The Umbrella Revolution generated unprecedented international attention. C.Y. Leung wrote to The New York Times; Joshua Wang appeared on the cover of TIME magazine; even Vox.com, a new current affairs website, produced a 2-minute video explaining the protest in Hong Kong.
Images of tear gas and shielded police have circulated through news agencies, depicting a decaying city with an unstable political situation and imminent violence bubbling beneath a calm façade. They portrayed such a strained relationship between citizens and government that a coup seems possible.
Meanwhile, I have received several “stay safe” messages from friends who had never set foot on Hong Kong soil, people who gathered all their information from the media and expressed genuine concern over my personal well being.
I tried to reassure them laughingly that I was not really affected that much. The impact of the Occupy movement has mainly been limited to traffic congestion and blockage of certain public areas. After rounds of persuasions, they accepted, albeit reluctantly, that Hong Kong is still a perfect travel destination.
Without prior knowledge of the socio-economic background of Hong Kong, their impression of our city is mainly of relentless protests, stoic government officials and morbid democracy. While these allegations may be true to some extent, they certainly do not demonstrate the vibrancy and attractions that we offer.
The problem of “a single story”, as famously spoken by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, is that individuals might formulate opinions of a multifaceted region based on a few news articles.
It’s why so many people think ‘Ebola epidemic’ and ‘rampant corruption’ when they imagine West Africa; we are often blinded by stereotypes or exaggerated representations of a nation, and we fail to recognise the diversity within it.
I was fortunate to have attended an international leadership camp in New York, where I met girls from Palestine and Israel to Finland and Sweden. Contrary to popular characterizations, the Palestinian girl does not live near a battlefield with drone strikes and bombings, but close to the suburbs where she enjoys occasional hikes. She has an active Facebook account and has mastered English.
There was no natural animosity between her and the Israeli or the Arabs; neither do Jewish people have problems with Germans. We tend to impose our own interpretations of an entire race and forget that each person is unique.
Headlines such as ‘ISIS beheads journalists’ deserve our attention, but we must remind ourselves that Iraq is more than just terrorist groups, that we do not equate Iraqis with Muslims, and that each country harbours a rich culture – just as how Hong Kong is more than just civil disobedience and political opposition.