able to easily travel around the region: mainland China, Singapore, southeast Asia, Japan, and so on. HKIA also has some of the most affordable tickets in Asia to and from my country, the United States.
Then we have the university – HKUST – ranked highly on all global rankings, boasting a diverse international student population, strong ties with industry, and a track record of solid academics and research.
Everything added up. If you had a list of all those factors and an offer letter in front of you, I don’t think it would’ve taken you very long to consider.
I arrived in Hong Kong in September 2017 to begin my studies.
Two years later, I decided to leave.
First of all, over the course of my studies there, I gradually realized that the Hong Kong that was advertised to me was pure fiction. Foreigners and locals didn’t mix at all, there was little Chinese culture to be found, and as for language, locals would literally cringe at me if I spoke a word of Mandarin. Expats stay in their English speaking bubble in Central and Sheung Wan, literally vowing never to cross into Kowloon, and to learn no more than two words of Cantonese.
Local students avoid foreigners, not like the plague… more like ghosts (ironic, the term of endearment for foreigners in Hong Kong translates to “foreign ghost”). Walking through the halls of academic buildings, they look through you, as if you don’t exist. After one year of attending weekly wing chun classes, taking a few months off, and then coming back, one of the students asked me “haven’t you been here before?” I can only assume the rest of them did not recognize me at all.
But all of that is really negligible in comparison to what came next.
In late 2018 and early-2019, you could feel a mounting tension in the air, an unidentified dissatisfaction throughout the student population, and to some extent, the city as a whole. Then, in March 2019, the riots broke out. This tension and dissatisfaction exploded and took the form of a mass movement of civil unrest.
Thousands of students took to the streets. First they condemned Beijing, then they condemned their own police, then any public figures who supported the police or Beijing, and finally, their very own fellow citizens. They fought anybody who disagreed with them. They beat and killed people, they lit people on fire. They trashed the campus, they destroyed businesses, they crippled the city’s otherwise marvelous transportation system.
When the Hong Kong government started making arrests, the students started wearing facemasks (ironically foreshadowing what would come a year later). The original purpose of facemasks was to avoid being identified for crimes committed during the riots. Now, it caught on as an act of solidarity among the student population. For the rest of us, seeing someone wearing a facemask on campus was frightening: it signified support of or direct involvement in acts of terrorism and violence.
And then came the bomb threats. The university shut down for several days and the campus was evacuated.
This is the part of the story that nobody seems to mention: the thousands of non-local students who were affected by these riots. Some of us went to Shenzhen, others waited it out in their home countries or hometowns (for those from the mainland), and others still, remained in Hong Kong, and did their work and research from their dorms or apartments.
Imagine studying in an environment of such toxicity, violence, and fear. Needless to say, productivity will not be at an all time high.
From then until my thesis defence, I would commute from Shenzhen to Hong Kong on a weekly basis, living in Chungking Mansions for the days I was in Hong Kong (as it was most affordable place in the city). Every week I would get off the train at Kowloon West and walk from there to Chungking. Every week I would see more destruction, more vandalism, more symbols of hate and anger. Shopfronts were dark. Stations were shuttered. Streets were empty. People, quite literally, feared for their lives. The millions of Hong Kongers who didn’t support the rioters were afraid to say a word, lest they be beaten or burned alive. You could feel it in the air.
All the while, I would read my morning news everyday, about how these young Hong Kongers were peacefully demonstrating for freedom and liberty, resisting the “encroachment” of their rights by the tyrannical Chinese government. The reality that was in front of me and the reports I was reading were worlds apart.
I never did get a logical explanation as to what the “protests” hoped to achieve. As far as I’m concerned, it was a mere explosion of pent up rage and anger. Anger at society for allowing things to come to this: the highest housing prices in the world, increasing costs of living, and limited economic opportunities , all designed to keep wealth in the hands of the few who already had it. That, in combination with extreme anti-China sentiment stemming from biased media and education, and an insular worldview brought about by a century of colonization which entails the belief Hong Kong people are superior to Chinese, despite being 100% genetically indistinguishable – overall, a laundry-list of of grievances and a near-universally agreed upon scapegoat – all led to a perfect cocktail of anger, fear, and blame, which exploded into the movement we all saw: a movement with no logical basis and no logical goals… pure emotion and ignorance no matter which way you look at it.
Despite having made some good friends during my “exile” in Shenzhen, I made the decision to come home after graduation. The toxic political environment of the region was just too much to handle, considering, especially, that I was ostensibly not involved, being neither from mainland China, nor from Hong Kong.
So I left.
But that’s not the end of the story…
Soon after arriving home, I started to discover how much involvement my country had in the riots. Not only did US media promote misinformation to garner global support for the rioters, but US government agencies actually provided resources and funding to the rioters. I started to realize that the reason the riots got that big, and went that long, was in large part due to the efforts of my own country.
That’s when it became personal.
My country’s political motives were what disrupted my studies, what shattered whatever plans I’d had for a career in Asia into a million pieces. The false narratives around Hong Kong by my country were what led me there in the first place, and the false narratives were what drove me out. Hong Kongers were and ARE still being used as political pawns in the US’s game of economic brinkmanship with China.
I escaped a politically toxic situation only to jump right into the source of that toxicity. Now I’ve made it part of my mission to share my experiences so that people can correct their understanding of this part of the world – to revise what inaccurate views they’ve developed from politically motivated reporting for the sake of US economic interests.
Politics has never been big part of my life, and it still isn’t, because this is not an ideological pursuit. The actions of my country interfering in other nations’ affairs directly affected the trajectory of my life and my career. Americans are inundated with misinformation about China (the bad guy) and Hong Kong (the good guy) on a daily basis. And this misinformation AFFECTS PEOPLE’S LIVES. Those of you Americans who stand in solidarity with Hong Kong “protesters” are complicit. If you want to support them, go there and demonstrate on the streets. Have conversations with them and see how logical their arguments are. Go and fight the good fight against communism and the CCP. Better yet, GO TO SHENZHEN, and observe, first hand, the oppression, poverty, and abuse that the residents there are facing at the hands of the tyrannical Xi regime:
Politics is only politics when it doesn’t affect you personally. When it does, it’s just called life. When you attempt to impose your political views in places where you have no vested interest – no “skin in the game” – you are bound to RUIN PEOPLE’S LIVES. This is an undeniable truth that people who have been victimized by the United States’ belligerence the world over have experienced first-hand.
If there’s anything you can learn from my story, it’s to either get your facts straight, or shut up. If you try to “fix” things in places you’ve never been or know nothing about, you’re only making things worse.