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|View from the peak: So long and thanks for all the fish...||| Print ||
|July / August 2010|
I’ve just changed abbreviations. Jumped over from HK to KL. Changed HKD to MYR. Moved from the muddy sky of Honkers to the muddy waters of the Lumpy Koala.
Kuala Lumpur is a breath of fresh air, literally, after two years of total internal and external immersion in the toxic waste that passes for oxygen in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, I loved you, but you are killing yourself. Your lack of trust in air that you can’t see could well be your downfall.
In KL as in Australia, people can still see the heavens. And this view of the infinite is important. It opens our minds to possibilities. It encourages wonder. It allows a glimpse of our place in things beyond our selves. It enables optimism.
Huddled in its own muck, Hong Kong lacks this vision.
If it is a truth that we are all shaped by our environment, then the physical, political and economic environments of Hong Kong, and its much bigger owner, China, have an inevitable impact.
Creativity is stifled by many forces in this region – lack of political and informational freedom, rote-learning education, poverty, a familiarity and comfort with counterfeits and copies.
All of these play their part in diminishing the scope for the thought processes essential for originality.
The Government of Hong Kong has recognized this deficit. It has an increasing array of programs and plans to build arts hubs and other facilities in the hope that if you build it, creativity will come.
But you cannot impose creativity by decree. You cannot simply push a button and make it work. And you also actually have to want it – not just some of it.
I suspect that in Hong Kong, and certainly in the rest of China, creativity and originality are a little frightening. They are hard to control.
After all, the things totalitarian societies like China tend to fear the most – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances, freedom of expression and thought, actions beyond the ordinary, individuality – are also the primary sources of creativity.
All the money in the world will not change that.
Much to love
Having given my hosts of the past two years this gentle slapping, it would be churlish of me not to also give breath to the many wonders of Hong Kong as I write my last View from the Peak.
First, the food. In a word – yum. Or at least yum cha. Any nation that can get me hooked on chicken feet and fish congee knows what they are doing.
The variety of food is startling, from the raucous delights of the wet markets and dai pai dong with their frogs and turtles and snakes for sale, to the Michelin-starred restaurants which pepper this city.
And once you’ve done eating, you can always shop. The plethora of malls and high end emporia would keep even the gals from Sex and the City happy.
Getting around is easy too. The public transport system is the eighth wonder of the world – clean, punctual, cheap. That, combined with the ever present taxis and drivers who know where they are going, make Hong Kong a shining example we could all learn from.
The people also are clean and punctual, smiling and charming, generally polite and well behaved. Crime is virtually invisible.
Then there are the many green belts, the lungs of the city which have not yet been paved over or clogged with high-rises. I was amazed by the profusion of wildlife I saw as I literally got lost in Hong Kong.
And, of course, there is the harbour. The daily bustle of ferries and container ships and the nightly show of lights, still excite, even as the harbour slowly shrinks as more and more land is reclaimed for more and more skyscrapers and offices for bankers.
A pearl of the orient? It’s sadly lost that lustre. Fragrant harbour? More like Pong Kong now.
But exciting, economically important, and worth a look? Undoubtedly. If only you could see it. ■
*Mark Douglas is an Australian journalist and corporate media adviser now based in Kuala Lumpur.