Hong Kong - The Beautiful and Damned
12:00am. I was sitting in the back seat of the taxi, leaning my head against the window, gazing at the happy and the drunk, the hunter and the hunted hanging around the narrow dirty streets outside the bars in Lan Kwai Fong smoking, laughing or checking their phones. Everything looked stunning and almost unreal in the warm orange lights like an old movie playing. After a while, the taxi left the vivid night scene behind, drove into the Garden Road. I was at the foot of the iconic Bank of China Tower with several lights scattered over several levels. There were still people working there, who might be accountants or lawyers, crunching numbers, biting words…
“Hong Kong----How to make everything from nothing.
Hong Kong is the best contemporary example of laissez-faire.
The people of Hong Kong have been free to do what they wanted, and what they wanted was, apparently, to create a stewing pandemonium: crowded, striving, ugly, and the most fabulous city on earth.
It is a metropolis of an amazing mess, an apparent stranger to zoning, a tumbling fuddle of streets too narrow and vendor choked to walk along, slashed through with avenues too busy and broad to cross.It is a vertical city, rising 1,800 feet from Central District to Victoria Peak in less than a mile; so vertical that escalators run in place of sidewalks, and neighborhoods are named by altitude: Mid-Levels.
Hong Kong is vertical in its building, too, and not just with glossy skyscrapers.Every tenement house and stack of commercial lofts sends an erection into the sky. Picture Wall Street on a Kilimanjaro slope, or, when it rains, picture a downhill Venice.
And rain it does for months.Hong Kong in monsoon season has a climate like boiled Ireland.Violent air-conditioning wars with humid heat in every home and places of business, producing a world with two temperatures: sauna and meat locker.The rainwater overwhelms outgrown sewer system, which fumes and gurgles beneath streets ranged with limitless shopping. All the opulent goods of mankind are on display in an air of shit and Chanel.
It is a filled-in city, turgid with buildings.Landing at Kai Tak Airport, down one thin skid of Kowloon Bay landfill, you fly in below clothesline level, so close to apartment windows that you can watch women at bathroom mirrors putting on their makeup.You can tell them that their lipstick's crooked.
There is no space in Hong Kong for love or money, at least not for ordinary kinds of either.
But when they come out of that room, they will be wearing Versace and Dior--some of it even real. Hong Kong is a styling city, up on trends…”
---<Eat the Rich> by P. J. O’Rourke
I read about Hong Kong in the book 5 years ago when I first visited the city. The night view of Victoria peak overlooks the island took my breath away. In that moment, Hong Kong was as beautiful as the hell while just a mile away down through the city, my girl friend were screaming about a cockroach popped up from nowhere in the middle of the street. The beautiful and damned…
Hong Kong’s Economy
As the 20th anniversary of the handover, Hong Kong is wondering about its future. Many locals are unhappy about being ruled by the mainland, with some activists even calling for independence. Economic growth is sluggish. Twenty years ago Hong Kong’s economy accounted for 16% of the Chinese total, dwarfing the rest of the delta. Now it makes up barely 3% of China’s GDP.
The decline is not inevitable, but Hong Kong is constrained by its political situation. It has no prospect of becoming independent, though its efforts to strengthen democracy and protect local laws and institutions from mainland interference have been well worthwhile. On the economic front, its role is that of a global connector for the delta, adapting and upgrading links to reflect the changing times.
For all the local anguish, it is worth remembering that Hong Kong is the freest economy on Earth. In February the Heritage Foundation, an American think-tank, published its latest ranking of economic freedom, based on factors ranging from property rights and absence of corruption to mobility of labor and capital. Hong Kong once again came top.
The city’s commitment to international legal and accounting norms has made it a global financial center. Its lawyers, accountants, and investment bankers are able easily to connect foreigners with mainlanders. Mainland companies make up perhaps half the market capitalization of the Hong Kong stock exchange. The city is the leading offshore center for trading the yuan and the conduit for much of the foreign investment undertaken by mainland firms.
Economic freedom has not so far brought political freedom on the mainland, but if it did, the PRD would in all probability be in the vanguard. Until the distant day when China unchains its economy, frees its currency and releases its people, the two-way flow of people, capital and ideas will continue to play an essential part in the Delta's future.
Hong Kong People
More than 90 percent of Hong Kong residents are ethnically Chinese. However, ask residents here how they see themselves in a national sense, and many will say Hong Konger first — or even Asian or world citizen — before mentioning China. The issue of identity is one that the Chinese Communist Party has grappled with since Britain turned over control of this global financial capital to China 20 years ago. But what the student-led protests show is that Beijing’s efforts have backfired, helping turn the issue into an occasionally explosive problem as members of an entire generation act on their sense of alienation from China and its values.
The current conflict has served only to bolster Hong Kong’s identity, already strengthened in recent years by what many residents saw as intensifying attacks from China against its culture, political values, and economic well-being. There was a growing sense in Hong Kong, especially among the young, that the city was being “mainlandized,” whether through the migration of Chinese or through the party’s insistence that judges must love China. Many of those who were proud to see 156 years of British colonial rule end in 1997 as Hong Kong returned to China now say they prefer to identify with the mother city rather than the motherland.
But unlike a significant portion of Tibetans, Hong Kongers generally do not seek independence from China. Because Hong Kong is a creation of the British Empire, many Hong Kongers have thought of themselves as apart from China for the entirety of the city’s existence. The distinct identity has been reinforced by the enduring dominance of Cantonese and the Cantonese popular culture — film, music, television — that is not only beloved by Hong Kongers but also embraced by the mainland Chinese ( I remembered how popular the Cantonese TV series were when I was in middle school.)
After Mao Zedong and his comrades took over China in 1949, many Hong Kong residents felt anxious about the new Communist power but also developed a sense of superiority to their mainland counterparts, looking down on ordinary Chinese as bumpkins struggling under economic and political deprivations.
Even today, Hong Kongers are still seen as much more cosmopolitan than urban mainlanders, and their identity is shaped by their travels, language skills and sense of global citizenship.
No matter how cosmopolitan it looks like, Hong Kong is still like an adopted kid from a third world country unwilling to get back to its root (China) while abandoned by their foster family (Britain) who raised it to be proud of what it is, on the other hand, ashamed of its bloodline. Hong Kong might be the most free market in the world while freedom is not in its people’s DNA. Their mindset is like “We prefer to be ruled by a democratic country” instead of “We want to become a democratic country.” (As Hong Kong is a special administrative region of the China and formerly a British crown colony, it has never had any military force of its own, and defense have always been the responsibilities of the sovereign power.) The funny thing is, democracy can’t solve the problems, can’t fix the crazy housing price, can’t boom economy, it’s a banner waving by the protesters.
6:00 am. The Lawyers in the Bank of China Tower just spent another night working overtime at the office to fulfill a big case. The party animals hanging around Lan Kwai Fong got trashed happily or not went home. Another hustle day of Hong Kong kicked off. A book title came to my mind to summarize my impression of Hong Kong—“The Beautiful and Damned”