R•Evolution-=L.A.S.T.=- Pt.1: Hong Kong

In this journal:

  • shaved ice bigger than my head;
  • apartments smaller than a bed;
  • people working till they’re dead.

<— Introduction

skip to Madrid—>

[35MIN/MEDIUM READ]

Life is
a dream for the wise;
a game for the fool;
a comedy for the rich;
a tragedy for the poor.
— Sholom Aleichem

【SPECIAL NOTE as of AUG 11: this trip is finished before any political protests have ever taken place, and this journal is not political in nature. I recorded and documented many clues as to what would lead to the current protests but have not ever, and would never, take a stance. This blog is already partially banned in mainland China. This is not a political opinion echo chamber.】

歡迎!/Welcome!

Here, I extend my formal welcome to you, my dear reader, to the longest journal series to date, with over a dozen entries across the planet. In this trip, we will traverse formidable peaks, dive abyssal waters, cruise in business classes and on camels, from Japanese shrines to Spanish palaces, burping in dim sum shops as well as a Yiddish delicatessen, blinded by Morrocan oil lamps all the way to Taiwanese train signals, oh the places we will go!

If you have not read the introduction of the trip, I highly recommend you take a little look before continuing, as it will give you a lot of background information. For this journal, I also included some other times when I passed by Hong Kong without writing about it during the past few years. This will not be your typical Hong Kong journal, since unlike any other travel blogger, I have been to this city for more than 50 times. Thus, in this piece of horrible writing, I will show you Hong Kong’s many facets: the good, the bad, and unfortunately, the ugly. Ready? Let’s begin!

Nei Hou Hong Kong

This city is not a normal metropolis. I may have stumbled upon many different cities in the world, but I, with 100% certainty, have never seen any city resembling Hong Kong even remotely. Moreover, as it may be a shock to you, I think there may never be one like this little peninsula straddled in the midst of turmoil and prosperity. Unlike Tokyo, here life is predictable and slow, less flashy and more tranquil; unlike New York, the financial center is not surrounded by gentrified alleys hosting superhero battles; unlike London, where centuries of continuous importance has enriched the very core. This is a city of dynamic stability, deafening silence, lavished poverty, liberal racism, ancient modernity and domestic globalism: Hong Kong is a living paradox.

Victoria Harbor, looking towards Kowloon

There is no denying that Hong Kong is prosperous. This is the self-proclaimed Asia’s World City, and they truly deliver when it comes to that. Walking in the streets of any district you would find people from practically anywhere in the world, as Indian traders debated with South American hawkers, African importers bargaining with Japanese suppliers, Australian backpackers drinking with local girls, Jewish pilgrims praying next to Polish Catholics, could all be dismissed as common occurring in the crowded streets of this city. Cathay Pacific flies hundreds of people in and out of the large HKG airport every minute, while the border to China always seems to have a line full of people with all kinds of skin tones.

streets on Hong Kong island

This prosperity is especially true on Hong Kong Island, the southern side of the deep water harbor that allowed the city to balloon into its current status. Thousands of skyscrapers pierce through the heavens, each housing hundreds of highly educated white-collar professionals, who would all rush out of their cubicles late afternoon to hop on one of the most advanced metro systems in the world. Almost every single top 500 companies in the world has a headquarter in the city, supporting more multi-millionaires than any other city. Yes, your eyes did not deceive you: Hong Kong has the highest concentration of multi-millionaires than any other city you would ever find on this planet, not New York, not Dubai, and not London. Nearly 14% of the city owns more than 1000000HKD/120000USD, and almost 1% has more than 1 million USD in property. This is all thanks to the great tax system set up by the government to make doing businesses as easy as possible.

park in Central

If you are a businessman, I welcome you to heaven. Here in Hong Kong, there is no sales tax, no VAT, no capital gains tax, no port tax. Your pants are still not wet yet? Well, the personal income tax is capped at 15%, same as Iraq, compared to Mexico’s 35%, US’s 37%, EU’s 38.6%, UK & China’s 45%, and Sweden’s 62%. But wait, there’s more! If you are an expat, all the pension you contribute into the MPF run by the government would be refunded completely when you leave the country! The corporate tax is capped at 16.5%, compared to US’s 21%, Canada’s 25%, and France’s 31%. Now, as you can see while changing your underwear, selling virtually anything here in Hong Kong gives you an edge in life compared to anywhere else in the world, as this is a world-class city with a tax-heaven level incentive to do business. Labor is cheap; wage is low; service is superb; English is universal; and life is easy. Who would ever want to risk a few million dollars for a venture elsewhere?

looking towards HK Island, with bank buildings behind a Star Ferry

Wait, you must have asked: Young, how does the government get all the money then? Yes, taxes may be low, and the increased volume of trade does not compensate for the ridiculously low taxation levels compared to the rest of the world, the government must be starved for money. Well, it is not exactly what you might think.

MONEYYYY!

The central government of China does not actually provide much money to the Hong Kongnese legislature directly. Sure, they supply water, electricity, and raw materials with significant discounts, but none of that can ever offset the huge loss of tax revenue. Instead, the special administration area gets nearly 70% of its revenue through its yearly land sales. Yes, even in a place as small as my contribution to society, it has a lot of land yet for sale.

former old railway tower

If you pull up a map of Hong Kong, preferably a satellite image, you will find that most of the land, including New Territories, Kowloon, and Hong Kong Island itself, is covered in green. City housing department straight up refuses anyone to build anything there, in the name of preservation. What they are actually doing is hoarding a limited resource. Just like the diamond industry, by having a monopoly on the entire supply, Hong Kong government can control the market price of real estates. As you can expect, the prices are really, really high, as high as my university roommate when he first discovered his dealer accepts Carl’s Junior coupons. On average, per sqaure foot, apartments cost about 1500USD, so a tiny condo with no rooms would set you back about half a million dollars, and if you even dare to get a room, that would be 1.2 million dollars, about your lifetime’s salary. Rent is also ridiculous, as a normal one bedroom apartment would set you back about 3000USD per month in remote locations where it would take you 1 hour of commute to reach center.

tall buildings

Needless to say, the buildings are built to their structural limits here, with almost every building over 40 stories tall in order to accommodate as many people as possible in the limited land available. The government auctions off new plots of land yearly for billions of dollars in order to remain afloat, yet at the same time created one of the most capitalistic cities in the world. With little to no regards for what to do when someone cannot afford renting a place to live any more, the city skates on thin ice of balance sheets, calculating the ever-diminishing resources that is their land. They reclaimed a lot of land ever since the government was ever founded, but now there was no place to grow any more in the central areas. A temple that I visited, the Tin Hau shrine for the goddess of fair voyage, now sat 3km away from the water edge where it used to be, thanks to the push forward for more land.

Tin Hau Shrine

Every single one of the hostels I ended up in whenever I visited Hong Kong is a large series of small, dark, cramped apartments situated in Kowloon’s infamous building clusters, with its most notorious one Chungking Mansion as the leader. These gigantic complexes are known to be unsafe in almost every regard. The huge number of people living in the thousands of apartments of this one building brings sanitation, fire hazard and transportation problems. Rats are ubiquitous; fires usually kills people whenever it happens; and the 12 elevators seemed to never arrive soon enough. The convoluted and narrow corridors, which are also almost always occupied by someone’s television, trashcan, pet cage, or newspaper pile, bring many breeding grounds for crime and illegal activities. There is a saying that you do not have to leave Chungking Mansion in your life ever, since you can be born, go to illegal schools, eat at dirty stands, buy everything you needed from soaps to illegally pirated Japanese pornography, and die overdosing on heroin sold by your neighbor, all inside the same building.

a market in Kowloon

Meanwhile, the rich living on the Peak on Hong Kong island has private helicopter pads taking them to the exclusive terminal in the airport in order to board a Cathay Pacific first class flight to Paris for some customized Chanel perfume before heading back for a luncheon, all tax free of course. Needless to say, the gap is extremely obvious when you are talking and interacting with the locals, but rather difficult to spot if you are just a visitor here for the touristic sights.

Avenue of Stars

One of the most notorious symbols of the unfathomable difference between the poor and the rich is the cage house. I was lucky enough to participate in a tour that took us to some of the most impoverished areas in this city. Yet even though I was just a door away from those houses, I would not be allowed near as most locals feel very embarrassed to be seen in a cage like the one shown below, and it is an image I got from the internet. Just remember, the rent of this kind of large metal cage would still cost about 250USD per month, and we are talking about a metal cube about the size of your refrigerator! No personal space, no private bathrooms, no storage, and no dignity, this kind of housing is of course, illegal, yet the government had to look the other way as nearly 50000 people in the city live in this exact housing condition, mostly the elderly poor.

a cage house
an illegal house on top of a building

In Sham Shui Po, I saw a large building with another little house on top of it. This is the typical set up in this poorest area of the city. The little two-story house is made completely out of metal, making it incredibly hot during the day. It is sometimes so hot that the residents have to stay out of home until it has cooled down after dusk. The tour operator also has rented a small jail-cell-like room for demonstration purposes, and as you may have already expected: the situation ain’t pretty.

The above picture, taken at the entrance door to this “apartment”, shows everything there is. A double-bunker bed, a window small enough to limit the rat-traffic going through the building, and ceiling the height of a slightly inflated Michelin tire guy, are the only things offered. Bathrooms are shared, and was about the size of a wheel of Italian maggot cheese, and reeks like a wheel of Italian maggot cheese. Kitchen? What is that? Oh, just letting you know, the rent is nearly 500 dollars. And did I mention the tiny walkways leading to the apartment that surely would be a death trap in case a fire happens?

streets in Central

This is just a little tip of the Hong Kong problem iceberg. As you may have predicted, this city is one of the most unequal places in the world. In economics, Gini Index is the measurement of how unevenly the wealth of a region is distributed. Any sensible person would surmise that places where there are not much wealth to distribute would be a bit skewed, since if the entire country only has a hundred dollars to split among 100 people, just one getting 10 dollars would severely affect the “fairness” of the distribution, even though the real difference would just be a few bottles of coca cola. Thus, it is not surprising to see countries like Haiti or Zambia ranked in top 10 of the CIA World Fact Book Gini Index rankings (lower rankings are better), since there was practically nothing for share to begin with. So, guess where does Hong Kong sit amongst all 157 regions ranked? 30th? Nope. 15th? That is still too low. Yep, Hong Kong proudly sits as the 9th most unequal place on earth, even more unfair than Kenya (23rd), Bolivia (28th), China (29th), US (39th), and almost all others. Normally, this high of a Gini index would mean crime, defeatism in lower classes, and national unrest, such as the case in Haiti and Zimbabwe, but Hong Kong works differently. People just suffer and take the unequality, since there is unfathomable gaps between the poor (Chinese elderly), middle class (Chinese white collars), upper class (Chinese business owners), and the top 1% (leaders of white-owned business from early colonial days).

bullet holes on an HSBC lion

One of these classic institutions leftover from the “Wild Wild East” frenzy is HSBC. A pair of lions, replica from the Shanghai headquarters’ original, stand in front of the gates of this ever-so-popular financial building almost every single day except during Japanese occupation. It had quite a few shrapnel punctured through the body as you can see in this picture, probably from the battle of Hong Kong that took place in 1941. HSBC has become so ubiquitous in Hong Kong that its Hong Kong Dollars paper money is the most widespread in town, and the iconic lions have been replicated everywhere, named as the “HSBC style”. Now the headquarters have moved again, to London, yet the lions are still sitting here, guarding the vast fortune gathered on a pile of colonized gold and local Chinese’s bones, while warding off any poor Fengshui to enter the bank even though most of the board members are British at this bank dubbed “HongKong and Shanghai Banking Corporation”.

Chinese military outpost

Why?

All these come from Hong Kong’s special status in China. Technically an SAR, Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong has unparalleled independence compared to many other comparable regions. Other than diplomacy and national defence, Hong Kong technically has nothing to do with China. They have their own law-making legislative assembly, police force, border control agency, school systems, langua franca, immigration policy, currency, leader, and many others. This is due to the convoluted history that I am about to butcher down for you: China lost to Britain, three times, in different wars, during late 19th century, and had to “lend” Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and the so-called New Territories to UK for 99 years, starting in 1898. By 1997, the time was up, but Hong Kong had already established itself as a self-governing, hyper-capitalistic society, unable to blend into the communist China at all. An agreement was reached, an unprecedented one just let us be clear. “One Country, Two Systems” was more of a fun paradoxical thought experiment than a solution: China would take back Hong Kong, but only its diplomatic and defensive rights, and nothing else would change, for 50 years. That is why you can see the Chinese People’s Liberation Army compound in the above picture sitting smack in the middle of Hong Kong CBD, as a means of national defence but also a reminder of sovereignty. They are not allowed to leave the compound and would do so only when asked by the Hong Kongnese government.

Kowloon high speed railway station

Yet, China has been chipping off Hong Kong’s autonomy bit by bit. 2047 is still a long ways away, so China has increased its control over the city in clever ways. By greatly increasing mainland’s tie with this SAR, China has gained significant grounds. By building numerous bridges and border crossings into Hong Kong, they managed to make travelling as seamless as possible. A new high speed railway station was built just last year, managing to link it up the entire mainland’s sprawling high speed railway system. A ride to Shenzhen, the border city on the other side, would take just 15 minutes! Additionally, you clear the mainland customs in the station before you proceed onto the train, effectively forming an exclave of China inside the jurisdiction of Hong Kong. But is it necessarily a bad thing? The world is getting more connected than ever, and Hong Kong needs China for cheap goods, funds, utilities and tourism, so building infrastructure is only reasonable and lauded, while compromising the independence of Hong Kong’s territories is rather a price to pay, right? Who am I to judge, since political experts are still debating amongst themselves!

Kowloon Walled City Park

One of the most interesting case about China and Hong Kong’s intertwining destiny is that of the 九龍城寨/Kowloon Walled City. Originally a little fort built by the Qing dynasty near the then-fishing village named Hong Kong, it was not included in the treaties that handed the New Territories over to the queen from 5000 miles away. The town already had 1000 people by then, and was still technically under mainland Chinese control, but effectively a lawless piece of little land forgotten by everyone. Hong Kong city wanted to control but could not legally enter this eyesore about the size of a single block; British could not have cared less to deal with that little patch of filthy ching-chongs; Chinese government’s hands were tied since the walled city was completely surrounded by Hong Kong, so they could not enter at all.

old city gate house

WWII rolled around, and Japanese took over the entire area, only to give back the walled city to the nationalist China after two little bombs dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but the Nationalists were swiftly defeated by Mao Zedong, and the title of the Walled City fell under the new communist China. The period marked a huge influx of refugees into Hong Kong, as Mao was not exactly known for having gentle hands. However, the city government does not acknowledge mainlands’ professional licenses, so most of the doctors, dentists, and others fled to this little plot of land to open underground clinics. Thus, this who-gives-a-fuck-land quickly ballooned in size: barely a few hundred meters wide, over 400 illegal clinics were operating under the same loophole here in Kowloon Walled City. Buildings reached their structural limit, so people connected the buildings for more space. There were passageways, tunnels, byways, and others on the ground level, on the roof, on the 10th floor, and beneath the surface. It was absolutely maddening.

tunnels marked by the internal management, all the pink lines are hidden passageways between buildings

As you may have guessed, crimes were running rampant as well. Brothels, illegal food factories, illegal clothes factories, illegal drug factories, casinos and gangs all crowded in the same area, with some particularly notorious criminals roaming around. You have your opium lounges, heroin production line, pimping center, dog meat butcher, etc. In this 0.026km² of land stuffed over 30000 people, creating a population density of a mind-shattering, orgasm inducing, Cthulhu calling, 1255000 people per square kilometer, making Kowloon Walled City the undisputed champion at sucking. Just for your reference, the densest country is Singapore with 7700 people per square kilometer, and the densest small area other than this place is Macau’s Areia Preta, but it only has a density of 170000 people per sqaure kilometer. Yeah, these pale in front of this little city within a city, and I could hear it say:

a full apartment for a family

Living conditions are horrible. Since it did not technically belong to Hong Kong, the water department was never able to install tap water to people living in the area. Neither did the gas company, electricity department, sewage management, and almost any basic service. Instead, the people get their water by paying special workers to carry water to their apartments, sometimes as high as 15th floor without any elevators, from one of the 8 water holes in the city. Needless to explain, those water sources are not exactly the cleanest, but hey, at least there were hundreds of unlicensed doctors right around the corner in case they fall ill! By 1980, the Chinese government finally made an agreement with the British to demolish the entire area and give this hot potato to Hong Kong government, and turn it into a park, as a measure of appeasement to persuade for further negotiations that would eventually lead to the 1997 return.

old Qing dynasty style housing left in the park as a museum

Now, only a small park stands in the place of where used to be thousands of houses. A few old compounds are preserved as museums for the passers by as a reminder of the monstrosity it used to be. Hundreds of famous movies were shot here, portraying futuristic dystopia, dilapidated cities, or bygone nostalgia, but none would ever capture its essence: a place that is neither Chinese nor British, yet both.

Duddel Street gas lamp

With horrible living conditions like this, no wonder the youths of the SAR feel hopeless. In fact, Hong Kong has been consistently ranked as a city with the least optimism amongst all major metropolis in the world. Think about it, with the runaway effect created by low taxes and high real estate prices, the poor are kept with low savings, while the rich gets ever more affluent. How dare you even dream about touching those dozens of social stratospheres higher than you? It is almost disheartening to think almost all children born in lower income families here would never reach middle class, thus passing down their “poor genes” to their children. Many young people are furious, and some, like most of my friends, decided to leave. US, UK, Australia, South Africa, wherever you go, you see Hong Kongnese youths running away from their version of hell-hole with no light in sight.

Chai-Kee

Thus, most of the old traditional customs that had been preserved in Hong Kong thanks to evading cultural revolution and communism in China has been slowly dissipating, as the older generations die from poverty and the ever-enslaving concept of time as well as capitalism. This is the last hand-made traditional bird cages shop in Hong Kong, run by an elderly gentleman near 90 years old. When the moment comes as he inevitably would leave this world, this city would forever lose a little bit of special touch in all the songs sung by the little birdies. Similar things are happening everywhere, as some of the few remaining real Chinese items started disappearing altogether. In mainland China where I reside from time to time, hand-made bird cages are already a thing of the past. What took their places are generic, flimsy and ugly plastic ones that felt more like a capitalistic jail cell of your soul than an ancient ornament of traditional happiness.

However, the price to pay for modernization gets you, well, modernization! In the small restaurant named Ching Chong Wing Wong’s (yes, you read it right, though the name has changed to Ching Chong Cock’NBalls Dungeon apparently), the owner Mr. Wong had a relatively global sense of humor. Other than the hilariously self-conscious English name, he dons a complete outfit including crocs, a MAGA hat, and silly housewife shirts from time to time. The place has huge TRUMP election banners, really offensive slogans, and others that you may not expect to see at a place to eat. This professional troll managed to run a restaurant where the chef cooks whatever he feels like and pass it down from table to table for anyone to take a bite, with no menus or expectations. The price is ridiculously good: for 80HKD/10USD, you can eat to your heart’s content, and drink chilled beers that are piled into a mountain on your table, for as long as you would like.

ching chong wut da fuk?!

Poor international students, local elderly, and backpackers like me stuffed the restaurant. It is not about food: it is about the vibe of not giving a single fuck. People like Mr. Wong did embrace the change and made himself a brilliant example of surviving in the ever-so-harsh changing political and economic climate of Hong Kong, but many others are not so lucky and smart. However, this is the very point of confusing times like 2010s: the ones with adaptability survive, while the other wither and disappear.

Women’s market

Another great example of survival is the Women’s Market on Tung Choi Street. Putting the weird, arguably-sexist name aside, it is a forefront of adapting to the needs. The numerous clothing, fake perfume, even faker jewelries and decorative pieces may have given the market its name, but they are also a bloody battleground of who can get to a customer’s heart the fastest, with the highest profit margin. Products and prices change on the whim, catering to the large amount of foreign visitors coming for a bargain instead of the local middle age females that used to populate this Mong Kok thoroughfare. Other markets were not so lucky, fading into obscurity as online shopping and luxury supermarkets slowly encroached onto the gentrifying billboards overhanging precariously over sidewalks.

Men’s Market, or Temple Street Night Market

好食!YUM!

蓮香 Lin Heung

Nothing tells you more about a culture than its food, and Hong Kong’s dim sum is the shining badge of its unique position between the east and the west. You will find tiny servings suitable only for British royalties wearing corsets in a ridiculously crowded tea house full of people yelling Cantonese, like in the oldest tea house in Seung Wan area, Lin Heung. Opening up a baked western bread bun you would find Chinese cha-siu hidden inside, while classic Chinese fried ricecakes are topped with mayonnaise and sometimes cheese. Delicious nonetheless, this style of food would leave you wondering if you are stuck in some weird limbo that is not supposed to exist, which is exactly what Hong Kong stands for.

C H A O S

However, I was quite disappointed by the recommended Lin Heung after my visit. The food was mediocre, and the service was rude as typical local hospitality demands, but the commotion, oh my fucking god, was unbearable. Unlike Tim Ho Wan I paid homage to last time I wrote about Hong Kong, this place must be the armpit of Satan himself. Food comes out on a cart once every 10 minutes, pushed by an old lady, and the starving crowds, usually in the number of dozens, would swarm the cart with their punchcards in order to get something, anything, to eat, like me on my 8th birthday. I was sweating profusely for being so hungry and had to literally fight for my food, that I had to pay for. Never again!

rice paper quesadilla, porridge with century egg

Here you have 腸粉, or as I would like to call it, oriental quesadilla. It is a special kind of noodle made by pouring thick rice soup on top of a steaming hot cloth to coagulate into a sheet of white, semi-translucent paper, and then wrapping it up with some shrimp, pork, veggies or others. The porridge is a Cantonese specialty, and it has the most disgusting food as voted by foreigners: century egg. It is a duck egg buried under a thick mixture of phospherous, mud and other basic solutions for a few years, not a century, so its insides turn into a black gooey paste. Yeah, it looks even worse than it sounds, but actually it tastes divine in porridge, highly recommend if you can overcome the presumption set up by your own mind.

breakfast?

However, nothing means Hong Kong breakfast more than a quickie in the famed Australian Dairy Company. What you see is the perfect harmony (or destruction base on how you see it) of eastern and western breakfast. Sandwiches are improved by including Chinese soy-sauce fried minced pork, and the soups are improved by adding rigatoni into it. Yes, you are looking at a bowl of Chinese chicken soup with Italian noodles in a British colony named after Australia; it is 21st century, get pasta it. To drink, I had a classic Yueng Yang, a mixture of middle eastern coffee, Chinese black tea, and western milk. Strong, sweet, energizing, and perfectly non-conforming, just the way I like it!

soup noodles!

However, it is not just all insanity and unholy amalgamations in the food scene. Look at this bowl of beauty! Thick, handmade rice noodles, plenty of garlic, spring onion, in a non-vegetarian friendly broth, just the way my Asian stomach craved!

dessert stall

For my late night sugar cravings, I always end up in small dessert shops like these, selling items for less than a few dollars that would practically serve as meals for girls on a diet. Hong Kong desserts have made a name for themselves in China, adhering to their rules of having no rules. You see a good thing that would go well with sugar? Add it in! Traditional grass jelly, included; Taiwanese tapioca balls, add; Filipino mangoes, anything goes; Thai coconut cream, sure! While I do love the classic 楊枝甘露, a blend of everything I said in the above combined with more stuffs, I ordered the simplest of them all: a good ol’bowl of grass jelly with mango. On a hot day in early spring, it is unbeatable, period.

yum yum

And what my local friend, Quince, showed me on my last day, was the true essence of why I love Hong Kong so much. It is like me: stuck between the east and the west, but also LOVES FOOD. He took me all the way across the New Territories to Yuen Long, a small suburb closer to Shenzhen’s train station than Hong Kong’s. Here locals dominate the food scene, and look at this beast!

introducing my girlfriend!
Quince: what?

Of course, for it being a tiny establishment famous for its large desserts, it was packed during the hot nights, and we had to share a table with others. Large chunks of tropical fruits were laid upon a mountain of chilled grass jelly, drenched in condensed milk and the concept of happiness. It was absolutely phenomenal, especially with the other little snack we got at the stall next door.

curry fish balls!

This is a Hong Kong specialty, curry fish balls and curry fish shu-mai. A combination of the local seafood along with the mildest spices you could possibly imagine from southeast Asia as Cantonese are well known to be very intolerant of strong flavors, unlike Sichuanese in Chengdu. Thus, they have all their clear soups, mild porridge, lightly fried veggies and steamed buns.

Lan Kwai Fong, taken during the day

I also swang by 蘭桂坊/Lan Kwai Fong when I was in the area. It was absolutely jam packed during the Friday night, full of people from everywhere around the world congregating around the hundreds of bars cluttered on a single block. Originally dubbed 爛鬼坊 during the colonial days, a similar sounding word meaning “place of foreign trash”, it has not improved too much. Lots of drunk foreigners were seen desperately looking for hook-ups, while a ton of others squeeze through tiny doors in order to get another round of shots. The place would not rest until early mornings every single day, seldom without a few bar fights and vomit piles.

遲啲見香港!/See ya later Hong Kong!

light show at the harbor

I finished my days in Hong Kong with a classic light show in Victoria Harbour. Shamefully, it was my first time seeing the show even though it had been my 50th time in the city at least, as I always wanted to postpone it to “next time” for the touristy activities. (I have yet to take the peak tram too!) The show was accompanied by music blasted from multiple loudspeakers mounted on nearby buildings, lighting up the tranquil inner sea with iridescent shimmers. True, very few cities would be able to afford the luxury of such a beautiful nightly show paid completely by the government, and that unique position is why Hong Kong is so beloved by many.

MTR Fare Saver machine

I tapped my Octopus card on the Saver machine, before heading to the airport on the metro. These are installed around town in order to promote public transportation. By tapping onto the machines before boarding a metro, you would save a few bucks! Neat, right? What is not so neat, however, is that as recently as the day I am writing this journal, the youths of the city had been on protest against the authorities for more than a month now. Roads are closed, MTR’s stopped, and the economy has crashed. I only brought it up here briefly since my journals are supposed to be future-proofed against current events, and also I want to give you a clear understanding of the situation here in Hong Kong, my 5th home in the world. After 5500 words, you should be able to grasp a rough picture of how complicated this issue is. (And thank you dear reader, for going through my journal till the very end, you are a trooper!) Hong Kong is on the fast track of evolution here: new ones push forward, while neglecting the old. This has lead to a revolution, as social Darwinism is only beneficial to the ones who are the fittest, and humanity should be better than that. The younger generation, who are unable to escape the dire future laid upon them by their parents, had been accumulating grudge and suffering for years. And now, a small trigger exploded into a full-on demonstration as an emotional catharsis and a desperate cry for help. For Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, they could move to Tuscon, Saskatoon, or Leeds, for something, anything new, but for these future governors, doctors, shopkeepers and janitors of Hong Kong, they are stuck on this tiny piece of land, 70% of which is kept for future rich billionaires. They have nothing to hope for, as their sons and daughters will also be stuck in a loop of underdogs forever if nothing changes. Moreover, 2047 is coming, and the judgement day from Beijing is only ever gonna get sooner, no wonder they are marching on the streets! You should be marching with them! In Chinese, there is a saying that if you corner a dog, it would learn how to jump over a wall. Some of those protesters are truly desperate, and they had to take it to the streets, no matter in which form it would manifest. These are great people, and if they give up their jobs and livelihoods to picket in the streets for months and months, there must be a reason, a damn good one.

grim streets in Sham Shui Po

Yet, are they justified? You should have sensed that Hong Kong’s existence is somewhat a mistake. Look at Kowloon Walled City, it is a place where hundreds flocked to since it was technically not a part of the British Empire, and functionally not a part of China. Hong Kong was just another of the 1000 islands along the southern coast before the colonists yanked it from a frail dynasty in order to introduce drugs. Yes, the queen brought democracy, liberty, and wealth, but it is akin to a farmer bringing food to his cows. He would have put the cow to pasture the moment milk has run dry. Hong Kong was never intended to be an equal to Cambridge, Edinburgh or Cardiff, but as a colony, a gateway to crack open the skull of China. In 2019, it enjoys the liberty because London does not care about it any more. Now, Hong Kong runs around like a love child from the east and west who has all grown up, indoctrinated by the west yet still taking daily allowances from the east, surviving on criminally low tax rates and unsustainable bubble-based growth. To many outsiders, especially the Chinese who sat across the border and watched it prosper, Hong Kong is trying to cherry-pick the best things all for itself: independence built upon a dependence. Hong Kong thinks it has outgrown China, yet at the same time the reason of its growth stems from its proximity, language advantage and pseudo-subordination to the motherland. Now, some are resorting to violence to obtain the unobtainable, unreasonable and unfathomable. Hong Kong will never be independent, end of story. If China cuts the water and electricity supply, the city would fall into chaos in mere hours. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but arrogance will kill this city. Is China at fault for trying to rein it in? Sure, it is way too early and definitely against the treaty. But is there a motivation that I can understand? Absolutely.

Yet, I am no politician. I just showed you the two sides and their motivation to participate in this conflict. It is up to you, my dear reader, to ponder who has the moral high ground. Additionally, does it matter? We are all just bystanders with no power to do anything. No amount of social media posting would make a difference for China’s action, and it is better off that we become educated in the matter, and just look upon it as history unfolds.

Bruce Lee’s statue

As you can see, Hong Kong is constantly at conflict with itself. She wants to be a part of China for her heritage and convenience, yet also wants to be a part of Britain for her democracy and world presence; she needs extravagance to attract foreign investments yet also needs humility to appease the local roots; she demands evolution in order to keep up with her own pace, yet also demands revolution so that nobody would be left behind. As my train pulled into the airport, I could not help but keep pondering: what can Hong Kong possibly do to resolve this inner conflict? Maybe she needs to be as smooth as silk when obstacles are around, and she needs to be as steadfast as a bulldozer when difficulties arise. What can that possibly be? Wait, I have an answer. What my icon, another local Hong Kongnese, who also was in conflicts with his own west and east, once said something that would fit perfectly for the path forward. I got it! I got it!

What should Hong Kong become for her uncertain future?

Be water, my friend.

— 李小龍Bruce Lee

hop to Madrid —>
continue to Cathay Pacific Business Class —>

<— Directory

-=ForeverYoung|L.A.S.T.=-

One thought on “R•Evolution-=L.A.S.T.=- Pt.1: Hong Kong

Hey, excited? jealous? eager to join my trips? comment below!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s