It began with the beginning. After getting off our flight (which was with a Hong Kong airline called Cathay Dragon who were great by the way) we bought our essential Octopus cards and headed to the bus terminal.
And what did we see? Double decker buses! It was just like getting the bus into town anywhere in the UK. For us, so used to catching the two yuan buses of Chongqing, where you are more likely to be standing then get a seat, and the fellow passengers have a tendency to spit on the floor (I even saw a child pee on the bus floor before), these double decker buses showed us something we came to feel strongly by the end of our trip: Hong Kong feels quite “British”.
Am I even allowed to say that, to reference the colonial past? Hong Kong certainly isn’t the same as mainland China, and I can see why this city has become a tourist destination for many. The city is beautiful and the mixture of Chinese and Western customs allows visitors to get a taste of China whilst still being able to get by speaking English and having access to many Western shops and food.
Being there made us realise the extent to which we have “assimilated” in China, which was eye-opening as we hadn’t really thought we had. We had to remember to mind our manners in Hong Kong. Queuing is optional at best in Chongqing, and queue-jumping is common. But in Hong Kong, queuing was compulsory again, and there were a fair few times, particularly on the MTR, where Jonny or myself had to stop the other one from striding past the queue of people to the front.
Similarly, we found that we’d stopped thanking shop assistants or saying please when asking for things. Even trying to get our tongues to say “thank you” after we were served felt odd, and we uttered “xie xie” on a number of occasions by accident. In some ways this was a reminder of the pleasure of China’s more relaxed, individualistic ideals especially as we come from a country where these kind of social pleasantries are taken so very seriously.
These pleasantries were lovely though as well. After visiting a bank to change some notes, the clerk wished us a good day, which was just really nice and doesn’t happen in China (in English or Mandarin). This led us to ponder the pros and cons of being in a place where we could understand people again. The amount of expats and tourists in Hong Kong meant that we were able to understand many of the conversations around us again. As extremely cynical people, there’s something nice about being able to walk around Chongqing, not understanding what anyone is saying – and equally have them not understand us. Hearing other’s conversations once again was mostly not particularly fun, not least because Hong Kong seems to be full of business people talking about the “team” and “solutions”. But also, is it just me, or do those who veer towards the idiotic and the ignorant always seem to have the loudest conversations?
In its dynamic way Hong Kong kept on wavering between Western and Chinese. It was a fascinating city and for some it might be a taste of the “orient”. Food is always a good example – shops stock strange things and I never knew how many different types of intestines you could have on your rice porridge. But at the same time you still get buttered toast and a cup of milk tea.
While we realised others saw Hong Kong as different to the West we kept seeing it as different to China. For instance, in the history museum we overheard a woman (in the Opium Wars section) saying that it was interesting to see history from the “other” point of view. Our reaction to this was what “other” point of view? It was different from a western museum in that it was principally about Hong Kong and portrayed the enforced drug trade of Britain as basically a negative thing (shock). However, it was much more similar to a western museum than those in China in that it managed to avoid droning on vaguely about “unique cultural heritage” without explaining in what way, or about the minor communist party functionaries who did something to do with the museum. It also managed to point out some small negative things rather than the typical Chinese approach of… *tumbleweed blows by*.
Hong Kong was a rich and fascinating city that we barely scratched the surface of. We were approaching it from an interesting perspective of belonging to a nationality which was also the former colonial power, and currently living in the culture and country to which Hong Kong belongs. For us this has actually helped us come to a better understanding and appreciation with China. This last semester has actually been a bit stressful for us. We haven’t felt as happy in our new job and miss the friends we made last year and it’s rather thrown off our feelings about everything else. However, after Hong Kong we have felt much more open and curious again.
Why? Because Hong Kong had us reeling and thinking and analysing from the moment we landed. And then it got us thinking about Chongqing. This seems to be the key to remaining happy and interested in life. Never stop questioning, never stop trying to understand and comprehend. Because when you stop, life becomes boring, and you stop learning.
-Fi and Jonny