Despite bleak outlook, Hong Kong parents-to-be choose remain over exit
Beijing’s growing crackdown on Hong Kong is driving a new wave of emigration. Thousands of families are fleeing abroad as Western countries open their doors. Some couples, however, are going against the grain, not only choosing to stay, but are also set to raise a family.
After dating for two years, Sylvia and Fai tied the knot despite the coronavirus pandemic in April last year. A year later, the newlyweds are welcoming their firstborn at the end of next month. “I could not describe the joy I felt when I heard the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. I’ve never felt anything like that before,” said Sylvia.
They have long had plans for pregnancy and underwent pre-marital checkups, but the newborn came far sooner than expected. “You can never be fully prepared for a baby,” said Sylvia. “You can only learn as you go, making plans as you come across special circumstances or deciding how you would tackle the issue right then and there.”
Sylvia, who works in the cultural industry, was raised by her grandmother. Feeling insecure during her childhood, she never considered raising a family of her own until she met Fai and was moved by his cheerful spirit. “Only until I met him, did I realize having kids is not necessarily a bad thing,” she said.
Fai, who works in the film industry, can barely hide his excitement as a father-to-be and hopes his daughter will grow up looking just like her mother. Despite his optimistic personality, he admitted he was once reluctant to raise a family in Hong Kong.
“Even if you set aside the politics, the education and living quality in Hong Kong are undesirable. And the living space is tiny,” said Fai. “I studied abroad and saw the amount of space children have to themselves. But in Hong Kong, unless you are among the upper middle class, you are unlikely to have much space for activities. And the freedom to pursue what you want to do is equally inadequate.”
Sylvia also feared that the local education system is too focused on competition. And along with the changes in the political climate, the city is no longer habitable for young people. “You can imagine what kind of society children will grow up in. When you see how cruel the government is to young generations and how strong authoritarianism is, you realize how challenging it would be for young people to survive in this society,” she said.
Though well-aware of the bleak future of Hong Kong, it has not stopped them from wanting to have kids. In fact, having a baby brought them the greatest joy in the past year, said Sylvia. “In a world of chaos, there is all the more reason to persist in leading a normal life. It is easy to let your heart be gripped by fear in this social environment and it is precisely what the authorities want, for you to be controlled by fear. Living normally and doing what you want to do is the biggest means of resistance,” said the mother-to-be.
“It helps you carry on, surviving through tough times,” her husband added. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Fai is emotionally invested in the city and never considers leaving, even as many of his friends are planning their exit strategies.
As freedom and human rights are gradually undermined, the duo also fear for the future. Sylvia hopes her daughter can still bravely express herself, while Fai worries she will learn to self-censor. “I don’t want her to feel that there are certain things she cannot say. If there are too many rules, a person will become very rigid and boring, and lose perspectives,” he added. Instead of fussing over which school to apply, the couple plan to take their daughter to every gallery, museum and mountain in Hong Kong. “We want to show her that there are different possibilities and she has many different options.”
Most of all, Fai hopes his daughter can just be herself. “I don’t need my daughter to be a revolutionary. But I hope she can follow her heart, build her own belief and live the life she wants.”
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