"Have you never lived in a city in unrest before?"
It is 13th October 2019 on Hong Kong Island. A Sunday. A day which has become synonymous with increasingly unpredictable and violent protesting across the city that I now call home. Yet again, the tensions and tear gas is juxtaposed against the backdrop of another beautiful, blue-skied day.
My friend, a Colombian expat, poses this question to me as we walk past a group of armed police, fully clad with stoic expressions and khaki jumpsuits. I had to admit that no, I haven't. Before moving to Hong Kong in 2016, the biggest culture shock I'd ever experienced was the two hour drive up the M6 to university. Yes, living in this city, despite its rooftop bars and designer labels, often forces me to stare my own comfortable, privileged existence straight in the face.
Even the London Riots of 2011 seemed like a different world to an ignorant 20-year-old university student living up in the faraway land of Northern England. However, the happenings here in Hong Kong in recent months have forced me to question whether I am any more politically astute and, most importantly, empathetic than I was back then.
For example, despite living in the CBD of Hong Kong Island itself, I have largely managed to avoid the conflict happening all around me. I haven't felt unsafe at any time and have gone about my daily life as normal besides the odd cancelled train. I have been enjoying the expat life. Eating out three nights a week, drinking in the aforementioned rooftop bars and sweating through the yoga and spinning classes full of people just like me. You can imagine, then, the feelings of guilt and discomfort when I catch up with the harrowing images of the previous day's events. The violence, the injustice, the youth of this city fighting for their rights to be respected and their voices to be heard. People I share this city with. A city that has given me so much and that I take for granted.
As the political clashes and social unrest in the city becomes increasingly more complex, I ponder whether the expat community, myself included, should burst this comfortable bubble which allows us the luxury of a disengaged birds-eye view of the current happenings. Let's strive to understand the situation before we complain that the train service disruption is interfering with our beach day plans. After all, we have the luxury of being able to leave any time, our futures are not destined to be lived out here, as theirs are.