Arriving in Hong Kong, I didn’t know what to expect – would it be more Chinese or more British? My gut told me it would be more British, but that was incredibly naïve of me. It turns out it’s neither… or rather, it’s both with a few more cultures thrown in as well. First and foremost, I noticed the Japanese culture (well, I would, wouldn’t I?) but it wasn’t until later that I realised this was due to occupation during the second world war. Although some of the influence is a direct result of this, the homeliness that comes from upward mobility may be a result of similar urban planning rather than culture. In Hong Kong you have to look up or you’ll miss out. Buildings often have shops up to the 5th floor or higher, and these shops will advertise on their windows. Alongside this were many Taiwanese and Korean products and stores, especially within the beauty shops.
Hong Kong is a shopping haven for many and it’s no surprise. The range of products available makes it ideal for people from throughout Asia to get the best products at reasonable prices and as a trade centre it also has a lot of Western imports too. I was staying on the Fashion Walk, surrounded by high-end designer stores, but the whole of Causeway Bay seems to be mercantile. It was amusing to take a walk around the neighbourhood because they really do have everything, sectioned off into little areas so that there is a whole street selling toilets. Another street selling electronics. Another selling socks and slippers. I suppose it encourages competition to remain friendly and makes browsing a lot easier.
In many ways, I was impressed with Hong Kong, particularly with the civic mindedness evident throughout the city. There is signage for practically everything, reminding you to be clean and polite. There are a lot of messages for public health, including notices reminding you that elevator buttons are disinfected every hour, smoking indoors (or certain public areas) incurs a $5000 (£500) fine, eating on public transport incurs a similar charge, and there is hand sanitiser dotted about different parts of the city. This public concern for health could have come from anywhere, but Hong Kong’s history is spotted with epidemics such as plague, SARS and avian flu. Educating the public about sanitation has been a government objective since the second world war, but received a big push in the 1970s when the governor Murray MacLehose introduced reforms to improve public services, the environment, housing, welfare, education and infrastructure.
This mindfulness continued in the museums. The Hong Kong Science Museum had really well-designed exhibits that are informative for the young and old alike. Hong Kong celebrates its biodiversity and included exhibits about managing urban development so as to best sustain the environment. There was a self-health check that covered hand-eye co-ordination, balance, response, stability and balance, which encouraged development of self; a commissioned exhibit about occupational hazards and workplace safety; an entire floor dedicated to leaving a smaller carbon footprint, renewable energies and global warming; even an exhibit on food that discussed wastage, balanced diets, and ethical animal rearing.
Throughout my stay I found more and more things to praise about Hong Kong but found myself attributing it to how multicultural it is. I had to stop and think, as my idea of multiculturalism as a desirable community has, until now, ignored the chequered pasts that lead to blending of cultures. What has led me to do so? It is, of course, ignorance on my part but whether that is down to a lack of education, a generational distancing or the privilege I’m given from my country’s colonial past is still unclear to me. Does it matter? I think it would be a great disservice to ignore how multiculturalism becomes the norm, but somehow I still find myself thinking ‘at least good has come from it’. In different situations, this kind of thinking makes me the bad guy. I’m not forcing my culture on anyone (or at least I hope I’m not), but at what point does my behaviour deviate from pro-multiculturalism to plain old appropriation?
Appropriation is a tale as old as time, and often comes following an invasion, but over time we accept the multiple pasts as part of who we are. English people still take pride in the influence of the Romans, the Celts, the Vikings… but they were all invading forces. They changed our country to such an extent that it is hard to imagine how our country would have been had they not landed on our shores. They made our country better, but that’s easy to say from 2000 years into the future. When it’s happening in real time, it doesn’t really matter whether an invader thinks they know how to do things better, they have no right to force it on people. I’d be interested to hear what you all think about this, or even to know whether you’ve thought about it at all. I’m still developing my opinion, so outside influence would be appreciated at this point.