Musings on Hong Kong
Hong Kong is an International city home to multinational brands in shiny skyscrapers. Having a natural harbour enables mass amounts of goods to come in and out. The Chinese forced all trade through just one port in China with many terms and conditions and restrictions. Britain had many products and not enough customers and recognised that China was a huge potential market! They were desperate to sell to China but being self-sufficient China saw no benefit to buying any British products, the Emperor saw it more as a favour than a mutual benefiting trade. Britain wanted tea and after acquiring India with its poppy fields believed that opium would be a good thing to sell to China. Britain then forced China into buying opium. A great idea, get the people addicted and wanting more! Forcing the Chinese to buy opium to such a degree that in the mid 1800s, between 2 and 10 million addicts existed in China. China reacted by destroying the opium and so Britain reacted by enacting war. The First Opium War. Naval superiority ensured Britain easily won and dictated strong terms on the Chinese. Britain received Hong Kong Island. Not happy with their lot they thought another war with China would be a good idea.
Between 1856 and 1860, Britain along with France had another war. Fought for similar reasons to before. Britain wanted to sell opium to China because they wanted Chinese goods such as pottery, silk and above all – tea. This was known as Second Opium War. From this war Britain received Kowloon.
And that was how Britain came to control Hong Kong. This was a way for Britain to access Chinese goods, it became a mercantile port for many European traders because the British made it a free port.
Hong Kong is often quoted as the city where ‘East meets West‘. Today’s modern Hong Kong island features multiple skyscrapers and the headquarters of such companies as HSBC, Bank of America and J.P Morgan. Further along the harbour road you’ll see one of hundreds of Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tissot shops, etc. A plethora of jewellery shops! All top end and hugely expensive. Most cars aside from the taxis appear to be expensive German cars (Mercedes, BMW and VW), a rather opulent purchase considering the small size of the territory. It’s similar to buying a car just to drive to the shop 500m down the road. Cars are a status symbol pure and simple! There is an excellent public transport system here and on top of that the cars registered here cannot be driven in China without jumping through various bureaucratic hoops. On the peak, rising 500m above Hong Kong (and being the symbol of the territory) sits the exclusive houses of multi-millionaires – known as the mid-levels. They are double storied homes rather than skyscrapers, costly in a place where space is at a premium. Vixtoria Peak used to be home to White British only, pre-WW2. Such was the racist attitude of the British, the Chinese were not allowed to live on Victoria Peak. Today, anyone can visit the Peak to see the views over the Harbour using the traditional transport of a cog-wheeled tram, known as the Peak Tram. This is most definitely the ‘West’. The ‘East’ still exists in the form of traditions continued by the native Hong Kong such as the bun festival. A giant tower is made from buns. Another example is the lantern festival where hand-made paper lanterns are creates. People still go to worship at Taoist and Buddhist temples which are hidden amongst the many high rise buildings. However, the ‘eastern’ part of Hong Kong seems somewhat diminished.
Similarities with Britain do exist. They drive on the left here. The buses are extended versions of the double deckers you see in the UK. The painted lines on the road follow the same rules as Britain. People queue here in an orderly fashion. They wait for the green man before crossing the road and generally they obey the rules and instructions. In the rest of Asia when entering a restaurant you just seat yourself, here you wait to be seated.
Capitalism is at full throttle here but you can only buy so many Rolex watches! There is more to Hong Kong than skyscrapers but to visit them requires temperatures below the 35′c and 80% humidity we experienced. I found the history of Hong Kong of great interest as it has some attachment to me as a British citizen and as a History teacher. It was also interesting to note the differences between here and the mainland – the most obvious was hygiene. Hong Kong takes cleanliness seriously with signs telling you that the handrail is cleaned with antibacterial liquids every hour or four times a day. People who are from Hong Kong do not spit or blow their noses on the streets; they blow their noses into tissue and put it in the bin. The taxis all run on LPG. People also wait patiently for a bus and don’t push people over to get on the bus. On arrival people in masks point a thermal camera at you to check for any illness. Information regarding H1N1 and scarlet fever are stuck inside lifts! Here in Hong Kong smoking is banned in public places whereas in China ALL men appear to smoke ALL of the time. You can’t escape it! I think in Hong Kong the fines for breaking the rules are enforced whereas in China the police ignore these type of violations prefering to aleep or read their phones.
Another huge difference is the lack of police presence and also the allowance of freedom of speech. The police do not sit on every street corner, or in every metro station, or in every building, or in every train station. In fact in Hong Kong there is almost no police presence! Here in Hong Kong the people remembered the massacre of Tianamen Square whereas in the mainland it was a day ‘where nothing happened 25 years ago’. The British secured these freedoms for Hong Kong for 50 years after returning it to Chinese control. They have until 2047 to exist as ‘One Country, Two Systems‘. This is the Hong Kong Basic Law.
I am glad we came to Hong Kong but it didn’t have the level of fusion of East meeting West as I hoped. Maybe spending a few months in the ‘East’ made us more aware of what the ‘East’ feels like!
It is just another big city, with a good metro system and lots of shops and restaurants. But it is ridiculously expensive. There is not that much to do aside from shop and because it was 35′c we couldn’t go walking on the many islands. I leave hoping that the Chinese mainland becomes like Hong Kong rather than Hong Kong becoming like China. Unsurprisingly society can still function without a highly oppressive police force and state control!
Posted from here.