Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Freedom Is Not Free

Hong Kong is part of mainland China, but not really. Hong Kong is like mainland China, but not really. Hong Kong is more "free" than mainland China, but not really.

While these statements sound confusing, when you're on the ground level in Hong Kong, you realize that the place itself actually is quite confusing.

Take the government of Hong Kong, for example. In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to mainland China by Great Britain. In fact, you can visit the Reunification Monument near the convention center on Hong Kong Island. While it is technically governed by China, Hong Kong is actually a "Special Administrative Region." In other words, "One Country, Two Systems." As a result, Hong Kong has different economic policies as well as a different rule of law.

Second, Hong Kong is what I'd call "China-lite." It's a great place to transition to Chinese living because there are many aspects of Western culture present amidst the "sea of black heads." In fact, we noticed more waiguoren in Hong Kong than in any place we've been in the last six months. Along with the foreigners (both residents and visitors) comes the familiarity of Western product. Convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Circle K, and the "Park And Shop" carry cheese (a tough find in Beijing), Doritos, and even Miracle Whip. In all, Hong Kong is a Chinese city with Western characteristics.

Finally, while Hong Kong slants democratic (an adjective that implies "free"), there are more rules, regulations, and fines publicly displayed, and obviously enforced, given the absence of spit, litter, and dog waste visible on the streets. In contrast with the chaos and seeming lack of rules on the mainland, I felt a lot more aware of my actions in Hong Kong, despite the fact that I never spit, litter, or leave my dog's waste for others to clean.

While the flags of China and Hong Kong are raised together every day, the societal differences are ever apparent.



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