Sunday, May 4th, 1997 - Somewhere Over the Pacific

Asia is long behind us and we are about half way back to Canada and I am not all that happy about the whole thing. I continue to have serious reservations every time I return home, perhaps that it does not really feel like home. After experiencing a different way of life for so long it makes my own feel so ordinary perhaps, but in this case I felt uncomfortable at home before I left. There is really nothing for me in Winnipeg, at least, nothing I can't leave. Yes, I have friends and family but they can be reached in other methods rather than being available directly in the city.

It is also kind of disappointing that events back home, with the selling of my home, various other family problems, and the flooding in Winnipeg that have somewhat detracted from the special nature of my trip. Perhaps I am a bit resentful of this distraction, but then again, the experiences I have had…

We got up very early this morning and finished packing. Both Raymond and Ava took the cab with us to the airport. We were a bit pressed for time but managed to get in a Dim Sum lunch at the airport which was not, as per the nature of airports, as nice as meals experienced elsewhere. We both had our maximum of luggage to return with us and managed to get it checked in without any real problems.

It was quite an experience travelling with Mike, more than once we had our disagreements, but by and large he made the trip more enjoyable as we kept ourselves entertained by continuously joking with one another. I don't know if I would do it again but, at a minimum I get a whole different set of photo- graphs to look at (a joke). It seemed that it worked out so that I did all of the daily planning and navigation and Mike provided feedback on what he wanted to do. It is lucky that we mostly enjoy the same things though I suspect that he primarily visited to do shopping, contrary to my wanting to explore a bit of the scenery and culture. Eventually, he comes home with a bunch of things including t-shirts, computer CDs and VCDs while I return with a few gifts but nothing major, as a matter of fact, not many of the things I am bringing back are for myself. T-shirts and the like, despite their being much cheaper, I am sorry to say, did not particularly appeal to me. This, of course, was one of the core differences in our experience. Mike also has been sick for the past few days so he has been a bit hard to get along with and has been annoyed at my continue to pressure him to do things. Despite all of this, I think we are still friends.

It was interesting leaving the airport, we caught, as we did on arrival, a bus to get to the plane waiting in the middle of the concrete at the airport. The plane then left, flying over Hong Kong Island and eventually Japan. It has been a fairly rocky journey so far but it is good to note that the return trip is only 11 hours and 27 minutes long. Hong Kong was 25 Celsius (compared to Vancouver's 10 Celsius) when we left. We are travelling a total of 10,263 km (6,377 miles) at about 37,000 feet. We have just passed into darkness and will arrive in Vancouver about 4 hours before we left Hong Kong, very odd.

Hong Kong is a very different world from Canada and I have been trying to figure out what it is that makes the world so different from ours. One of the conclusions made was that the Hong Kong people take themselves too seriously, however I do not know if that is completely true. Yes, they work long hours, live in what we consider cramped and dirty conditions, however, I think this environment is one of their own making and accepted for their lifestyle. There are many examples of the Hong Kong fascination with the North American culture with many of the Walt Disney (most obviously Mickey Mouse) very much in evident everywhere, including on the MTR, in magazines, advertisements, etc. This is not even restricted to children, many adults have purses or car decals with these characters on it. Perhaps this fascination comes with not really having the history of entertaining themselves that we do in North America. Hong Kong, but really China (which has most influenced Hong Kong) has a great amount of history and culture, with many rituals and standards of behaviour that have been passed through the ages. A much more established culture when compared with the North American culture which is basically one of rebellion from such established culture (in the form of the United Kingdom, much more typified in the United States than in Canada, hence the established history of self- indulgence). They look to our culture for images of amusement.

There are exceptions, of course, to this, the Chinese (the term I will use to describe the culture of Hong Kong and China) are developing their own arenas for entertainment, and have always had such, however, to a much lesser extent. Consider the amount of “play” time someone in Hong Kong has with the amount in even Winnipeg. The average work week in Hong Kong is six days and about 50-60 hours, while in Winnipeg a work week can be as little as 37.5 hours, but more typically 40.

The Chinese culture is very “matter of fact” life and death is accepted very openly, at the basic level you see the live tanks of seafood in every restaurant, more extremely, you see the killing of a chicken in a street café, all just part of life. We were talking with Raymond about food last night (which really seems to bridge many of the cultural gaps I experienced - I love the food in Hong Kong), he mentioned that he had eaten cat and dog because “they taste good” (though he did admit that there was far more ginger in the dish than any amount of meat), very simply stated. They do not seem to get caught up so much on “accepted social norms”, basically, whatever goes. Take another example of the widespread proliferation of copied computer software and VCDs in Hong Kong, a market exists for such items so they are made, again, very simple and straight-forward. True, there are rules against such things in North America but that does not concern Hong Kong as they can get away with it and make some money, they have to eat too. A very harsh world but also, in it's own way, a very relaxed world when it comes to social practices.

That being said, there are, of course, various religious and some social standards that must be kept. Take for example, the Tin Hau festival we experienced, essentially a festival born out of worship of a fishing god, however, still celebrated in a village (with great force) which has more to do with container ships than fishing now. There are certain practices we noted while eating which included not having any napkins on the table, you had to take yours in with you.

Lack of cleanliness is certainly something I did have a problem with and there are numerous examples of this, however I still think they can fit within this analysis. Take the apartment, very small (utilitarian – it works and is as big as required, with very little room for entertainment) and clothes are washed in the bathtub and hung up to dry in the kitchen (from the ceiling; again, utilitarian – whatever works, no need for washer and dryer if it can be done this way, besides, on a practical note, there is no room), or outside the apartment window. Despite all of this I still cannot, and pardon me for the bluntness, understand the lack of any cleanliness in all public wash-rooms. It was simply dreadful, most likely due to the number of people and the crowding in most restaurants.

Walking in the streets is an adventure, truly an “anything goes” experience, not many, if any, people wait for the walking signals before crossing, unless at an intersection where nothing else is possible. The streets are often dirty and smell, however, they are not really that full of litter, especially considering the number of people there. Again, from a practical standpoint, even in Winnipeg the streets are only washed once a year (in the spring after the snow melts to get rid of the dirt they use on the streets), otherwise the rain keeps them clean of any dirt. In Hong Kong, rain is very rare, so by comparison it could be suggested that Hong Kong streets are as clean as any Winnipeg street, taking into account the lack of any significant rain.

People in Hong Kong seem to eat out an awful lot in comparison to North America, however, I think this can simply be explained by their lifestyle. Raymond and Ava have only a small kitchen, which I think they only used once (to make us some yellow bean drink which was very good, much like coconut milk in sweetness and texture). I really don't know when they would be able to use a kitchen, expect perhaps weekends (and then, only Sunday). They both leave for work at about 8 am and get home after 8 or 9 pm. It is no wonder that they grab something to eat off of the street.

But who can fault this type of lifestyle? It has simply adapted, in Hong Kong, as a matter for survival. Competition (for both land and jobs) is fierce and so one must work very hard to survive, “anything goes”. Perhaps in North America we can admire the Chinese for their strength and tenacity and courage to live in such a world. We continue to rely on our government to protect ourselves and have shielded us from the real world that exists, despite our ignoring it: Life and death is a natural force in the world, Hong Kong is a vivid expression of this.

What about the reunification of Hong Kong with China? In Hong Kong this is really not an issue, not many residents seem to be scared of this. True, some individuals, strong in the human rights aspect are not entirely happy but it seems that the majority of people are simply willing to continue their life- style under communist rule without complaint. After all, what is different about this than with the current situation? I really do not think that many Hong Kong residents will notice any real changes that effect their daily lives. If they are happy, why worry about it? With the news that the United States was offering aid to some human rights organizations for their activities in Hong Kong, some residents of Hong Kong I talked to were disgusted with the U.S. at meddling in something they really do not under- stand. I tend to agree with them, if the Hong Kong people were really afraid, the would leave, and many have. Those that remain are not even concerned at the handover. I really see the British culture as the one that is not welcome in Hong Kong. True, many of the signs are in English as well as Cantonese, but all but two newspapers are in English and very few people speak any English at all (taxi and bus drivers do not speak any English). It seems as though the British culture is the culture that is not welcome, or wanted, here, it just seems to get in the way.

Living in Hong Kong? This is a difficult question and one that Mike has already indicated “no way”, but for myself, I honestly can not say. Could I survive and cope with that type of lifestyle? Most likely, yes. Would I want to? I don't know. What would be the benefit for me? The experience and challenge of a lifetime. For what purpose? I cannot say.

For now, I continue in my efforts to move to and work in England for half a year, perhaps after that…

Stephen (in Chinese)