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.

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