Saturday, 13 June 2020

What kind of city do I want to live in?

Here are the cities I’ve lived in over my 70 years, chronologically, without repeats:
Tokyo (birthplace), Canberra, Rome, New York, Bonn, Sydney, Pretoria, London, Turin, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong.
I loved all of these cities when I lived in them.
And now we live in Hong Kong. Where we find ourselves in dangerous straits, buffeted by rising winds. Two superpowers are whipping up a typhoon. Should we abandon ship?
Why are we still here, when we could be comfortable anywhere else?
Thinking about what I like about a city, I come up with the following non-exhaustive list:
  • Non-corrupt, clean and accountable government, 
  • Responsive and efficient bureaucracy 
  • The rule of law 
  • Good hospitals and health care
  • Corruption-free police force abiding by due process
  • A pretty city with good food
  • Great transport
  • convenient travel
  • All fundamental freedoms: of the press, of assembly, of travel, or religion, of capital transfer.
  • Domestic help. (Always important, increasingly so to me)
Having lived here for 40-plus years, I say: Hong Kong has all of these. I know that many friends in HK and people outside following events in the western media may have a different view. would mock me for saying that. “Police abiding by due process? You’re kidding, right?!”, or “you have fundamental freedoms? Joke, right?”
Then there’s areas we fall down in. Air pollution for example. We’ve made some, but too little progress on that . But where is perfect? Hong Kong has been and remains, for now, a great place to live.
We are not deluded, nor are we fantasists. We are also realistic and suspicious that Beijing could come in and ruin much of this. But that is not its aim. Beijing prefers that Hong Kong remain a successful free port run by common law and the local government.
It’s even possible to predict a bright future. At least economically. Consider the Greater Bay Area development zone, in which Hong Kong is pivotal. An area of 120 million people increasingly integrated with leading edge infrastructure. As I wrote, the local stock market is certainly taking the optimists’ view. They are up, and property prices remain buoyant.
What would have me looking to move is any erosion of the freedom of the press. When I travel in China the thing I miss most is not being able to get access international news and my favourite blogs.
Food is great. Transport is great. People are friendly. But I can’t get blogger and the Times. So if that were to change, I would change.
What about universal suffrage? Well, I wouldn’t mind it, but don’t miss it. And I wouldn’t ruin the city and destroy the freedoms we have in pursuit of it. After all, how many folks care about their mayor? Answer for the US: mayoral election turnout averages 20%. (Our “Chief Executive” is an executive mayor).
I do a thought experiment: would I rather live in the largest democracy in the world, India, or the largest Leninist Dictatorship in the world, China? It’s not even close. I know both pretty well. I’d far rather live in China, as long as I can choose where. Shanghai, Xiamen or Chengdu would do me fine.  In any case, we have more democracy now than we ever had under the Brits. We have universal suffrage in free and fair elections for District Councillors. That is, at the local level, which to many people is the most important level - wasn’t it Bill Clinton who said “all politics is local”?
We are among the lucky ones. We have assets outside Hong Kong and Australian passports. If things get dodgy in terms of freedoms, or of the list above, then we can move.
In the meantime, I looks outside the window and enjoy the greenery, the birds, the fish, our lively little eco system, with its births and sad deaths, and feel rooted. Which reminds me of the wonderful headline, decades ago in a Chinese English language propaganda magazine China Reconstructs lauding a cultural revolutionary heroine who had followed Mao’s directions for youths to go help farmers, with the headline “Young girl firmly rooted in countryside.”
That’s me now. Firmly rooted…