I need to be completely honest. Despite the fact that I spend most my time traveling the world, I have never been to the South Pacific or Asia…unless you count Yekaterinburg, Russia, where I typically spend an afternoon taking friends to stand on the Europe-Asia border! When we first mentioned Hong Kong, I had to look up it up on a map. Where exactly was it? China? Japan? Near Thailand and Cambodia? Where are those places in relation to Australia? Is Hong Kong a country? Is it a city or a region? I am completely clueless when it comes to the Eastern Hemisphere. In fact, upon racking my brain, the only recollection I had of anything Hong Kong was in University when the Business Department offered a summer abroad to study in Hong Kong. (My summer in England was much more appealing!)
When I opened Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image, I was still left with many questions. Hong Kong was once under British Rule? What does “SAR” stand for? It was time to visit…Wikipedia. I needed a crash course in Hong Kong history. May I share the intro with you?
Hong Kong (香港; “Fragrant Harbour”), officially known as Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, is a city located on the southern coast of China at the Pearl River Estuary and the South China Sea. After China’s defeat in the First Opium War (1839–42) against the British Empire, Hong Kong became a British colony with the perpetual cession of Hong Kong Island, followed by Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 and a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. After it was occupied by Japan during the Second World War (1941–45), the British resumed control until 30 June 1997. As a result of the negotiations between China and Britain, Hong Kong was transferred to the People’s Republic of China under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. The city became China’s first “special administrative region” with a high degree of autonomy on 1 July 1997 under the principle of “one country, two systems”.
Aha! Hong Kong is a CITY! So are they Chinese? Or are they British? What will their accent be? What will the people be like? What should I expect upon arrival in Hong Kong? I still have so many questions, even after reading this week’s book, Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image. The work contains thirteen essays on post-1997 Hong Kong culture by some of the world’s best-known authorities on these topics today. The majority of the essays are on literature and film. However, I found the text on protest art quite interesting, as well!
As I said, I am left with so many questions about Hong Kong. For instance, I still don’t know what to call those from or living in Hong Kong! Hong Kongians? Would that be right? Or Hong Kongese? Maybe that’s better? Ah, Hong Kongers! All joking aside, I was able to come up with three insights based on the reading…
1) Hong Kong appears to be the poster-child of an East meets West culture. The skylines are filled with tall buildings and bright lights of what I know as the West. Disneyland and amusement parks are family attractions. Movies are a central part of their entertainment. Who knew that so many of the Hong Kong movies were adapted to Hollywood movies and vice versa?! There are so intermingled and based upon each other, the average viewer would never know where the idea for the screenplay originated!
2) As a huge fan of movies, I was shocked to find out The Departed was based on a movie from Hong Kong – Infernal Affairs. Yes, maybe I live under a rock and don’t read the entertainment news, but this revelation leads me to believe that our cultures are at least somewhat comparable. For instance, the police force deals with the same type of bad guys in the East as they do in the West. The more I travel, the more I realize how much alike we, human beings, are. We care about our families. We want to see our children succeed, though success may look different in the East than in the West. (The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua taught me that!) We want to be known. We love and want to be loved.
3) Chapter 11, “Global Dreams and Nightmares: The Underside of Hong Kong as a Global City in Fruit Chan’s Hollywood, Hong Kong” by Pheng Cheah, theorized global cities often possess a plastic facade, projecting only the good and hiding the bad. Fruit Chan makes movies to expose controversial acts, such as trilogies on sex workers from the mainland of China. His movies, “map out the disjunctive coexistence of Hong Kong’s global dreams and nightmares by offering images of Hong Kong that are disturbingly different from its official imaginary.” (Loc. 4125)
This makes me think of Facebook and other social media. On Facebook, we tend to project the image, which we want others to see and believe. We post happy photos, upbeat statuses, popular event check-ins, and the occasional “woe is me” to draw attention. Is this what Global Cities, like Hong Kong, do? They project an image to draw in commercialism, big business firms, and the next wave of investors? There is another side, of course, a hidden side, if you will. Does that make us plastic? Does that make our society and culture plastic? Overly optimistic? Trampling the poor and ugly to promote the rich and beautiful? Is that what we do on social media, too?
What does all this mean? What do I draw from all of these observations? It feels as though Hong Kong may feel familiar – like Cape Town or London – with its beautiful scenery, buildings, and people. It may also feel familiar with its wounds, its broken history, and its social divide. I look forward to knowing more, experiencing the life, and searching for the truth of Hong Kong.
 “Hong Kong,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong.
 Kam Louie, Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010), Loc. 3164.