Permanently temporary

In Knowles and Harper’s wonderful book ‘Hong Kong: Migrant lives, landscapes and journeys‘ (2010), they interweave photos and stories of the interconnected lives of diverse migrants in a global city. While it is based on academic research, the text reads like a well-crafted documentary or novel and feels like a personal tour of the city and the lives within it. The content resonates not only with my work, but with my own life, and my uncertainty about where I will end up in five or ten years.

“Anticipation of departure is part of the substance of everyday life and fitting in. Departure calculations are complicated. They are about job prospects and the quality of life and enjoyment of a place. They also involve interpretation of the broader political climate. Abrupt and prolonged periods of unemployment can lead to a recasting of connections to a place. Getting bored and wanting to be somewhere else is not uncommon. Migrants know they can move on; it is one of their skills.” (p59)

While of course this skill is available more readily to those with economic and social capital, knowing that being here – being anywhere – is a potentially temporary arrangement shifts the rhythms and quality of everyday life.

“Staying on means being permanently ready to leave, so that the anticipation of departure is also a way of staying, a way of dwelling: a feature of migrant life.” (p61)

Sunrise in Ottawa Airport