HKFP Occupy banner one year on

A stranger approached. Arms were opened wide. Then came “The Hug”. The hug didn’t last long and only a few words were spoken. It was an unexpected and strangely moving hug, and I hadn’t done anything to deserve the hug, just standing there in the heat, in the gathering crowd to celebrate an anniversary of change. It was a yellow umbrella day overall, and even the sun obliged.

lennon wall hong kong
Photo: HKFP.

A “thank you” accompanied the hug. Moist eyes welled up from the huggee.

The reason? I wasn’t ethnically Chinese, but a so-called “foreigner”. Note the quotes around the word “foreigner”; although I meet the dictionary definition of being born elsewhere, I consider myself no longer “foreign” to Hong Kong. It has been my home for nearly 18 years. The word no longer fits. I wasn’t the only “foreigner” there, of course, but the bulk of the crowd was local Hongkongers, which was as it should be.

Maybe it is a surprise to “locals” that people like me want to help them gain democracy and better governance. I’m often interviewed by the media when I attend protests about political reform. I joke about being a “multimedia star”.

lennon wall occupy
Photo: HKFP.

I am surprised that the number of long-term non-Chinese Hong Kong residents taking part in these activities is so small. Isn’t Hong Kong their home? Don’t they want better governance and a greater say in its affairs? This is not the nebulous “foreign interference” implied by our chief executive. Who knows how long we are to spend at a place. “Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home”, goes the words of an old song.

While I like getting hugs generally (I get too few, unfortunately), I shouldn’t be singled out for a hug on such an occasion. But maybe I should just take it in the spirit it was given, as an indication that the “world” takes note of Hong Kong people’s struggle and will spread the message to far horizons.

This is all I want to say about “The Hug”.

Jennifer Eagleton, a Hong Kong resident since 1997, is a policy committee member of the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation and was an adviser to the University of Hong Kong’s “Designing Democracy Hong Kong” project. Her PhD analyzed how Hong Kong talks about democracy through metaphor. She is a teacher of English and linguistics as well as researcher and editor.