Hong Kong: Hyper-speed Modernity Superimposed on Ancient Culture

Flying into Hong Kong, signs of the modern economy abound. Container ships ply the seas next mining operations on small islets. Massive infrastructure projects in progress: bridges, causeways, high rise residential buildings, a water treatment plant.

The airport, subways, and busses are clean, efficient and technologically enabled with wifi, USB plug-ins, digital screens with real-time updates of schedule and station stops. It is hard to not be impressed by the deployment off technology. The population, young and old, is wired and engaged on screen, some writing in Chinese chars.

The neighborhood around my hostel was representative of the local, Hong Kong economy and culture . Hawker stalls clutter the bazaar selling everything from clothes to toys and knock off electronics to pirated DVDs. Streetside shops sell hardware, pharmaceuticals, traditional Chinese medicines, and food from cheap open stalls (many rather dubious from the perspective of this traveler) or air conditioned sit down places for the relatively affluent and young hipsters. The century-old textile district is as fascinating look at Chinese industriousness. Niche businesses proving buttons, lace, zippers, and the like busily load and offload lorries serving the regional textile factories, serving markets from London to Los Angeles, Beijing to Bangkok.

In addition to the marinading snakes and dried lizards, the most overt sign of China’s 4000-year-old culture, is the ancestor worship that finds expression in the countless shrines found at every turn, from the formal temple to the humble and impromptu. Incense burns and offerings of food are made before Buddhist and Taoist statues and iconography. Their is a certain organic way of the day to day actvities, esp of the active elderly population.

Given its evident British imprint, Hong Kong is the quintessential expression of the melding of east and west, while sitting at the vanguard of the globalized, tech-centered economy and culture at the dawn of their 21st century.

The verticalization of the skyline is reminiscent of San Francisco’s present transformation The result, no doubt, of the same high-roller investors looking to “park” their money somewhere to “earn” themselves even more. When is enough enough? Consumerism has run amok along the Victoria Harbor shopping district. Luxury is marketed everywhere, with young hip models glaring smugly from larger-than-life digital billboards, wearing their borrowed wealth from Gucci, Rolex, Tiffany’s. This seem the antithesis of the ancient Chinese culture. Perhaps that is precisely the point. Meanwhile the dazzling nighttime light show on buildings, while awe-inspiring, seems to reflect an ethos of perpetual growth and limitless resources.

The globalized culture and economy, with its far-reaching implications, is unfolding before our eyes. With its regional flavors, Hong Kong is emblematic. Meanwhile cultures rooted in tradition and grounded in place, with their knowledge of natural capacities and limits, struggle to survive.

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