Hong Kong: East vs West

Hong Kong: East vs West

Michael Moore proves that Hong Kong provides the best of both worlds

Having been an outpost of Britain’s empire in Asia, today’s Hong Kong still attracts a wide range of tourists from all over the world. Many are drawn by the allure of Chinese culture mixed with Western commerce, making Hong Kong the 9th most visited city in the world in 2014.

For many Western visitors, this vibrant mix of ‘east meets west’ is a big draw; over 500,000 British nationals visited Hong Kong in 2013, and its Western influences allow for an experience China which doesn’t push tourists too far from their comfort zone. English signs and announcements are commonplace, as relics of Hong Kong’s colonial past, and give Hong Kong its distinctly international feel.

You need look no further than Victoria Harbour, where the rapid growth of Hong Kong into one of the world’s eminent financial centres is showcased by the wall of skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. It is also home to the stunning fireworks displays of the major festivals throughout the year. It’s no surprise that, rising out of the South China Sea, Hong Kong has been likened to the Manhattan skyline in New York.

The permanent presence of tourists in Hong Kong has led to the development of tourist attractions to rival any other major world city. Families and solo travellers alike are catered for, with theme parks such as Disneyland (unfortunately not as good as Disneyland Paris) and Ocean Park guaranteeing an uncomfortable experience in the summer heat with crowds of screaming children. For a Mickey-Mouse-free afternoon out that won’t fill suitcases with stuffed toys, many head to the Victoria Peak, where the cool breeze and spectacular views provide an antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city below.

While visitors are completely familiar with theme parks and skyscrapers, with no shortage of these in the west, many are taken aback by some of Hong Kong’s cultural differences. A striking example is the disparity in alcohol consumption compared to many Western countries, with more than 60 per cent of the Hong Kong population declaring themselves as non-drinkers, whilst over 9 million people in the UK drink more than the recommended daily limits. Instead, there is a greater emphasis on eating out, and food forms a major part of social occasions in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong residents are all too aware that their city acts as a metaphorical bridge between the east and the west. Hong Kong’s judicial system very closely resembles the British model; Hong Kong’s population has the right to freedom of speech that residents of mainland China can only dream of. Local Hongkongers hold a unique cultural identity: they maintain a keen observance of Chinese cultural festivals, and Cantonese Chinese is their first language, but they also have a strong awareness of the democratic process and have an open-mindedness to the rest of the world.

The increasing proportion of Hong Kong residents who identify themselves as Hongkongese first and Chinese second, however, has put the city on a collision course with the Chinese leadership in Beijing. Recent protests concerning universal suffrage in the upcoming elections in Hong Kong have generated headlines around the world. Other antagonisms come from statistics such as those showing that over 35 per cent of births in Hong Kong were to mainland families. There has also been a proliferation of videos of incidents between Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese individuals on social media platforms, one such video showed a man from mainland China eating on the subway being confronted by a Hong Kong resident. Such incidents have contributed to debate over government services and cultural differences, which have occasionally resulted in peaceful public demonstrations.

Hong Kong is a city that moves forward without fearing change, and nowhere is this clearer than in its architecture, with colonial-era buildings now a rarity, and the prevalence of office towers showing the dominance of Hong Kong as a centre of commerce. However, many locals voice concern over the future, with increasing competition for business from Singapore and Shanghai, political uncertainty resulting from protests, and the distant yet looming deadline of Hong Kong’s return to full Chinese control in 2047. However, Hong Kong’s detractors would do well to remember that the city is one built on an incredibly hard work ethic, with a broad outlook and the most hospitable people. This can only bode well for the future.

Hong Kong is a unique mix of both the East and West and this is a mix that is certainly something to celebrate.

Featured image credit: momo

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