Wednesday, November 29

The life of a journalist in Hong Kong: “My career is over, my friends are in jail and I am a stranger in my city”

Ten weeks after the abrupt end of my career as a journalist, I found myself behind the register at a McDonald’s. My days as a reporter at the Hong Kong daily appledaily, which was forced to close in June 2021, were very busy. Now, I take order after order at a fast food chain.

In a sense, my new job is a lot like my old life as a news writer, working long hours to provide large numbers of people from all walks of life with their daily dose of breaking news. The difference is that now I work with food instead of information.

I try to accept my new life, but I find it difficult to let go of some of my old daily routines. Every morning I still spend an hour in front of the computer, reading the latest news, but it’s getting harder to find independent and quality media.

You get the same breaking news notifications from various media outlets, but they all follow the official position. June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, seems to have been erased from history. In what is now called “the new normal,” there is no candlelight vigil to mourn the dead.

The website of appledaily has been deleted from the internet leaving no trace. An enormous amount of history has ceased to be public, clean and empty like a square after a massacre.

Having spent half my life in the media, the journalistic instinct is deeply engraved in my head. Even after spending months away from a newsroom, I instinctively think about how I would handle a big story when it hits the news. After Russia invaded Ukraine, I dreamed that I was sleeping inside a tank in kyiv with my photographer. I could hear the bullets hitting the tank, until I woke up to heavy rain hitting my bedroom window.

Sometimes I feel like a garden gnome, cornered and comfortably ignored. Other times I feel anguished and helpless when I think about my detained colleagues.

I have known some of them for many years. In our previous life, one joined me for a 100-kilometer charity walk in Japan. Another often came hiking with me. Surrounded by nature, we watched sunrises and sunsets together. we shared dumplings warm on cold days after finishing another strenuous hike. We have laughed and we have cried together.

Although they have been detained for almost a year, I can still feel their presence.

Now, despite still being beautiful, Hong Kong is too quiet. Although I have not left to start a new life elsewhere, I am a foreigner in a strange city. Lately, I have been training to be an electrician, taking classes alongside many others who have lost their jobs. Even if I qualify, there are no guarantees of a stable job.

It is difficult trying to put into words my emotions at what has happened to all of us, so instead I will share an excerpt from a letter I received from a fellow journalist, who is currently in prison.

“Despite everything, life will push us forward, like a stream that carries hungry fish and sleeping fish downstream. The strong wind will carry us towards tomorrow, no matter if we are anxious or calm.”

* Norman Choi was the head of reporting for the appledaily before the newspaper closed in June 2021.

Translation of Julian Cnochaert.