Friday, March 10, 2006

Hong Kong, China, Sort Of,

Hong Kong! For those of you who are a bit slow and tend to read with an inner monologue whilst trying not to move your lips, the name of this place should be spoken a bit louder than usual. A sort of defiant, in your face shout like a declaration from a cocky teenager. In Chinese terms, Hong Kong is just that. A nephew that was raised by weird foreigners who let the boy do pretty much what he wanted. He's back in the family hone now but he's got his own room and he's faffing about with his ipod and doesn't give much 'spect to the old ones. They would winge but they've gone a bit gaga recently and the boy pays more than his fair share of rent as well as knowing a lot about business and computers and stuff.

I admit that I sometimes get overenthusiastic about places particularly if they contrast a lot from were I have just been. Hong Kong has got me hopping around with excitement and fascination. I have wanted to see this place for a while and I am not disappointed. Compared to the mainland it's a different world in a different century. One Country 2 Systems, my arse.

I had even toyed with the idea of starting my travels in HK but I got lured by the prospect of a 4 months piss trip in SEA. That and it doesn't have the same ring as Jakarta to Jerusalem. Hong Kong to Haifa doesn't really work.

I am thoroughly enjoying being here and watching the great modern bustle of this place. I am also delighted to be anonymous again. On the scaringly monocultural mainland people stare a lot and you stick out. Here I am just another face in a wonderfully diverse place. I have also become a strange devotee of public transport. In HK you can go overland, underground, above ground, on ferries, on great wooden tramways, insanely long series of escalotors and a funicular. Just getting about is fun.

Walking about is great too. You can trek on the peaks, get lost in Kowloon or walk along the business avenues of Central. The latter still has surprise in it as there are loads of alleyways between the grand skyscrapers where you step in the gesticulating shouting match of Hong Kong street stalls. Also great fun is seeing massive buildings being built and maintained whilst scaffolded in bamboo. I have indulged in little home comforts like going to the cinema or eating sushi. The beer scene is fun and lively too but it's killing my budget. Being a brit I get a 180 days no visa deal but I think 2 more days here is all I can afford and I will have to spend a fair few nights in dorms on the mainland to make up for it. It's all worth it though.

This place is even more amazing once you know its history. The acquisition of Hong Kong is the kind of tale that makes my bosom swell with pride at being British. In short is was a mugging from a drug dealer. Britain had moved into dealing smack (well, opium so I guess it's smack Lite) to earn a bit of dosh and we were selling a lot to the Chinese. For reasons difficult for the Western mind to comprehend, the inscrutable Orientals got a bit upset at our benevolent policy of keeping their population junked up and a bit of a tiff ensued. Thanks to the lion's courage of the British fighting man and the odd century's worth advantage in weapons tech, we got the Chinese to sign the Treaty of Nanking which gave us HK island in perpetuity. After another kicking we nabbed Kowloon on the same terms and a lease for the New Territories for a century. Heroic stuff.

HK was a village before that and it took a few years to blossom. In spite of the despicable way we got our hands on it, we seemed not to fuck things up too much and let the locals get on with it whilst we built banks. I have often seen cases of good intentions producing horrible results and HK is the opposite of this paradox.What started life as an illustration of how heinously vile a colonialist country can be has become one of the most amazing places on earth. Maybe there's a lesson in that. Places with dodgy beginnings like Australia or HK end up all right yet countries that begin life as a noble and well intentioned experiment such as Liberia end up like, well, like Liberia.

This leads me to the fundamental question about the end of British rule over HK. Why, oh God why, did we ever give this place to the Chicoms? A massive moneymaker and one of the places where the locals did not actually loathe us and we just gave it away. To make things even more perplexing is that in the same year the Thatcher government kicked off negotiations about HK we fought a war about another dubiously held piece of land miles away from home. Against all logic we seemed happy to hand this city over but we went to war over the Falklands?! We decided to send Her Majesty's finest to kill and die for the sake of a few barrels of salt fish, the governor's daughter and half a million Rockhopper penguins yet we wouldn't even gripe about losing Hong Kong to a bunch of vicious, incompetent and corrupt old gits? Someone really needs to have a chat with the Foreign Office about lunchtime drinking.

I'll grant that the PLA is a tougher nut to crack than hypothermic Argie conscripts but it's not that good either. The Vietnamese once gave them a kicking with their B divisions and Taiwan is still independent regardless of the weird fiction that the international community has constructed. The people that the PLA seems most efficient at defeating are Tibetan monks and unarmed Chinese students. Plus we could have got the Russkies and the Indians to chip in a few squaddies as they didn't like China much at the time. Or now for that matter.The very least we could have done is set up a democratic regional authority. Fucking geniuses.

Anyways off out for more Hong Kong exploration and constructing neo-colonialist fantasies. There is some consolation in the fact that HK remanes a Special Administrative Region for 40 odd years. Beijing is torn between their compulsive desire to meddle and fuck things up and the knowledge that if they do they'll kill the golden goose. Maybe that's were I underestimated the boys from the FCO. China hasn't got the first clue about what it's going to be like in 40 years but Hong Kong is pretty sure of what it will be: still rich. I get the feeling that Hong Koong is going to become a model and not some strange exception.

Take care,

Arabin the gweilo


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