Thursday, April 01, 2010

Goodbye Hong Kong and hello Toronto

I spent my last night in Hong Kong on the Kowloon side after clearing out my apartment and handing over the keys to the cleaners.
This is the second time I've lived here and it remains the only city in Asia I think I could call home.
Hong Kong is a combination of Asia and the Western world unique in the region. It's very Chinese , but the British legacy faded as it is adds an interesting spin on things.
Its an accessible place without being too homogenized.
I'm not sure if that makes sense but its what I feel.
I remember the last time I left after living here.
In 1996 Hong Kong was a city very much on edge.
The events at Tianamen Square in 1989 had shocked the people and no one knew what to expect.
The handover to China was looming and the great and good amongst the Chinese were securing foreign passports to make their escape should things turn sour.
My departure was much more self absorbed; I was leaving the city after a rather unpleasant split with my then employer and was pissed off at the world.
In the years since, things have worked out both for me and the city.
That sounds pretentious reading it back...
The hand over was good to Hong Kong.
It's prospered under the Chinese and still maintains its separate status for all things legal.
Its two big draw backs are the air pollution and high cost of living.
Both are pretty tough to fix in a city with so many people crammed into such a small area.
The westerners are still here in force but they've changed both in quality and composition.
Let me explain:
Pre-1997, any Brit could get off the plane and walk right into a job.
We used to call them F-I-L-T-H
"Failed In London Try Hong Kong".
There was a carpet-bagger mentality.
I think today the standard of expat is better.
French, Italian, Yanks and Canadians have filled the vacuum and I think the long term Brits have found their place and have discarded their sense of entitlement and superiority.
Newly arrived Brits tend to be less insular.
There's still a " get in and get out" mentality , and the "This is how Asia works......" declarations are bandied around by "old timers" (living and working there for a year or more), but I think the nature of the place means you have to be more engaged today than in the past.
Engaged means keeping your eyes and ears open and resisting the urge to regurgitate last week's articles in the Economist with your own little twist.
The Western educated/born Chinese can be irritating to both expat and local Chinese alike as they seem to have taken up the role of the "entitled" from the Brits.
That's another discussion entirely.
When I left in 1996, I couldn't imagine ever coming back.
I thought I was done with Asia.
Within a year I was back on a business trip and spent the better part of the next 10 years going back regularly, criss-crossing Asia.
I'm not a sinophile, nor am I enamoured with all things Asian.
I am intensely curious about this fascinating region, full of interesting perspectives and a culture as old if not older than western traditions.
Everyday yields something new if you spend the time and energy to open your eyes.
That's not to say things aren't challenging from time to time.
Challenging is interesting.
It shakes you out of the complacency that can be such a drain on everyday life.
I spent my last night in HK at the "W", one of the latest editions of the New York based chain.
Its one of those hotels that are so "hip it hurts" with a lobby bar reminiscent of an Abercrombie and Fitch store....
Dark and boom, boom loud.
Being as it is above the Airport Express Kowloon, the location worked for me.
Its easy to forget that Hong Kong is an important Asian port.
The view from my room on the 29th floor gave me a view of the city that brought that home.
A final note about living in Hong Kong and Asia generally:
Having lived here for the past 18 months and visiting the region for 20 years or so I have some insights but lack the conviction to make pronouncements.
In other words, the more I know the more I realise I don't know.
Asia is complicated, but not incomprehensible.
Hong Kong is a fascinating place full of people with an independent sensibility.
There's an ongoing critical examination of its relationship with Beijing.
Long rambling discussions with Chinese friends have produced some memorable impressions:
There's a frustration with what is sometimes seen as a "petulant teenage" reaction on the part of the mainland when things don't go their way- either regarding the international community or Hong Kong affairs.
There's pride at being part of China and no sense that 1997 was a mistake.
Hong Kong Chinese are business people.
They make money and spend it conspicuously, but even they're taken aback by the way rich Main landers splash out cash for Rolex's and Gucci bags.
I have a soft spot for this chaotic city and hope one day I'll be back.From one port to another......
Another view of the water, on the other side of the world.
Lake Ontario at dawn this morning.
After a 15 hour and 50 minute flight, I arrived last night at 7:45 pm, picked up my rental car, got to the hotel and fell asleep on my back on the bed fully clothed.
I've returned to live in North America after an absence (in terms of it being my permanent home) of over 14 years.
That's a long time.
I woke up with a jet lagged start at 4:15 am and have been awake since.
As soon as it was light enough I took a short walk and snapped a few pics.
Its evident to me that I'll need to make some adjustments but the North American culture isn't alien to me nor is it the promised land.
Its familiar.
Its home.
That's a comfort.
When I woke up this morning, in that half asleep phase, I had panicky feeling as I couldn't remember where I'd stashed my apartment keys.
I realised I don't have any keys for any apartment.
Just three bags in this hotel room and two more sitting in the office in AA.
Odd feeling that.
I haven't got much left in the tank so will sign off.
I hope your Easter weekend gives you a bit of fun and relaxation.
Stay well


LadyHutch13 said...

Welcome back to N.A. ;D

Ehsan Mohammadi said...

Dear Tery

I wish the best things for you anywhere you are.