Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bermuda's Little Napoleon Complex

From The Guardian (May 3, 2012)
Hong Kong: Chinese missile frigate Yuncheng (571) docks
to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover
from Britain to China.
Photo: Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images

Two significant things happened in British news when we were living on Bermuda: Princess Diana was killed in a horrific car wreck in Paris and Hong Kong was returned to Chinese governance from Britain, humorously making Bermuda the largest remaining British colony in the world. What a step down for England and what a boost in ego for tiny Bermuda.
That summer, fifteen years ago, the world was as nervous as the bride's family before the wedding -- Hong Kong was a gleaming boom town overflowing with modernism. What exactly was China going to do with this island city of millions who were so accustomed to the ways of the Western World? Would China install military on every street corner, shut down financial markets, crush the open society, and start rounding up expats for interrogation? While the people of Hong Kong rejoiced under a brilliant fireworks show over the harbor upon their benevolent UK Governor's departure, the world held it's breath. The reign of the British Empire over the Hong Kong Chinese had not exactly been a picnic of Gin and Tonics and Brotherly Love, but Hong Kong was in a good place finally, the Brits had learned a lesson in hands-off management of their dwindling world holdings, and the press, especially the American press rankled at the idea of Hong Kong's flourishing soul being chained by mainland China. But Hong Kong's citizens had other ideas, and fifteen years on, I believe their plan is taking hold -- the BBC made it clear that the people of Hong Kong saw this as their great opportunity, not only to get out from under British control, but to infect China with freedom. Bravely they rejoiced that night as their UK governor sailed away with their now former queen, she took the governor's hand and welcomed him back onto British soil, her vessel became a smaller and smaller pinpoint of light in the Indian Ocean and now the citizens only had the Chinese government to contend with. Extraordinary really.
So there we were sitting in our little living room watching our little TV as the BBC documented every detail of the hand-over ceremonies and nothing happened - there was no sudden rush of military, the skyscrapers remained alight with electricity, and the financial markets did not faulter. And very unceremoniously Bermuda, population 80,000, became the biggest jewel in the crown.
To hear Bermudians talk, it was as if it's new status would bring Hong Kong style riches to the tiny seamount. The 22 square-mile island would gain international notoriety, the UK would bestow greater and greater favors to islanders. Just close your eyes People of Bermuda and imagine this, elevated six-lane high speed thoroughfares surrounding the our little rock, 100-story emerald glass sky scrapers in downtown Hamilton, throngs of expats, money, UK citizenship for all, and more money! A tunnel under the sea leading to New York City or London no longer seemed like Science Fiction.  The collective fantasy was contagious and fascinating -- Bermuda's new status would lead everyone straight to the bank.
Bermuda is one of the few, if perhaps, the only, British colony that cherishes it's status as a servant to the crown, it has no interest in solidarity. It depends on it's reputation as a very British island to lure tourists, it LIKES being British, it strives to be stuffy. Bermudians love their Queen, they send her a field full of Easter Lillies every year -- they celebrate her birthday pompously and quite circumstantially. High Tea Time is revered in every Bermuda hotel. When Princess Diana died, we, Bermudians and expats alike, stood in long lines to sign the condolence book that would be sent to the Royal Family.  Without their Anglo Saxon chains, without the motherland, Bermuda is just a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, independence would render them without identity.
The weeks went by, Hong Kong enjoyed a status quo, the worst fears of the press were not realized - it became obvious that China knew what they had now, the eyes of the world were upon them, and they weren't going to screw it up. And that summer wore on in Bermuda too, and she soon realized that the phone wouldn't ring, the sky scrapers weren't coming to the dance, she would just remain that honeymoon island with the pink beaches of soft soft sand.


thepoorwayfarer said...

Did you sign the condolence book? Who would win in a fight: Bermuda or the Falkland Malvinas?

wolfy said...

i did sign the book, i thought she was a lovely soul, and she was just about to start living a real life when fate struck . . .

my bet would be on the Falklands, hands down!