Anti-foreigner sentiment on the rise as thousands of expats around the world are forced to flee their adopted homes
In 2005, my family traded in a little cottage on the edge of the River Wey for a mid-century home on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Palm trees replaced the willow at the end of our garden, and the South China Sea stood in for the Thames tributary that we’d walked along all our lives. We soon settled into a new rhythm of life in the teeming metropolis: the cranky kitsch cha chaan tengs (old-school Hong Kong cafés) grew to be familiar, just like the smell of dried fish in the markets and the daily, ear-splitting sound of drilling into concrete. As time went on, we made friends from around the world and adopted new traditions: dim sum lunches on the weekend and warm Boxing Day hikes over mountains. We watched lion dances at Chinese New Year and celebrated the mid-autumn festival amid lanterns on the beach. But, just as it has for millions around the world, the pandemic brought with it new plans for my family’s immediate future. Within a couple of months of Covid-19’s arrival, air travel was shut down. Global lockdowns and closed borders meant the number of passengers buying plane tickets dropped by up to 96%, and it quickly became clear that my dad’s job, as a pilot, was in jeopardy. On October 21, his airline, Hong Kong’s regional carrier Cathay Dragon, was “axed” as part of a company-wide restructuring that left 2,500 cabin crew and pilots unemployed. The airline he had flown with for the best part of two decades no longer existed, marking the end to our life in the city we’d grown to think of as home. In just two months, my parents, like countless others around the world, were pushed to extricate themselves from one life and start another. They said goodbye to friends, while dealing with the bureaucracy associated with leaving (12 large boxes were initially thought to be sufficient for the move, it turned out to be around 40) and the stress of losing a job that my dad knows will probably be his last. On a frantic mission to visit every place we had enjoyed over the years, there were picnics on Peng Chau, seafood dinners in Sai Kung and tram rides up to The Peak for the last time. Plus, a bucket list to tick off too, the things we’d always planned to do but life had distracted us from. Since October, we’ve visited the remote islands of Tai Po and Tap Mun, and had dinner on a sanpan in the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, where the skyline of Hong Kong served as the backdrop for the chef miming how the lobster moved before we had eaten it.