No Thanks


Let me start with the admission that I was never a true advocate of Hong Kong. Allow me to explain.

I use to view Hong Kong as a place where I left Vancouver unwillingly for as a result of a new job opportunity for my dad. I resented the move at the time as it meant uplifting me from everyone and everything I knew within my comfort zone. At the age of 10, I was naïve and did not understand how privileged I was to have had the opportunity to experience both the western and eastern cultures. It has since served me well. After settling into middle school in Hong Kong, I began to make friends, ones who are still in my inner circle until this day. I had fond memories but rarely identified myself as a “Honkie” so to speak.

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to travel the world and after many years of living abroad, I decided to make a move back to be closer to my parents; thus bringing me back full circle to Hong Kong. It was a struggle to adjust at the time to say the least. Sometimes I still find myself struggling today. Having had the independence and freedom abroad, returning to a place where social hierarchies play a dominant part was so foreign to me, especially in a place where supposedly I would call home. Or is it?

I’ve always struggled with the feeling of fitting in. Often times swinging the pendulum between the social perception of how I should behave versus who I truly was. I could feel a slight resentment towards the city I lived in but over time and what took my life crumbling to pieces, I realised living my truth was the only way. The resentment subsided and I’m beginning to view the city in a different light.

That said, I still harboured a feeling of stillness from time to time. Since my return to Hong Kong, I always had a feeling that the air was stale. Everyone was moving, bustling and hustling but at the same time nothing was moving. Everything seemed stagnant. Faces use to pass me by in a crowded subway station, all faced down on their digital device, expressionless. If you were to encounter an emotion, it would be one of anger, frustration and impatience. Local establishments continued to exist in the same capacity as they once were when I was in high school or have closed down, succumbing to commercial pressures and increased land values (the only upwards movement I could see in any capacity). I began to ask myself, what am I doing here and what options do I have for a way out? I never felt a sense of home here so the only option I could envision was devising an exit strategy. 

As I write this, I am cruising at 30,000 feet, struggling to process a range of emotions, asking myself what the root cause is for such feelings I’ve been experiencing. The notion of an exit strategy has never been so forefront in my mind as it has lately. As Hong Kong continues to find an answer during this critical time, I, as a Hong Kong citizen, am finding my ground. Beginning with learning, understanding and educating oneself to all sides of the story. One thing has become increasingly clear, the emotions I’ve been experiencing lately are fueled by sensationalism, addiction, ignorant rants, lack of thoughtful communication and the most serious of them - intentional bullying. What can possibly be achieved by bullying? Is it to seemingly weaken their voice or momentarily raise your voice only to be portrayed as verbal and cyber abuse? This type of behaviour may bring satisfaction for a brief moment but is quickly broken down through a better understanding of what instigates such conduct. What brought about such acts of abuse and how can we help?

As Hong Hong residents who are caught in the throws of almost 4 months of citywide protests from all industries left and right, we as a society are faced with an increasingly pressing issue – the strain of emotional and mental turmoil.

As I watch social media blow up with raging tweets, forwarded “news”, piercing words, and what I call constant noise pollution, I can’t help but wonder the stress levels people are experiencing in order to behave in such a way. The answer – an underlying current that is guiding the movement but no one is addressing head on from all sides. Who is responsible for shifting this current and calming the waters? Family relationships are strained due to a difference of opinion with no tools at their disposal to make amends. As people lose sleep and anxiety levels reach an all time high, it begs the question of how our society is taking care of everyone’s mental well-being? The future is ours but will absolutely fail to move forward without the mental health of it’s citizens.

Self-abusive behaviour can be addictive and without realising, day-by-day more individuals succumb to this. Sleepless nights are spent trolling social media for stories that strike our fancy and angles towards the beliefs we chose. Hours pass by and the same activity repeats itself night after night. Such is the beginning of an addiction that is unfortunately self-inflicted with no means of an intervention.

Drugs and alcohol are widely perceived in our local society as relatable forms of addiction. Ones that are openly discussed, addressed and supported through what you and I comfortably label as rehabilitation centres. Unfortunately, the undercurrent that I speak of which we are currently riding is somewhat of a taboo, an unspoken truth. It’s an addiction our local society lives and breathes every day, what I believe has been bubbling under the surface for quite some time now but we as a society fail to address head on. It’s an undercurrent our neighbours would rather shy away from, for fear of leaving their comfort zone and living the perception of an outsider. Blending in seems to be the easier choice to make. Standing out, wearing the loud shirt, coughing up an emotionally charged reaction and admitting our sleepless nights are caused by anxiety attacks is unheard of.

I know first hand the feeling that comes from sleepless nights and at times, I too felt it was easier to go about my day and ignore the symptoms until a few years ago, anxiety attacks crippled me beyond control. Sitting on the bathroom floor and staring at the ceiling at 3am shaking myself uncontrollably, I could feel the suffocation this society can inflict on you, thus preventing you from facing the truth. It’s easy to succumb to stories we tell ourselves and the stories I told myself were endless. I fell into a trap of self-inflicted doubt and abuse. I foolishly thought I hid it well but it all manifested through mini tantrums, withdrawal and addictive behaviours. Although on the surface the behaviours spoke for themselves, there was a lack of understanding from those around me of the root cause and an overwhelming judgmental scent felt funnelling through the air. If not careful, the feeling of suffocation can be toxic and dangerously lethal. Before it was too late, it was time to make a change. First and foremost - admission. 

If change is what we want, we need to begin to talk about it openly, without judgment and with the intention to firstly understand, speak the same language and then we can begin to heal. Without the acknowledgement of something existing, healing cannot begin.

The language of mental stress disorders and the symptoms are something we need to look at, something I continue to learn and explore every day. I look at the sidelines and see a very small population of social workers sprinkle the streets but are met with arrogance and resistance on the surface but underneath it all, fear and mental exhaustion. Let’s not forget that social workers are human too, born of the same atoms and fragility. They have moments of strength and moments where they feel defeated by the lack of understanding and an elementary governing system. When backed into a corner they come crashing down and all efforts to serve the community come to a screeching halt. Who is there to help them when they so selflessly are trying to help others at the frontlines? Who is there to defend their honour? To protect their freedom and right to safety? To protect their freedom and right to mental well-being? 

What is standing in the way of mental stability? One simple answer – Ego. A dangerous drug of choice; far more lethal than any other addiction. Ego prevents one from moving forward, from listening, understanding and executing plausible solutions. Born from ego is arrogance; a behaviour that prevents one from exercising empathy and developing a clear understanding of situations outside of their comfort zone. Personal beliefs are all they know. It’s easy to disregard a wide range of perspectives and ignore the value in opening the mind. Differing belief systems is the corner stone of our global society where two or more worlds can come together and with adequate thought and mindfulness, can carry out a meaningful dialogue all whilst maintaining an open mind.

It’s anybody’s guess how this will end and to make predictions would simply mean juggling a number of unsolicited assumptions. One thing I do know for sure – we need to talk, talk openly, honestly and with no ulterior motifs. Cast aside all egos and open your eyes, ears and seek to learn. Learn from one another. After all, two heads are better than one. Begin by listening with an open mind and understanding. Then we can begin to heal.

Heal the mind, Heal the body, Heal the soul. Heal you.


Begin by listening with an open mind and understanding. Then we can begin to heal.


Narrative: Kaizen

Photography: Kaizen