Day one and the new recruits wake to life in the great People's Republic

Why a charmed land will still work its magic

I am starting to wonder whether I am the English Patient. Solicitous friends and well meaning people keep asking me if I am all right. How do I feel? What am I going to do?

They ask because it is assumed that as a long-time resident of Hong Kong I should feel both saddened and worried by the departure of the British regime. We Brits are presumably expected to leave, trailing somewhere in the wake of Britannia as it carries the Prince of Wales and Chris Patten part of the way back to Blighty.

Of course the change of sovereignty is momentous and, let's face it, it will never be the same for the Brits again.

Some of the things which will go should have gone long ago. It is absurd that Chinese defendants and plaintiffs should have to stand in a court of law conducted entirely in a foreign language.

It is equally absurd that British people should have special residence privileges; and how can anyone defend a system, which is anyway almost extinct, under which British expatriates were paid more than their Chinese counterparts, while knowing less?

So, goodbye, and good riddance, to all that. Hopefully it does not mean hello to discrimination against all things British. I rather think it does not. These last few, pretty wrenching days have revealed a surprisingly warm attitude to the departing colonial power. I say surprising because, in my experience, the word that generally sums up attitudes to things British is indifference. I have never had what might be described as an "anti-British experience". This seems remarkable because there is a certain logic to a colonised people feeling ill-disposed towards their colonisers.

However, and here's the rub: Hong Kong Chinese people do not act or feel like a people under colonial occupation. There is very little of that colonial cringe which was a major feature of Britain's other imperial adventures. On the contrary, the Chinese in these parts can be every bit as haughty, self confident and arrogant as the Brits who still believe that God is an Englishman.

The departing Governor, Chris Patten, described Hong Kong as a "Chinese society with British characteristics". He has a point; but the overwhelming impression I have always had about Hong Kong is that it is essentially a Chinese society. It may well have been called a British colony until yesterday but I have always felt very much a foreigner, even after many years of residence.

It is hard to imagine Hong Kong will become that much more Chinese, and that people like me will feel that much more alien. Nevertheless, I expect the culture to become more self-consciously Chinese. But I hope, perhaps naively, that a self-confident Chinese culture will be sufficiently secure to more easily accommodate foreign influences.

We have been waiting for the handover so long that there was always a danger it might be an anti-climax. It was not. Despite the vulgarity of some of the celebrations, the goon-like behaviour of some senior Chinese officials, and the rather gauche ceremony marking Britain's departure, only the most drearily cynical person could fail to sense the feeling of history in the making.

It is hard to believe that I am now living under a regime controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and it certainly does not seem very real.

I woke up to hear Martin Lee, the Democratic Party's leader, saying on the radio that he was resolutely determined not to concede that things had to change. He said he drove to the studio in the same car, down the same roads and met the same people he has met before. Why therefore should he change his ways?

If the man branded as a subversive by the Chinese government sees no need to change his ways, I find it hard to believe that a lowly Brit living deep in Hong Kong's breathtaking countryside needs to see the new era as an occasion for major upheavals.

Yet there is an expectation that I should be thinking of leaving. Even people I do not know, ask me if I'm intending to go. Maybe they know something which I don't. Maybe this will no longer be a place for foreigners, especially those who earn a living from reporting the news. Not knowing what the future hold seems to be an insufficient reason for assuming the worst or, even more foolishly, to start jumping before being pushed. Inertia has always served me very well in the past. I trust that even in the new Hong Kong it will work its magic one more time.

All I really know is that this place has been extremely good to me. I've had opportunities to do things here which I simply could not dream of doing in Britain. The reason why this is so is not because I am somehow special - it is because Hong Kong is very special indeed.

Letters, page 19


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