Monday, December 8, 2014
Hong Kong Park
Our brush with the Occupy Central movement came on our last night in Hong Kong, and it was all my fault. We could've easily caught the 12A bus in Central after returning on the Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui in order to get back to Steven and Shih-Ling's place on MacDonnell Road. But, no, I had to insist on taking the MTR one stop to Admiralty just so the family could experience the ride. Alighting from the station, we couldn't find the bus stop at first, though it soon became apparent that it was because we'd taken the wrong exit. Retracing our steps, we found the bus stop, only to discover that the street in front of it was partitioned off, and people and tents were camped where the buses would usually have been pulling up. A sign pointed the way to an alternate stand, but the friendly young policemen standing guard nearby didn't seem to know where it was, and suggested we take a taxi instead. So it was back into Admiralty Station and out another exit to the taxi stand, which of course was also deserted due to the nearby protestors and their encampment. In the end, we had to get back on the subway and ride it to the next station, Wan Chai, where we were finally able to hail a cab and make it back to our hosts' place.
The next morning we had some time to spare before needing to get to the airport for the flight back to Shanghai. Shih-Ling suggested taking the kids to Hong Kong Park, a short walk down the hill from the apartment building, which is how we spent our last free moments. Lonely Planet describes it as:
Deliberately designed to look anything but natural, Hong Kong Park is one of the most unusual parks in the world, emphasizing artificial creations such as its fountain plaza, conservatory, artificial waterfall, indoor games hall, playground, t'ai chi garden, viewing tower, museum and arts center. For all its artifice, the 8-hectare park is beautiful in its own weird way and, with a wall of skyscrapers on one side and mountains on the other, makes for some dramatic and interesting photographs.
As our time was limited, we only got to see a small section of the park. The girls enjoyed the Edward Youde Aviary, home to more than 600 birds representing 90 different species. The 10 meter-high wooden footbridge allows visitors to get up close with the winged beasts, who were clearly quite used to having people staring at them. Then, while the girls, Pamela and Shih-Ling went over to the playground, I ventured up the lookout tower to have a look at those dramatic vistas. Alas, it was soon time to leave, with the three of us taking a taxi back to the airport and the short flight home.
So now I've experienced Hong Kong when it was a British Crown Colony (in 1993) and its current incarnation as a Special Administrative Region of China. The appellation "Royal" is now absent, the Queen's silhouette is no longer to be seen and there're a lot of high-rise buildings that I don't remember from my first visit. Always crowded, Hong Kong seems even more commercialized than it was before, with a lot more tourists thronging its attractions. The Peak, in particular, with its shopping malls and long lines for the tram, is hardly recognizable from 1993, though the view is still as impressive. No doubt this is a reflection of the influx of visitors from China, probably the biggest change for me from 21 years ago. Back then, Mandarin was hardly spoken (even trying to get by on English was a challenge at times, especially in the New Territories), and the only Chinese were those who lived and worked in the colony. Now, neither Pamela nor I had any problems communicating with taxi drivers and restaurant workers.
Though it's changed somewhat since the 1997 handover, Hong Kong is still unique in its place within Greater China. Despite the crowds and the noise, despite the social problems and the drugs and the Triads, there is still a sense of civility and order that is lacking in China proper. The establishment of Hong Kong as a colony, the result of the first Opium War, was hardly one of the British Empire's more prouder moments, and during the 156 years of British rule could hardly be characterized as a shining example of the superiority of democratic political systems (though Christ Patten tried his best near the end to give Hong Kongers a greater say in how they're governed, something Beijing has been continuing to deny them). But the British did leave Hong Kong with a legacy that is sorely lacking in China - government by rule of law. Hong Kong seems to work in a way that China, with its deep-rooted corruption and benefits earned through guanxi, pays lip service to but is still seemingly unable of putting into practice. When it comes to which of the Two Systems in the One Country is the better, the choice seems pretty clear.