From PH to Hong Kong: Hard to say I’m sorry
I have always straddled two worlds.
On one hand, my ancestry, the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes, the language that we spoke at home, the kind of dishes that we ate and the expectations of a Tiger Mom; and on the other, Philippines, happiness, friends, powder soft sand and turquoise water, traffic jams and chaos but all throughout a spirit of familiarity and camaraderie that to this day, in spite of my many travels, I cannot find an equal to. On one, there was noche Buena and lechon and on the other was Chinese New Year and radish cake. Dimsum and merienda were worshipped and in both, there was no such thing as too much food on the table.
In a New York Times article published February 5, President Noynoy Aquino opened fire. Denouncing the Chinese government and stamping his foot down that he will not issue an apology for the Manila hostage crisis, the President dropped the H-bomb, Hitler, and drew a parallelism between our islands presently under dispute with China, to a similarly disputed territory bordering Czechoslovakia. The warning went, “Remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.” It had all the requisite ingredients for front page; and true enough, the Hitler and World War II references became screaming headlines in all of the Philippine dailies the next day.
And yet, despite these declarations, what struck home was an absence of words—the President’s non-apology to Hong Kong and the 8 victims’ families. Citing “that it might create a legal liability,” this aversion has since led to the first phase of sanctions: the suspension of visa-free status for government officials and diplomats..
In the crossfire between the Philippines and China, the apology to Hong Kong has taken on so many implications—on national defense, on maritime bullying, and on our status in the global pecking order. When Hong Kong is actually a place (and culture) apart.
Everybody needs a little time (away)
To most Filipinos, it is a food and shopping destination or simply the nearest Disneyland, but to me, Hong Kong is quite simply a second home. Most of my family resides there and after the loss of my mother and my grandfather, only my brother and I remain here in the Philippines. Born and raised here, when asked where I come from I always introduce myself as a Filipina who has family in Hong Kong. My hybrid upbringing taught me to value both and it is also this rearing that makes me wonder a few things amidst all of the breast-beating.
The issue here is that HK is in the crossfire of a dispute over land. Hong Kong was the spoils of China’s Opium War with Britain. Having lost the war and unable to pay its opium debt, China had to sign the Treaty of Nanking and hand over Hong Kong, the port jewel that it was, to the United Kingdom. Hong Kong was collateral.
In the Manila hostage crisis, the “deranged policeman” (as he is described) Rolando Mendoza needed a stage to vent his anger for being discharged. It was an unfortunate decision when he chose the tourist bus filled with 22 HK nationals. One cannot help but wonder how we might have reacted if the bus had been filled with nationals of another country. What if they were Americans? What if they were Europeans? Nevertheless, the Hai Thong tourist bus was targeted and the harrowing moments that ensued are not just available all over the internet, they are also seared into the collective memory of every Hong Kong national. Those tourists were collateral.
Part of me I can’t let go
My grandmother (technically, my grand-aunt, but I consider her my grandmother) still lives in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Shek Lei, a government housing community perched against the cheek of a mountain. She is a septuagenarian but you wouldn’t know, as she still has perfectly manicured nail art, takes the bus and navigates the uphill streets of Kowloon island at a brisker pace than me.
I realized how important the Manila hostage crisis was to every Hongkonger when every single time I would be introduced by my family, that would be the first thing they would ask about. Surrounded by 17 pairs of eyes that looked like mine, around a smorgasbord of sweet and sour pork, chili prawn, fish lung soup, slow-cooked beef and other dishes all home-cooked by my grandmother, I was asked why the Philippine national government could not say sorry. I had just met my cousin’s fiance, a Hongkong local named Allen, and when I invited them to come to El Nido for their honeymoon, his first question was, “Is it safe there? Do we have to pass Manila?” as if the hostage crisis happened yesterday instead of August 2010.
Over yamcha (tea), serendipitously again in the Police Sports and Recreation Club in Jordan, an MTR stop away from Mongkok, I met the childhood friends of my uncle Barry. They were practically brothers, owing to a relationship that has spanned 40 years. It was another first meeting and the introductory question felt like deja vu, “Is it safe in Manila? Why do you still live there?” I, of course, launch into immediate defense of this country that I love. I explain, in my best but still foreign-accented Cantonese, that it was a fluke, and that the Philippines is a wonderful place to live in. I share with them my truths: the fact that I have chosen this place as my home, the fact that most of my loved ones and friends are here. I explain to them that I feel safe here, despite everything they have heard in the news. Still, I don’t commute, preferring to drive as my brother just narrowly missed a snatching attempt en route to MBA school in an MRT.
There are so many underlying issues here: about governance, accountability, imagery and public relations yet all muddled by a tinderbox maritime disagreement. In the world of euphemisms, the hostage crisis can only best be described as bumbling and bungled, and yet, we, both the Philippines and Hong Kong, are held hostage also because of a bigger power who wants in on land. The unpublished belief of many Hong Kong locals is that they are not China. However, an analyst from South China Morning Post describes the situation as the Philippine government's fears: that Hong Kong is being used to aggravate us.
I couldn’t answer my family why. A political straitjacket? An escalating war of words? They were too complicated for the audience around the table who just wanted to see if we could tell right from wrong. I could only say what I knew and have always known to be true—that even though they were my blood, my roots were here in the Philippines.
There is greatness amidst the chaos and having worked in a multinational company and being surrounded now by brilliant people who have taken on leadership positions outside the country, I have seen that the creativity and work ethic of the Filipino are among the best in the world. I share the news that the Philippines has done very well for itself, that we are now investment grade status and joked that as a sign of economic progress and consumer confidence, H&M is coming to our shores. We (and I must say we) laugh at crisis and exhibit strength and optimism amidst the many disasters that have come our way. And I owe so much of who I am to this place that has adopted and raised me like I was its own.
There are still 195,128 Filipinos working in Hong Kong, according to the Commission of Filipinos Overseas. I am merely one of-Hongkong-ancestry Filipino among a largely Fukien community. Like most Filipinos, I grew up riding FX and jeepney transports and posed with the question why, I can only think of the lyrics of the Chicago song, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.”
And despite it holding absolutely no political authority, in defense and out of solidarity for this tropical country that holds my heart and my passport, I just looked around the table and said, “I’m sorry.” - Rappler.com
Meryll Yan is a hybrid: a magazine editor slash publisher who turned into a banker. She flits between Manila, Hong Kong, and New York to be with her family and loved ones.