There is a sense of impermanence in Hong Kong. There are cranes on the horizon and the noise from the construction adds a constant din to the city. The buildings are clad in green scaffolding and bamboo pole grids. The people are always on the move and the lights in the buildings never turn off. The city never sleeps.
Hong Kong is often known to be an “immigrant city” and has seen migrants from a range of different nationalities – the Hakkas were the original migrants to Hong Kong, a race known to be transient and incredibly hard-working. The city owes a lot of its success to the Hakkas.
The Hakkas moved to Hong Kong centuries ago and from here, migrated to other countries. They form the largest diaspora of Chinese community overseas.
Many Hakka Chinese have gone onto to making fortunes for themselves in London and Vancouver (often known as Hongcouver by the locals). My friend’s dad for instance was a pearl diver and has gone onto build a successful chain of Chinese restaurants in London, put his children through public schools and has retired having amassed a fortune. Working hard comes easy to the Hakka.
With the British came the Gurkhas and the Sikhs from India who have made Hong Kong their home. The Parsi or the Zoroastrian community has given Hong Kong its Star Ferry which tirelessly tows between TST and Hong Kong Island at HK$1.60 on weekdays and HK$2.20 on weekends and holidays, making it the cheapest form of cross-harbour transportation. A small, yet successful community of Parsis still prosper here.
The city has also seen Baghdadi Jews like the Sassoons and Kadoories who came with the British, and made a tremendous contribution to Hong Kong especially during the Japanese occupation, while the Sindhi community which originate from Pakistan and emigrated to India following partition own a chain of hotels including the Holiday Inn and Intercontinental among others.
Over the years, Hong Kong has seen a surge in migrants from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, Japan, Pakistan, India, and other Asian countries who came to set up companies and work in its MNCs. A quarter of a million population come from the Philippines and Indonesia who work in the city as foreign domestic workers. More recently, it has seen migrants from China.
On the weekend, you can see Hong Kongers throng to the country parks, to the beaches to its barbecue pits or take a boat to the outlying islands to eat at its local seafood restaurants. Hikes are very popular in Hong Kong and the government has made a lot of effort to build rest pavilions along the hiking routes and BBQ pits for families to come together for picnics.
As a visitor, what strikes the most is just how safe Hong Kong is. Considering the huge wage disparities in the country and an entire family of grand parents, parents and children living within the confines of 400 sq ft. apartment, you see no ill-will, even no graffiti.
Hong Kong is one of the safest cities you will ever visit. Even at 3am you can walk freely in the city and be met with the familiar sounds of the lights at the pedestrian crossing or walk into a 7-11 that is open 24 hours. The lights are always on. I was once told by a shop keeper that turning off lights meant that the shop was not prosperous.
So, if you want a city experience as a tourist or as a resident, Hong Kong gives it to you – on max. And when you return home, you kinda miss the buzz. It is addictive. But that is what Hong Kong is. It is like you are on a steroid, on a high. And what gives Hong Kong its vibrancy is its people.
The people of Hong Kong have an undying spirit. As the former Chief Executive of the territory puts it – the “get‐up‐and‐go spirit” that has fuelled its development and transformation over the decades.
In essence, the reason Hong Kong has been so successful is because of its people and because they never stood still. They just keep on moving. That is Hong Kong for you – life in movement.