I knew I knew Cliff Buddle back in the day. He’s been an honest, open, critical commenter in the local scene, writing a regular column in the South China Morning Post. And now he’s heading back to the UK. With very mixed feelings. That I’d share if I were doing the same. Which I’ve thought of, and wrote of recently, but which I’m not going to do. At least not quite yet.
Cliff on the hard choice of leaving Hong Kong:
On a late summer’s day in 1994, I left my life in London behind and boarded a plane to Hong Kong. I would never have guessed this first visit to the city would last 28 years. It has been the trip of a lifetime.
Last week, I took a one-way flight in the opposite direction. I returned to England for the first time since the pandemic began. And I intend to stay. It is time for a change of scene.
Leaving was hard and sad. My reasons will be familiar to many who have joined the “expat exodus”. Hong Kong’s travel curbs hit those with family overseas hard. My younger son is studying in the UK and I have hardly seen him for three years. I have not seen my parents at all.
The tough Covid-19 measures have lasted too long. They have sucked much of the joy out of everyday life and left the city isolated.
Then there is the politics. The protests, the national security law, mass arrests and relentless rhetoric have all had an impact. I have so many cherished memories of the city. But they mostly belong to an era that has ended. The city will, however, continue to occupy my thoughts. My elder son will stay and I will be back to visit. I will continue to work for the Post and hope the distance will give me fresh perspective when writing this column.
Will the grass be greener in the UK? I have arrived back at a perilous time. “Britain slides into crisis”, as The Times put it last week. A long recession and rampant inflation loom. There will, no doubt, be frustrations and surprises ahead. But it is exciting to walk the London streets where I began my career. The absence of Covid-19 restrictions makes the UK seem like a different world. I feel naked without my mask, but it is a liberating experience. The flip side, of course, is that I am almost certain to catch Covid-19. That’s the price of living with the virus.
Crowds flock to the bars and restaurants beside the River Thames. There are even tourists! It is a reminder of the vibrancy and the buzz Hong Kong has lost. The city desperately needs to get this back.
My initial excitement on arriving in the UK will, no doubt, fade. When in the midst of a cold and dark British winter, I am sure I will long for sunny days in Hong Kong. The depressing battle of narratives that passes for debate these days has extended to the question of which is the better place to live. There is an easy answer. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. It depends what you are looking for. For me, after 28 years, it is time to return to the UK.
But if I was 30 again I would still take the chance to seek adventure in Hong Kong. The city, for all the troubles and changes it has faced, continues to have much to recommend it. The stunning skyline, the country parks, the wonderful food, low crime rate, low taxes, and enduring spirit of the people all remain. There is so much I will miss. One of my last duties in Hong Kong was, as emcee, to welcome new Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu to the stage at the Post’s China Conference last month. In an upbeat speech, he promised the city “another leap forward”.
I hope he will make good on his promise to start a new chapter. Hong Kong needs to get over its obsession with Covid-19, reconnect with the world and find a way back to being the diverse, free and open city we love. Farewell Hong Kong, you are part of who I am. Thank you for making me so welcome. I wish you all the best and look forward to this wonderful city enjoying happier times in the future.