Words by Peter Palmato, Photo by Jon Wah
The most appropriate adjective to describe this city-state in which I have resided for less than 48 hours would have to be ‘life-sustaining’. What other word can capture the tropical, sweltering climate, the omnipresent fauna and flora, the booming multi-cultural, multi-national population and the bustling, ceaseless, 24-hour culture of this region?
There is greenery everywhere you look, alongside every man-made construction. Life is flourishing outside your window as soon as you open your eyes in the morning. Construction sites and old buildings may be placed haphazardly side-by-side, but one detects a perceptible sense of wellness in the urban jungle that is Hong Kong. Survival is not an obligation; it’s a certainty. It’s an art, even if the waste and pollution of our modern lifestyles have placed it under threat.
Hong Kong is thriving. I know this because as one of the 20 students fortunate enough to have been selected to enrol in the subject BUSS 2062 – Business International Study Tour, the container terminals alongside the ‘coastline’ of Hong Kong that we saw as we were driven from International Airport to Kowloon, are endless. There is no clearer sign of the relentless, commercial success of the city than this. Hong Kong is the defining city of international business, finance and trade.
So far, I see two very powerful forces at work in Hong Kong. The first is ecological – the sheer irrepressibility of Hong Kong’s tropical, natural environment. The second is anthropogenic – Hong Kong’s whole-hearted embrace of capitalism, and its visible consequences.
As we’ve been told far too many times, patience is a virtue. But what about efficiency? Regardless how it’s qualified, the Hong Kong-ers have it in spades: whether zipping through the city’s MTR railway system, quickly shuffling through deceptively long lines at Disneyland, or jumping in any of the plentiful taxis, Hong Kong takes you where you want to go – and fast. I am somewhat surprised, but mostly impressed by the speed at which Hong Kong’s 7.18 million citizens are able to move around this small harbour. Then again, most major world cities move faster than Adelaide, so my reaction is to be somewhat expected.
Hong Kong’s desire to eliminate waiting leads me to question how they view this concept, and how they value time. Do the fine citizens of this region have spare time? What do they do with it? I am very hesitant to live in a city that never sleeps (I absolutely love to sleep), and Hong Kong certainly fits this description. Its people appear to be constantly on the move (voluntarily, I wonder?) and their pace is quick and, admittedly, tiresome. I find myself becoming exhausted by mid-afternoon and I want neither my career, nor my life, to follow this trajectory.
Although perhaps invisible to the average Western eye, the political landscape of Hong Kong and China is changing, and not nearly as slowly as foreigners might think. I was curious about this rate of change and how the political aspects of Hong Kong’s booming success could influence the rest of China, so I ask the guide on our site visit to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and he reveals that further ‘phases’ of Chinese development could include more Special Economic Zones in underdeveloped Chinese provinces—a seemingly sensible consideration given that wealth, employment and development tend to be concentrated along coastal areas. This would bring market-driven ideologies, benefits, lifestyles and consequences to those areas, thus perpetuating the spread of capitalism into regional China. All of this would happen, naturally, through the gate of Hong Kong, which serves as a cultural, economic, financial, political and legal link to the Western developed world. Hong Kong is the conductor through which East meets West and ideas, business, money and culture flow.
Hong Kong is a life-sustaining city. I believe, after these two weeks, that it will continue to be so, in spite of my previous reflections. I feel that Hong Kong’s future can be depicted by present-day New York City—a place with which Hong Kong has so much in common. Yes, Asia and North American possess two very, very different cultures, and thank goodness. The world would go absolutely mad if all of us were American. But Hong Kong shares so many similarities with New York City, like the fact that they are some of the busiest, most efficient, most commercially-driven population centres on the planet, that I can’t help feel as though that’s where Hong Kong’s future lies. And it’s a good future, a bright future.