"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"The Royal Family are the ultimate celebrities."
As Hong Kong bakes in an unseasonal heat, the air is still, and our pollution levels have soared to new heights. So naturally, none of this can be pleasant for mourners lining up at the British Consulate here to pay respects to Queen Elizabeth II.
Even though the queue stretches into the shade of Hong Kong Park, this only gives marginal respite from the heat as the kiosk makes a brisk trade in cool drinks. One entrepreneur is busy selling battery-powered fans. Typical Hong Kong — never miss an opportunity to make a quick buck.
Mischievous media types can't help themselves, suggesting the queue at the consulate is some fifth-column protest. John Burns, an honorary professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong, has supported this idea. "I would imagine that some people are going there not so much for nostalgia reasons, but as a kind of protest," he said.
Really? I saw no signs of that when I attended for a quick look. On the contrary, a sombre, respectful atmosphere prevailed. Perhaps the protest was at another time, or is the suggestion of protest more wishful thinking than anything else? Because if this is dissent, I'm sure no one is too concerned. Indeed, there was no police presence.
Most of those gathering are middle-aged or older, with a high proportion of ladies. That's not the usual profile of protest groups where a high percentage of young men is the norm.
The mourners did not display any of the usual symbols we saw in 2019/2020. Likewise, the messages left behind spoke of remembrance.
One young female sobbed as her friends aided her through the consulate's doors. The girl was probably in her late teens or early twenties, born after 1997; thus, they likely have no direct experience of the colonial era. Also, I surmise they have no understanding of the monarchy's role. That got me thinking.
It is worth noticing a trait of the local populace that is well marked but rarely commented on: an infatuation with celebrities. Hong Kongers have always had an over-excitable relationship with fame. Attend any concert here, and you will soon see it.
And the Royal Family are the ultimate celebrities. Queen Elizabeth II is a historical figure who symbolises a century, with a presence that transcends borders and cultures. What we are witnessing is much more nuanced than the commentators seek to portray.
Still, Professor Burns is not altogether wrong in thinking that dissent played a role for some. Yet accompanying and subsuming this is a potent mix of other sentiments, all juggling for attention.
All things considered, I'm inclined to think people took an opportunity to pay their respects. But, mixed in with that is a sense of angst that times are changing. The past is secure; the struggles and tribulations of that time are forgotten because we came through, while the future remains uncertain. So, getting all amateur psychologist for a moment, the death of the Queen provides the ideal blank canvas for people to project regrets, hopes and sadness.
Not to let matters drop, like a spectre, one newspaper managed to summon Emily Lau, a one-time politician and morning radio chat-show ranter designed to put you off your cornflakes. Lau seized the opportunity to assert, "Feelings are running high." It's nice to see some things never change; that includes Lau's use of hyperbole. These days Lau can only writhe impotently as the world moves on.
Indeed, the populace is tired of Covid restrictions while worries about the economy mount. But, beyond that, people are getting on with life.
A few thought-leaders have taken the opportunity to revisit Hong Kong's history, noting the role played by royalty. For example, it is said that Queen Victoria was less than impressed when Hong Kong was taken by force seeing no significance in the place. Then again, Queen Victoria led a sheltered life. When asked to enact laws against lesbians, she said they did not exist.
The first royal visit was by Prince Edward in 1922. The playboy prince would later abdicate the throne for divorcee Mrs Wallace Simpson. That act switched the royal line of accession to Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth II visited twice during her reign, first in 1975. The record shows that trip was seen as an opportunity to shore up the colonial regime after the riots of the late 1960s.
A second visit came in 1986 following her tour of China as the first British monarch to visit the country. This visit came two years after the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, which paved the way for the 1997 handover.
Wandering around Hong Kong two decades after the return to Chinese rule, you'll still find plenty of colonial reminders. 'Prince Edward Road West', 'Queen Elizabeth Hospital', and a giant statue of Queen Victoria, to name a few.
In context, the death of Queen Elizabeth II allows reflection on troubled times, the value of stoicism and quiet service. Hong Kong, like everywhere else, needs to pause occasionally and take stock.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.