Trip to Hong Kong


80,000!!!!!!!!!

80,000 is the estimated number of the protesters at one point, this week in Hong Kong, demanding political reform.wpid-20140903_090631.jpgwpid-20140902_213725-1.jpg

wpid-20140901_182248.jpgHere are a few more numbers & some disparate facts, before I share about my recent visit to Hong Kong.

  • Hong Kong has the world’s 6th highest GDP (PPP) per capita.
  • Hong Kong has been ranked first in terms of economic freedom for 20 years (1995-2014) according to the Heritage Foundation.
  • According to one 2013 survey, Hong Kong was the world’s fifth largest foreign exchange market, in terms of turnover.
  • Daily turnover in Hong Kong interbank market averaged Hong Kong $200.9B in April, 2014
  • Hong Kong was one of the most active markets for raising Initial Public Offerings or IPOs.
  • Mainlanders pour in Hong Kong bringing with them money and culture clashes. In 2010, 20M mainlanders visited Hong Kong, last year, 41M, and the number is projected to be 100M annually, by 2020.
  • While Hong Kong GDP has risen by 50% in the last decade, the median household incomes have risen by only about 10%, causing wide income disparities.
  • Average income of people younger than 40 dropped by more than 11% between 2000 and 2010.
  • Number of elders age 65+ is expected to go up from the current 1.0M to 2.6M in 204, while there are likely to be fewer working age people to support the elders.
  • According to a recent survey in Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1 in 5 people said they would consider leaving the territory for a life overseas.

I did not enjoying my visit to Hong Kong very much, especially right after touring Japan, Hong Kong felt like a city without a soul.  When you consider the statistics above, it is not hard to imagine why.  Hong Kong is primarily a commercial center.  Culturally, there is a huge diversity but there is hardly much inclusiveness.  Populations seem to be segregated by class divisions, along ethnic, racial and cultural lines.  Consider for instance, this statistic.  There are an estimated 200,000 female domestic workers from other countries, living in Hong Kong.  They mostly work as maids for the city’s wealthy families.  I happened to be in Hong Kong’s Statue Square, on their day off.  They all gather on Sundays and visit with each other, play cards, eat, sleep, style each other’s hair and trade romance books.  Apparently, these “helpers” often work twenty four hours a day, six days a week.  Very likely, they don’t get paid enough to go eat out or enjoy movies on their one day off, and they simply gather in Hong Kong’s stations, parks, or outside public buildings.  I learned, that these maids are often yearning to go home, frequently go to bed hungry, are often sexually harassed, although there are some who are very happy with their employers.

Similarly, stereotypes about young and old, about classes, and different ethnic groups abound.  I heard many stereotypes.  One of the newest cultural divides has occurred between Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese.  On one hand, the mainlanders are bringing with them money and are creating business opportunities, and giving Hong Kong economy a boost.  On the other hand, they annoy Hong Kongers, who see the mainlanders as uncouth, uncultured, and ready to get their kids to pee over a trash can. 

wpid-20140901_161632-1.jpgAnyway, one of the highlights of the trip was a visit to The Peak, the highest point in Hong Kong, in an exclusive, classy neighborhood.  We enjoyed absolutely incredible, breathtaking vistas of one of the most spactacular cityscapes, in the world.  What we see is an architectural evidence of the economic boom that hit the city, after the colonial power handed the former colony back to China, in 1997.  From here, you can feel the incredible commercial city humming below this amazing vantage point.  I could have stayed there all evening, but the heat was a little much for my travel companions.  we strolled over to a little cafe and enjoyed our cool lemonade, in the shade.

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wpid-20140902_111631.jpgThe Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, located in Sha Tin, in the New Territories, occupies an area of over eight hectares.  My travel companions were not interested in hiking up the steep hill, in order to reach the monastery.  So I went alone, while they enjoyed a cool drink and waited for me at a cafe below.  I climbed up the steep concrete path comprising of 431 steps, lined on either side with 500 life-sized gilded Arhan Statues.  At the top, there are five temples, four pavilions, one verandah and a pagoda. The monastery was constructed between 1949 and 1957 but then it took ten more years to complete the miniature Buddha statues, displayed around the walls of the main temple (apparently there are about 13,000 but in Cantonese tradition “ten thousand” represents a figurative term for an extremely large number.
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wpid-20140903_172208.jpgI also greatly enjoyed the visit to the Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon, famous for having the prayers answered via “what you request is what you get” deal🙂.  I prayed deeply and then got my fortune read.  The fortune teller can only answer one question and it did not turn out as I had hoped.  I was wondering who would win in this conflict — would I get my money’s worth and would the fortune teller turn out to be correct OR would  my prayers be answered.  hummmmm……
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wpid-20140903_090631.jpgOur visit to the island of Macau was interesting.  Macau is one of the world’s richest cities, with the highest GDP per capita, by purchasing power parity, as of 2013, according to the World Bank.  Of course the reason I wanted to go there was to try my luck at the casinos in Macau.  Macau became the world’s largest gambling center in 2006.  In a mixed blessing, I won a large amount of money and then either I dropped my large bill or it was stolen somehow.  Easy come, easy go.  My travel companion was not interested in gambling and that halted further attempts on my part to try my luck.  We walked over to the historic Portuguese center of Macau (Macau is a former Portuguese colony) and enjoyed some Portuguese cuisine.

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wpid-20140831_184945-1.jpgGoing shopping is and always has been one of my least favorite activity and did not greatly enjoy it.  But massive and glistening luxury shops and huge bank buildings and other skyscrapers give an idea of the trade that is flowing through Hong Kong.

The protesters in Hong Kong are demanding real political reform.  While Beijing is willing to hold elections, it has announced that all candidates have to be approved by a screening committee, clearly in violation of China’s 1997 promise to allow free elections in 2017, according to the protesters.  Hopefully, the clamor for democracy will also spark opportunities for real dialog and change around broader issues of human rights like income disparities and ethnic tensions.

wpid-20140901_182335.jpgHere is a link to my review of the book “The Piano Teacher” by Janice Lee set during the brutal 3 years and 8 months of Japanese occupation of Hong Kong that started in December, 1941.  http://bit.ly/1j3GSYC

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