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While Hong Kong is being torn by turmoil, a family is worried about whether they should stay or go

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In the years prior to the transfer from Hong Kong to China in 1997, hundreds of thousands of residents who were afraid of communist rule moved abroad. Virginia Tsang and her family remained seated.

When the city was shaken in 2003 by massive protests about a draconian national security law, and again in 2014 by the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement sit-in, Tsang remained on the sidelines.

Politics never worried her.

The demonstrations that erupted in June have changed that thoroughly. Enraged by the intransigence of the government, brutality by the police and the decline of Hong Kong's autonomy, the 49-year-old accountant took part in pro-democratic meetings almost every weekend.

And now Tsang has decided to move to Edmonton, Canada.

"This is my house. So far I have never thought of leaving, & she said." But Hong Kong is no longer the same. It feels like a police state. I'm so scared. "

At the beginning of Monday, the case took an even more dangerous turn when Hong Kong police stormed a university campus held by protesters after a stalemate that lasted all night, with weeping tear gas and water cannon. At daybreak, protesters remained in control of much of the campus and the police stopped the attack, saying they would allow those inside to leave and go to a police station, said the president of Hong Kong Polytechnic University .

In a sense, Tsang's decision follows the tradition of her generation of middle-class Hong Kongers, many of whom left for the United States, Canada, or Australia long ago.

It is the children of the Chinese mainland who have fled from a China hit by famine and cleansing. The distrust of the Beijing government – along with an instinct to search for safer pastures abroad – is practically ingrained in their DNA.

The agonizing choice to start a new life thousands of miles away is often represented by the belief that they offer their children a safer future.

Tsang is convinced of her decision. Her husband, an auditor for a financial company, plans to be left behind to ensure that the family has at least one stable income, but Tsang plans to take their 18-year-old daughter, April Lui.

Tsang will no longer have to beg her only child not to wear black, the color of the protest movement – and a pretext for harassment by police or gangsters. She does not have to count down the minutes until 9.30 p.m. on weekdays, that is when Lui is expected at home from the tutoring lesson.

"If you are not home yet, I must look for you," Tsang told her. & # 39; The night is when the police come out. It's just like that movie, & # 39; Nightmare on Elm Street & # 39 ;. & # 39;

::

Lazy shares her mother's desire for democracy, but she wants to stay in Hong Kong and fight.

Her political awakening happened the moment her tutor explained a bill that would make extradition to China possible. If it is adopted, this means again a loss of autonomy of the government in Beijing.

Two days later, on June 9, a million people marched to protest the bill, creating the deadlock that continues to paralyze the city of 7.4 million.

"After that lesson I started following the news," Lui said. "Before that I did not know the difference between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing."

Now in her final year at one of Hong Kong's most prestigious private institutions, the Diocesan Girls & School, she exchanged her affection for K-pop fanfiction for political activism.

The protest movement exposed Lui to a side of Hong Kong she had never seen before.

There were students who adopted her during protests to ensure her safety and who continue to check her well-being. The young man who came by was wearing a black protest mask that warned her of the police. And the older woman who helped them across the street when the traffic lights were dead and whose farewell words brought Lui to tears.

"Fight on for Hong Kong," she said.

Lui tries not to think about leaving. She speaks fluent English, Cantonese and Mandarin and knows no other place that suits her better than at home. Moreover, the movement has given its purpose.

"I never felt livelier," she said.

Fleeing would burden her with guilt. Why should other young people continue to fight? Does the opposition not exert what the supporters of Beijing want?

So much of Lui's life is now formed by the cause.

She and her parents have stopped attending regular Sunday dinners with extended families who are parties to the government and the police. She makes sure she doesn't express her opinion in public – even ending conversations abruptly with friends when they start talking about the protests.

She avoids the metro because of violence there, and chooses instead to ride the bus while trying to keep a safe distance from older passengers who seem like they are lashing her out because she is young.

Lazy only relaxes when she is dressed with other protesters in black clothes and dark masks – such as the mourners she recently accompanied in a park in honor of a 22-year-old demonstrator who died after the fall of the third story of a parking garage during a clash between police and demonstrators.

Canada seemed so far away.

"I pushed this immigration thing to the back of my mind," she said. "I know I don't want to go. I have been thinking the last few days, I don't have to listen to my mother."

::

The turmoil has stimulated the cottage industry of agents who assist Hong Kong residents in obtaining visas, training, and overseas property.

The turnout is increasing at seminars on how to emigrate to Australia, Canada and the United States and emerging alternatives such as Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.

"Customers who previously hesitated to relocate are now making plans," said Ruki Lau, director of MLN Global, a real estate company that also helps customers move abroad. "Instability has prompted people to speed up their decision making."

Questions to the Lau company have risen from a few dozen in May, a month before the protests began, to more than 100 a month today.

Requests for background control documents needed to move abroad have increased enormously since July, with 3,597 applications in September, according to police more than double the total for that month a year earlier. At the end of last month, 25,768 applications had been submitted this year, which exceeds the total for the whole of 2018.

The increase has given new life to the memories of the 1990s when an estimated 800,000 people fled Hong Kong. The exodus was largely motivated by the massacre on Tiananmen Square in 1989, with many people worrying about Chinese rule in Hong Kong after the transfer from Britain.

"There was a brain drain because most of the people who left were middle class," said Ma Ngok, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The government solved the problem by stimulating investment in higher education and promoting lower-level officials to vacancies abandoned by the British. This led to a period of unprecedented upward mobility for the residents of Hong Kong who remained.

An exodus can now unfold faster, Ma said, because many residents already have foreign passports or family members abroad who can help them immigrate.

"You don't even have to send your entire family," he said. "You can just let your children live to an aunt in L.A."

The fastest way to foreign citizenship nowadays is often through investment programs such as the EB-5 scheme in the US

To get a similar visa in Canada, Tsang plans to use her savings to open a fast-paced Korean restaurant. Although she has no experience in restaurants, her sister-in-law in Edmonton has offered and offered help. Lui would go to a local university.

The plan is to leave next summer, after Lui graduates from high school. Tsang is scheduled to meet an immigration officer next month.

The tallest Tsang and her husband, Kin Lui, who have ever lived apart, are two weeks.

But Kin Lui supports the move, believing that his daughter will have a better future in Canada. He supports the hope that Hong Kong will return to the "good old days" before it was occupied by unrest.

"I know it's going to be difficult," Tsang said. "I'll have to work long hours. I don't know if I have days off. But I have to try.

"I want April to have a better life."

::

On a plate of eggs, bacon, toast, and avocado in a busy café on a recent morning, Tsang tried to convince her daughter that moving was logical.

"You have more options in Canada," she said.

Lazy plucked her food and said she thought her mother's plan was at best. No one had even decided who would take care of the family's three toy poodles.

& # 39; How long have you thought about this? & # 39; Said Lui.

Tsang was busy with other questions than the dogs. How would she feed Lui if she got stuck in her new company? And how would Lui travel in Edmonton without a driver's license?

"I am not interested in driving," Lui said.

Lui then tried to address her mother with a sense of moral duty to stay.

"You said you don't trust the government. Why don't you stay here and help rebuild it?" She asked.

"You cannot change China," Tsang replied.

"I have time to build a new hope," Lui said.

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