Friday, May 11, 2012

A Look Back: What Have I Become?

This is probably going to be my final post on this blog. I may do one more post next Wednesday or Thursday before we leave, but that's highly unlikely as I'll probably be too busy doing last-minute cleaning and packing. I'd make a joke about how our mere presence in this flat makes it cleaner, but I'm too depressed about the state of affairs here to do that at the moment.

Mind you, I'm not full on depressed. In fact, I'm actually in quite a good mood. We have a lot going on for us right now. Carina has fairly stable employment for the next year and is getting along well with her coursework, a  major improvement over last semester. I've made almost all of the arrangements to have my thesis binding and submission taken care of, and this afternoon we're heading out to an end-of-semester barbecue with our friends/colleagues from the department; we're even going out again tomorrow night. The best news, of course, is that we'll be hopping on an airplane come Thursday and heading back to the good old US of A! Now that's worth getting excited over.

Still, I can't ignore the less-than-joyful feelings I have as well. Since being in Hong Kong, I've posted a number of rants about all the problems here and how much I hate it. For two years I've hoped my feelings toward this city would change, that I would find something worthwhile about it that reduced my mountain of loathing. I am sad to say that I have not. My opinion of Hong Kong continues to be that it is an irreparable dump. "Asia's World City" my ass! Go to Seoul; go to Tokyo; go to Bangkok! Just stay out of this wretched hive of scum and villainy!

I look inward and I find myself in conflict: I hate Hong Kong, really hate it, and the part of me that tries to be tolerant and accepting is extremely troubled by this. Yet the trouble stems not from my hatred of Hong Kong alone, but from the fact that I find myself largely complacent with hating it! I grew up being taught not to hate, to respect the differences between people, and to simply be the "bigger man" and walk away from petty squabbles. At home and among cultures relevant to my own I find I am capable of doing this. Despite my lack of sophistication and impoverished-to-non-existent French and Dutch, I was able to get along during my time in Europe, even among the Parisians. Although I sometimes found myself vexed, there was always a way of turning a situation around and walking away feeling none the worse for wear.

It's different here.

In Hong Kong the only overlap in culture is consumerism, and here consumerism is prevalent in peoples' lifestyles to an unprecedented degree. I believe that even Paris Hilton would be hard-pressed to match the superficiality and spoiled-brattery that you encounter among many of Hong Kong's youth. You cannot go two steps without being assaulted by large, gaudy ads for whatever someone is trying to sell, and you could be deaf and still hear that hawkers on the streets trying to sell you their knock-offs. Hong Kong is bilingual all right. The two languages they speak are Cantonese and money.

On top of that, I find that the people here are generally lacking in any sense of empathy or compassion for others outside the circle of their immediate interests inclusive of family and friends. I see people fall to the ground, get bumped, pushed, gouged, kicked, insulted, assaulted, cheated, robbed, spat upon, snotted upon, and otherwise abused while no one so much as lifts a finger. The other day I was hit by a car again (the fifth time here in Hong Kong, more than twice the number of times I've been hit in my entire life in the US!), this time in broad daylight and still without so much as a "sorry" from the driver.

I will grant that I was crossing at an unlabeled and unprotected intersection, but the fact of the matter is that I was crossing behind an elderly man and, seeing cars slowing and stopping for him, I figured I could tuck in behind him. Well, of course that was wishful and foolish thinking on my part. I forgot the cardinal rule in Hong Kong: the only part of their tradition that they maintain is deference to the elderly and very young; the rest of us are human garbage, especially those of us "resembling the spirits of the unquiet dead" (aka foreigners). No sooner had the old man finished crossing than the spoiled, middle-aged piece of human refuse pulling around the corner decided to rev right into me as I was just about at the corner myself. I put my hands up to protect myself and the only real damage that was done was when my sunglasses fell apart after being knocked off my face in the impact.

At first I was calm. I collected myself, found all the pieces of my sunglasses, and reassembled them without moving away from the car. I looked up and saw that he was rolling his window down. Hot-blooded American that I am, I snapped. I couldn't pass up this opportunity to confront my would-be assassin for a change. I marched over to the window and addressed him:

"What?" I demanded.

He refused to look at me, despite having rolled his window down.

"You want to say something to me?" I asked.

He shook his head and started rolling his window up.

"Do you want to say something to me!?" I demanded, clearly articulating each word despite my anger.

He simply sat in his car, ear-buds in (yes, driving with ear-buds in!) and said nothing.

I'm fairly certain I uttered some curse at him after that, but I let him go. I really wanted to tear into his car, but it wasn't worth it. Leaving in a week? Yeah, not jeopardizing that. All of the little HK folk standing on the corner behind me were whispering (or what they call "whispering" around here as you can hear it two blocks away) and pointing behind me. I rolled my eyes. Yes, I'm a "mad gwailo". Yes, I'm a big, scary, clumsy, boisterous beast compared to you folk who are so refined. Yes, I'm the problem with Hong Kong, not you folk who think it's okay to run into someone with your BMW and not even apologize for it.

Events like this, coupled with the gross inefficiency of Hong Kong's bureaucracy (apparently the only form of government this city can handle), have led to me just giving up on the place. Not all of the people are terrible, but most of the ones who aren't are either foreigners (and, yes, I do now count mainland Chinese as foreigners given their extreme difference from their HK counterparts on average) or highly educated and spend most of their time at one of the universities. These subsets, however, are only a small percentage of the population. The rest of the people, and the unearthly degree of pollution that they create, make me utterly sick to my stomach.

Yet as I hear myself think these thoughts over and over again, I have to ask: What have I become? Have I simply become another cog in the massive engine of hate that has driven large-scale human conflict since the dawn of our species? Have I become a bigot, a racist, the very scum that I decry?

I worry about this sometimes, yet it is because I worry that I know I am not completely lost. I never give myself completely over to hate; when I come close I take a step back and repair my ways. Yet I also know now that it is not wrong for me to detest things. To love something is not to hate everything else, yet sometimes one must be averse to that which conflicts with what one loves in order to preserve it. Many are averse to war, to violence, and to the great harms that may be inflicted upon humans; we do our best to stop or minimize these things, and that often means we must confront those who would perpetuate these acts. Does that make us monsters? Perhaps, but I like to think it is not the case. The "crime" committed by one who slays another in self-defense is mitigated because the act was performed to preserve life. We treat this as a kind of balance and, artificial as that balance is, we are the artificers; it is part of our natural world. Mind you, I am not justifying hate or hateful speech here, and I realize that all too often I fly off the handle in my attacks on Hong Kong and many of its people, but I also realize that I am not shedding the part of myself that I strive to preserve and cultivate when I judge some things to be "good" or "bad" and have according feelings of approbation and aversion. This is part of being human, and it is simply another part of being human to be wary of how these judgments and feelings affect us and others.

This having been said, I am averse to Hong Kong. It is polluted, crude, rude, and utterly inhumane here. Perhaps I am misjudging it, but I can only judge based upon what experiences I have had. I would be happy to never set foot here again once I leave on Thursday, and I would even encourage others to either leave Hong Kong or never visit it as well. Until this city starts functioning with respect and compassion, I feel it will always be a dump. I do not like spending time in dumps; they smell and are unhygienic.

This is Colin Lewis wishing you a good night, and good luck.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I'm Bored

I'm bored.

I know, no one wants to come to this blog and hear me whine, especially not after I shirked my duties last week and posted a cute kitty video in place of a regular entry, but I am bored.

I have been bored since Day One, of course, so this is nothing new. The thing is, before now I had something to occupy my time with. I had a thesis to work on, research to do, places to see, people to meet, et cetera, et cetera. If nothing else, I could at least assist someone else with one of their projects. Now, however, it's all just...blah.

The things around here that do require doing are, unfortunately, incredibly dull and tedious. We need to pack. I mean, we really need to pack. When I say "we" I of course mostly mean Carina, but we need to pack. That's simple, doable, and can only be done on a particular timetable. We can't just pack all of our toiletries away now, unfortunately, so we have to wait on those a bit. Also, we still have so much junk lying around the department that needs to be distributed elsewhere that it's not even funny. It's also not particularly interesting, though. I'd have it all taken care of in the space of  a single day if Carina would just let me do it. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening just yet.

We've also been dealing with our bank here, HSBC. I hate banks. You can talk up their virtues all you want, but I still hate them. I don't hate the concept of banks, mind you. I just hate the way in which they tend to be operated (re: inefficiently). After marching all around Central District, we finally managed to take care of most of our e-banking woes (aside from having the ability to transfer funds online, or at least so Carina tells me). It has been extremely frustrating, but it's almost all taken care of now and I'm quite proud of myself for not punching anyone in the face or, for that matter, anywhere else.

I'm also nursing an extremely sore foot, after an obese and completely oblivious old man decided to stomp and then fall on top of it this morning. I cannot wait to be rid of this place and the rabble that populate it. I'll take the crime and violence of my home country. At least we have trees and hospitality.

I guess I also have the story I've been writing for a while now. I feel like it's really going somewhere, but I'm not always motivated to write, just like with this blog post. Yep, motivation is totally gone now. Maybe I'll feel better next week when I'm seven days closer to getting out of this dump.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

In Place of Usual Post

Due to my time being consumed by some bettas that were sent to us by a marine management organization, we will be unable to provide a full post this weekend. To summarize the most important point of the past week: I passed my master's defense.

Now, so you don't go away empty-handed, here's an adorable cat video:

Fare thee well,


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Brace Yourselves...

My thesis defense date has been set for the 26th of April, and I couldn't be happier to finally be at the endgame. Well, I suppose I could be happier, but I'm happy enough. Extreme emotions can only be sustained for short periods of time, else one develops an electro-chemical imbalance that can lead to severe complications. So, yeah, I'm content.

I don't really have much to add right now, mostly because I just don't feel like writing about anything else. We've been here for so long and we've missed out on so much at home, but it's finally about to pay off big time. Once I have my master's degree and my thesis finalized, I can finally stake some more permanent claim in my field; I'll have an artifact. That artifact tells a story, an important story for me now and, just maybe, an important story for others some day in the future. It also gives me a resource from which to pull when I do further work, possibly even article and book publications, but most importantly it's a token, a trinket I leave behind.

Now, I don't know what story is going to be told, or if anyone is even going to pick it up. Truth be told, if my work is remembered at all, I'll probably be written-off as a mere dissenter who contributed little of substance to his area, let alone the field or world at large. That's okay. What's important is that I know it's out there and that it's out there at all. As much as I seek an audience with other minds for the sake of debate and collaboration, at the end of the day I really have to fall back on my own sense of judgement and self-satisfaction. I have to examine whether I lived up to my own standards and, if I did, then I need to be content with that. After all, you can't please everybody, and you'll likely never please those with whom you disagree.

That all being said, I'm going to wrap this up now. I was up late last night helping a friend with an important project. Yeah, being close to completion means I have time to do that now, and I like to help people. That's why I got into this lifestyle to begin with, and it's important to think about that every so often. That's my challenge for all of my readers today: Think about why you do what you do, what your reasons for going into your profession were and what they are now. Just have a nice long think and see where it takes you.

Me? I'm gonna' catch some elusive Z's.

Passing out now,


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Winding Down

We have thirty-three days left before we leave. Thirty. Three. Days.  That still feels like a lot but, heck, it's a lot less than what we were looking at when we left back in January. I have to say I'm really happy to see that number and to think that we're only about a month away from coming home. Although not everything about Hong Kong is horrible, the homeland is infinitely preferable, and I can't wait to be back at the table and drinking wine and eating food with our friends and family.

Of course, that'll only last about three months, after which time we'll be packing up and leaving again, this time for Utah. For those of you living in a cave or who just have no other way of following us, I accepted Utah's offer the other day and I'll start working toward my PhD there Fall 2012 (that means the first of September which, frankly, isn't really in the fall but, hey, that's what they call it). I'm looking forward to being back in a US program, although I can only hope that the level of rigor and depth of discussion is what I remember it to be. So far I've only done work at Duke and UNC prior to my stint in Hong Kong and, let's be honest, those are two of the best universities in the nation for the work I do. That sets the bar pretty high, but I'll remain hopeful.

I'm also hopeful that we can figure out something for Carina to do.Utah's department of education looks, to be honest, kinda' like crap on a cracker. I'm tempted to beg her to stay in Durham and finish her MAT, but I know she won't have any of that. I also know that she'll probably end up working remotely for her boss here in Hong  Kong, but that shouldn't stop her from finishing that degree. I really think she could fulfill her dream of opening that school and revamping our crap education system if she'd just let herself. I'll keep encouraging her.

What else is there to talk about? Well, apparently HKU is finally starting to move on my thesis defense, having dragged their feet through the mud for as long as possible. Chris was nice enough to light a fire under someone's ass and explain that the candidate will be leaving mid-May! Apparently they had the examiners' reports when he asked (heaven knows for how long they'd had them), and the committee is going to try to squeeze in my defense ASAP. I'm not sure what that's going to entail in my case. Most students are done in around forty-five minutes tops, but I get the feeling it's not going to be so brief for me, not if some of the powers that be have anything to say about it. Then again, maybe it will go perfectly smoothly and quickly, in which case that would be awesome. I just want to finish my work here and then move on to my next projects which, frankly, are a lot cooler.

Other than that, I can't think of much else to say. Good on Florida for finally charging Zimmerman? I figured I should follow up my last post, at least.

Night-y night,


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Felices Pascuas

Yeah, happy Easter. Go eat a chocolate rabbit, I hear the ears and tails are the best parts.

There's been a lot of big stuff in the news recently: North Korea is about to launch a rocket, the Syrian peace deal is falling apart, utter madness in the Philippines as a girl tried to surf on a whale shark. Yeah, this is weird, wild stuff.

If you're in the US, as most of our readers are, then the story you've probably heard the most about is the tragic tale of Trayvon Martin. Why is it a tragedy? Well, first of all, the kid's dead, that's pretty tragic. What's really upsetting for most people, though, is the fact that the justice system seems to be dragging its feet on bringing the case to any real conclusion.

As it currently stands, George Zimmerman of Sanford, Florida , the man who has admitted to shooting and killing Trayvon Martin (17; also of Sanford, Florida), has yet to be charged for his actions. The public outcry is palpable and Zimmerman is already building a defense, claiming that he discharged his concealed firearm in a residential area in self-defense, a claim that homicide investigators on the scene were "unconvinced" about. Nevertheless, the State Attorney almost immediately claimed that there was insufficient evidence to formally arrest and charge Zimmerman. It has been pandemonium ever since.

Now, here's the real tragedy over this event: there are a lot, a lot of people out there who want to talk about the possibility that the shooting was motivated by racial profiling, that the killing occurred as a product of inherent prejudice. It gets better: the majority of the people who seem to be bringing up race are the ones who are telling everyone else to shut up about it, and it's distracting from the fact that a young man was shot to death by a man acting as a vigilante who was also potentially endangering others.

What's that? You mean the "Got durn pot-bangin' m'norities" aren't the ones hogging the bullhorn on this one? Sorry, Boss Hogg, but if you'll take a look at your hand, yeah, right there, you'll see that the megaphone is firmly in your grasp this time. Please hush for a second so I can point out a few things.

The big issue here isn't whether Zimmerman shot Martin because he was black. The big issue is that the state of Florida is dragging its knuckles on bringing closure to this horrible event that occurred two months ago. Seriously, two months and you can't even bring the charge? Of course, that comes as no surprise to those who remember the presidential election of 2000 (really, you can't count?), but we should be serious here, because this is a grave issue. We need to ask: Florida, what the Hell? The fact of the matter is that regardless of whether Zimmerman's self-defense claim is true, a claim that should be decided in a court of law after critical consideration of the evidence and the principle of excessive force, he shot and killed someone. You don't just get away with that!

Could there be undertones of racism involved? Sure, along with class-ism for that matter. I believe Zimmerman has gone on record to state that he was following Martin because he "looked suspicious", and according to statements from witnesses Zimmerman accosted Martin and demanded to know what he was doing in that neighborhood (apparently visiting the home of his father's fiancee, not that Zimmerman bought that story). Looking suspicious doesn't necessarily entail racism, but it does entail a prejudical assumption that one of these things is not like the other. Trayvon Martin was an unfamiliar entity to George Zimmerman, and one that did not fit with his expectations of who was (or perhaps should be) in that neighborhood. So, yeah, there's obviously a bit of xenophobic paranoia going on here, but it's not necessarily racially motivated.

The problem is that we are dealing with a locale that does have a history of racist tensions. Even if Zimmerman didn't personally inherit those tensions, other people that make up the community have; the historicity cannot be ignored. A little suspicion is warranted, but we should always be cautious before we fly off the handle and start making wild accusations. It goes both ways, though: people who are jumping to Zimmerman's defense have tried to build him up as an upright citizen and immediately taken pot-shots at Trayvon Martin, noting some of his past misdemeanors and current affairs. They try to vilify him, dehumanize him, rather than acknowledge that he was a human being who has died by violence against his person. Not his race. Not his class. His person. Trayvon Martin is (or was, depending on your point of view) a person, and he deserves to be remembered for who rather than what he was.

It's easy for us to forget in the bustle of our daily lives that every jerk, moron, dimwit, and rube that we bump into is still human and not an inanimate, non-sentient piece of sidewalk decor. Sure, we can't think about everyone in the world all the time, but every so often something happens and we get a chance to remember how many of us there are, and what it means to be human and be someone. What transpired that night that led to Martin's being shot is immaterial to the fact that his unfortunate demise can serve as that kind of reminder. I, for one, think we should at least give this case that level of respect.

Sorry, I know it was just Easter and everyone is feeling festive, but this has weighed heavily on my mind as of late. I'm sure I'm just young and naive, and I'm probably missing out on some serious legal facts that would explain to any idiot what's going on here, but I find this upsetting. Blame Facebook and the media. I really do hope you all have a good holiday and a wonderful week, though.

Happy Easter,


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nothing to Report

Seriously, there's nothing to report. We really have no updates for this week. Were you expecting something more? Do you get your kicks from our blog? Can you just not start your week without reading one of my caustic rants? Is your life just falling apart without news from Hong Kong?

Well, tough.