- A perfect night bus
- Hong Kong´s past
- Getting back my human rights
- A jungle metropolis
- Living on the 33rd floor in the heart of Hong Kong
- Consume, consume consume
- A city of contrasts
- Feng Shui architecture
- Jungle paths and skyscrapers
- China´s brainwash
- How Hong Kong could be, and how it is
- Time to say good-bye
I am in Hong Kong now, this incredible city which is different from anything I have ever seen before. I am sitting in the 41st floor of the most central skyscraper of the city, which happens to be our home for this week, and when I look behind me I have a panoramic view from this very computer on the entire city. Tonight is also the last night, as I have my flight back to London tomorrow morning and this will be the last news I write from this trip.
A perfect night bus
But let’s catch up where I left you. I wrote last from Xing Ping, the small, idyllic town in the beautiful limestone scenery of southern China. We spend the last two days there chilling on the rooftop terrace, munching on dried sunflower seeds, eating fruit and going out of the hostel just to stock up on snacks or to have nice dinner. Unfortunately, the weather was quite horrible, it rained 24/7 and we couldn’t explore the area as much as we would have liked. But it was ok, as the hostel was very welcoming and comfy and we met some interesting travelers in there.
When we left, we took a night bus from Yang Shuo, which enabled us to safe a night in costs and especially in time and arrive in Shenzhen, the last city before the Chinese-Hong Kong border, in the morning. These rides are usually quite horrible, with seats that sometimes can be leaned back and you don’t get more than 3-4 hours sleep on average. But not with the highly developed infrastructure of China: 50 small beds, in two floors, which were small, but provided with a blanket and a pillow.
It was the best night bus I have ever used and we actually managed to sleep all the way, with hundreds of interruptions, but at least we slept.
Hong Kong´s past
So Hong Kong, I guess most of you will wonder now: Is it even China, or a country on its own? So here a little bit of history: after the Opium Wars in the middle of the 19th century, China was forced to hand over territory to the winners. Among it were the 250 island which today form Hong Kong. England got them and started building and populating the main island, which had only a few thousand inhabitants back then. English law (with the UK supreme court at the top), English governors, free market economy and a location at the gateway to East and South Asia made Hong Kong one of the most vibrant cities in the world, a city where everyone could make a fortune.
This dream lasted until the Second World War when the Japanese invaded China and Hong Kong, destroying infrastructure, buildings, and leading to extreme malnutrition for three years until they had to retreat in 1945. The English came back and governed here until 1997, when the 99 year lease to the UK ran out, and Hong Kong was officially handed over to China again. However, China assured that for another 50 years the legal and economic system would be kept and made Hong Kong a Special Administrative Region of China. This means that it is officially part of China and the governor is appointed by the CPC, however, they left them their currency, their language (they speak Cantonese not Mandarin), their economic system and immigration policies. Nonetheless, many things have changed in the past 15 years and the Chinese are using Hong Kong as their own little guinea pig for free market capitalism while exerting a decisive influence in many areas.
Getting back my human rights
But before I turn to this in particular, first something that I needed to say for a while. Here in Hong Kong the internet is not blocked, there is public WIFI and it is probably one of the most internet friendly cities in the world. So thank god I can say now what has been on my shoulders for the last 3 weeks. The main reason why I could never live in China is censorship. I knew it before I came and rationally speaking there is no danger whatsoever for me, as I write to a limited amount of people, I am gone in a month and I don’t attack individuals. Nonetheless, I felt really really bad, especially in Beijing.
I could not say what I thought, for the first time in my life. It’s not that I haven’t been to authoritarian countries, however, China is different. They have the means, the technology and the people to control everyone (30 000 IT specialists work on cyber censorship alone). And here in China you feel the power of the government. You hear stories: backpackers whose IP address on their laptops was just blocked from one day to the other, foreign TV channels which stop working like in a storm when they show anything controversial, imprisoned individuals and so on.
I got really paranoid when I read in a guidebook that they do actually scan emails for conspirator information. I felt bad, I even had nightmares. I talked about it to Anne and Raphie but I couldn’t write it. It is not the fact that something could actually happen, it is the mere fact that I had to censor myself and that I had to think about such things for the first time in my life that made me realize how essential, central to a fulfilling existence, freedom of expression is. And for this reason I could not, and will never, live in a country like China. This feeling decreased in the south, but I will not forget it and I am so happy to be here now, where Facebook works, WIFI is everywhere and people can say what they think.
The other day we were walking along the street and saw a group of 20 individuals demonstrating in front of a bank. You cannot believe how happy that made us. It is something so normal, but coming from China it was just beautiful to see these people, saying what they think, and protesting. We also saw a huge march of people demonstrating and claiming more democracy, but everything was peaceful.
A jungle metropolis
So Hong Kong. The location is quite unique. Imagine a couple of nice islands, dense tropical rainforest covers them, and then the English came. They build this incredible city, which is not big (all of Hong Kong has only the surface of Berlin, and of this area only 20% are populated) and is simply incredible. Due to the lack of space, skyscrapers are the only available buildings, the sea is of a wonderful turquoise color, which is very unusual for such an economic hub, and the green lush mountains can be seen from everywhere and rise in the middle of the city.
From the beginning, the English and now the Chinese spend a lot of money on infrastructure, making it as some say the best in the world. They have a highly efficient tube, buses, ferries and most of all the charming 100 years old tram, which goes along a west-east axis in the main island. It is just so old school, they didn’t renew it and because the city is so small, you can actually take the tram to go anywhere within 25 minutes. Then, a 15 minutes bus ride away are beautiful beaches, which are actually nice (we went swimming there today) and national parks with long remote hikes.
In Hong Kong it is possible to work in an office in a 500m high tower and go have lunch in a jungle park with no one around with a view on the entire island. The climate is tropical, the winters very mild and the summers quite hot. We were just astonished how easy it is to get out of the hassle. We walked a bit and found ourselves emerged in green, jungle, and were literally 10 minutes away from the centre. Incredible.
Living on the 33rd floor in the heart of Hong Kong
To where we live: Fabian’s father, Sebastian, lives and works in Hong Kong. He is not here at the moment and we did not get to know him. Nevertheless, he was so incredibly kind to give us the keys to his apartment for the entire stay. I cannot thank him enough, one because Hong Kong is so much more expensive than the rest of China (accommodation starts at 20€, we paid 3 on average so far) and two because he just lives in the very very heart of the city, in a 44 floor skyscraper, on the 33rd. The apartment is just great, but the rooftop! Open air bar, swimming pool, sauna on the 44th with view on all of Hong Kong.
I am very sure we are definitely the most assozial people who have ever entered this building. I mean I have been wearing the exact same clothes (black football shorts and FC Bayern Munich jersey) every single day. Anne is not much better and it seems just so surreal to live here. We have the metro and tram in front of our door and an outdoor, public football stadium 50m away, where we can just chill and laugh at how bad these guys play football…
Consume, consume consume
So what did we do? Hong Kong convinced us from the very beginning. Although we arrived in heavy rain, this city is incredible. It is a mix of Shanghai’s development, San Francisco’s streets and a unique ocean of capitalism. Wherever you look: adverts, consumers, money. It has 70 000 millionaires (one out of 116), 21 billionaires, the highest density of Rolls Royce in the world and probably the only place where you actually have to queue in front of Gucci, Prada etc. with very serious bouncers treating you like a wasted person in front of a club. However, here it seems natural, and that is the beauty of it.
I went at lengths explaining why I disliked the segregated Shanghai society and its expat culture. Hong Kong is different. Foreigners did not invade this place, they built it. They were here from the very beginning. It had a couple of thousands inhabitants before the English came. Here Westerners are as normal as Asian people. Everyone here shares the consumer, capital driven mentality of this city.
A city of contrasts
Raphie took off 2 days ago. With him we spend a day walking around the city, which is just so nice as it is quite small and you can pass the HSBC buildings and find small local rundown markets right next to it. We took the ferry, had good food (they are specialized in noodle soups with Wantons, which are dumplings filled with prawns and pork. Also we had deep fried fish skin, delicious) and just chilled lots on the rooftop, during the day and especially at night when everything lights up, every skyscraper with its own colorful choreography.
Feng Shui architecture
The architecture of Hong Kong is very interesting, although I can only describe what I saw today, as the Chinese have apparently torn down all the beautiful colonial buildings which composed the city and replaced them with 30-40 floors skyscrapers, much to the discontent of the locals.
Despite this, they built some impressive buildings here. The two tallest are 480 and 440 metres respectively, but what astonished me most is the influence of Feng Shui (Wind and Water) in the planning and building. According to this, the location and shape of a building will determine whether the inhabitants will be happy and lucky or not. Thousands of people live only off this, predicting Feng Shui. For instance, basically every skyscraper is built on massive columns. This entails massive costs and enables you to walk underneath them, something I have never seen before.
Or today we passed a massive skyscraper housing in a bay. In the middle of it was a 9 storey square whole, and guess why? To make a dragon, which according to the legend comes from the sea to Hong Kong Island from time to time, pass, as hindering him would be bad luck. This is all crazy but leads to very interesting architecture.
Jungle paths and skyscrapers
Weather-wise it has been raining a lot, although we did get some very nice weather one day, which Anne and I used to go on “The Peak”, the highest hill on the main island, which can be reached with a cable car constructed in 1888 and still running. We took a cab (save money…) but walked down. It is just incredible, how you are 500m away from the centre and walk down this path in the middle of the jungle. No one there, beautiful nature and the view, amazing (although emissions by Chinese factories across the border contribute to the insane smog in this city, the only negative aspect I noticed). Then we just ran into a free zoo and park, which was just very nice. The highlight: an open air bird viewing space, where you could watch hundreds of beautiful birds in a jungle habitat and at the same time gaze at 400m high skyscrapers.
Culture wise, Hong Kong is putting a lot of effort into providing the city with numerous new museums. We went and visited one, the brand new Museum of History. It shows in a very visual and interactive way the entire history of Hong Kong (I mean they rebuild everything in real seizes, it is like walking through real streets, offices, villages and so on, very impressive).
However, here we also saw how incompatible Chinese rule and Hong Kong mentality are. The Chinese built the museum, and we saw a film in there on recent history. Everything the English have done: hardly mentioned. Then the Japanese: evil! Then the turnover to the Chinese: salvation! And ever since: “A better Hong Kong”. This propaganda film seemed just so out of place in this city, which has freedom of opinion as in Europe, the same mentality, the same habits, but is part of this repressive regime! Apparently the people here find it horrible, understandably, that a person from Beijing is appointed to run this city and that they do not get a vote on it. Imagine the same for London that would be unimaginable.
For me it is just so interesting to see this contrast.
How Hong Kong could be, and how it is
At the beginning I thought that this was a great example of what China might look like. I don’t think so anymore, it is not. It is completely different. China will never be like Hong Kong and Hong Kong will never be China. I do also think that this city might be the starting point of a change in the mainland, as people here know what is happening across the border, have the means and power to express what they think and in my eyes, will pose a significant threat to the authoritarian rule of the CPC.
For now, I can only say that this city is in my Top3 (London, Vancouver and now Hong Kong). I can really imagine living here. You can mingle with the locals, you have everything you can wish for. It takes you 15 minutes to go to natural parks and beaches. You can take the tram to work. I just think it has a very high living quality. It must have been so amazing under British rule, and I am so sad that instead of becoming independent and thereby getting the chance to design their own future, the people of Hong Kong were thrown under the rule of the CPC, an institution that I despise and that has made me realize how lucky we are to live in a place where we can say what we think and act upon our own principles of justice.
Time to say good-bye
I can’t wait to come home, despite the exams which start in 5 days. The past month has had its up and down, but altogether it was an experience that made me reflect and will make me enjoy life back at home even more. I cannot wait to be back!
PS: Tomorrow FC Bayern Munich is playing the rematch of the Champions Leaugue Semifinals against Real Madrid. I need everyone to cross their fingers for la Bestia Negra to ensure that my life dream, a Bayern Munich Champions League final in Munich’s Allianz Arena comes true!