Monday, April 26, 2010

Of Line 10 and the Fragrant Harbour

I was going to put off a Hong Kong post for a few days, but then realized that I did stuff in Shanghai that was exciting pre HK, and I'm leaving for Xiamen on Thursday(!) and not next week, because apparently I don't know how to read a calendar. (Shenanigans ensued when attempting to purchase train tickets so close to a holiday weekend deadline).

Before I left for Hong Kong, several things happened in Shanghai.

First, and foremost, the end of March was an exciting one for those (like me) who live in the far off reaches of Yangpu. Line 10 opened! This miraculous, lavender colored bit of amazingness connects my neighborhood directly with downtown Shanghai. Previously I would have to walk 20 minutes (or bus 10) to Line 3, which inconveniently wound me around to some other lines that I could connect to which would in turn bring me interesting places. Now I can walk 15 minutes (or bus 5) to the lavender glory of line 10 that brings me to Nanjing East, Yuyuan, Xitiandi, South Shanxi, and even Hongqiao if I'm feeling adventurous! It's truly changed my life and the first ride I took was nothing short of spectacular.

With my internship, I'm supposed to be researching Chinese attitudes towards various religions in light of the Expo. So, I got to go on a field trip to the Ohel Moshe Synagogue which now hosts the Jewish Refugees Museum. During World War II, Shanghai was one of the few places to accept non-documented refugees (many of the Jews fleeing persecution had had their documents confiscated, and had trouble finding places to go). About 18,000 of them came to Shanghai, most settling in the Hongkou (then known as Hongkew) district - just down the street from where I live now. The museum that documents this era in Shanghai history is housed in the temple and community center of Hongkew. It's an amazing museum and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who is visiting. I found it an incredibly touching and humbling experience, as well as informative. It really is underrated (you probably won't find it in any of your guidebooks, and it is small), but totally worth it. Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap (a blog you should look into if you're into Shanghai) wrote a really great article that tells the story better than I can. Read it here:

And in final pre-HK Shanghai news, my new residence permit is valid and in my passport, and this mysterious vending machine appeared in my building. It's still empty, but I can almost guarantee it wont provide the "HEALTHY BREAKFAST" delicious-looking cinnamon buns depicted on the sides.

This past weekend I got back from chaperoning a trip to Hong Kong. The trip was exhausting, but informative. I'm glad I saw all the major tourist sites last time I was in the city, because my schedule was certainly full this time around.

Our flight down was uneventful, minus the two hour delay on the tarmac. Always a bad sign when they serve the in-flight meal before takeoff. We stayed at Hong Kong University in the Robert Black College. As far as I can tell, RBC is more of the HKU hotel than any sort of academic building, no matter what the name implies. The accommodations were quite nice, the building was beautiful, and there was western breakfast with views of Victoria Harbour!

The HKU campus is amazing! I absolutely love it. It's beautiful itself, and surrounded by amazing views (both naturally and architecturally). There are a lot of stairs, though. The school is built into a really steep hill, and it can feel like there are more stairs than anything else. From where the minibus stop is to my room, I counted 507 steps and one elevator ride. Hot asses aside, the facilities are wonderful as well, and it all feels much more western than Fudan (or other mainland universities I've visited). Associating with students is easier too. Its the same social feeling I tried to describe with my Taiwan trip earlier this year.

View from the quad:

Main academic building:

You wont see this in Fudan/Try and censor me now, Zhongguo!

On Saturday morning we met with our super nice HKU hosts and went to visit the Behavioral Science Centre, where we learned about social entrepreneurship and social work in Hong Kong. Then, since we were nearby, Aberdeen for lunch. Everyone went out for the local specialty of fish balls. Since that clearly was not my cup of tea, I headed for some random restaurant down the street. My waitress turned out to be a Shanghai transplant, so we had a nice chat. She grew up around Xintiandi before it became Xintiandi. Also, once she realized I was a vegetarian, but a Catholic and not a Buddhist, she came out with this gem: "Oh! Jesus likes the vegetarians, too!"

Saturday evening I met up with Sean and Andrew and some of their friends. It was nice to meet people outside of my Tonghe/Fudan bubble, and of course nice to see Sean and Andrew. Thank you, guys, for still being my friend.

Sunday I met up with Andrew and Sean again at the Happy Valley racecourse. I saw one race, didn't bet, but it was thrilling nonetheless. There can't be that many places in the world where you can watch the races with high rises in the background. For dinner we had Mexican, and I couldn't have been more excited! Also, in line with my when-in-Hong-Kong-eat-as-much-western-food-possible philosophy, we went to a foreign goods grocery so Andrew could stock up before returning to the mainland. Omigoodness this grocery store! It was like shopping in America! I can't believe how patriotic I can get over pretzels and hummus. After a full day of recycling my plastic(!), seeing trees(!) and birds(!), and warm weather(!) I got back to my hotel and watched the travel channel (satellite tv!!) and ate tostitos in bed and almost imagined I was somewhere civilized.

Monday we had the first of several lectures set up through the exchange program with HKU. Professor Liu gave a talk on the basics of HK from British occupation on. I wont bore you with details, since probably the 3 people who read this blog are also interested in China and likely know the story, but some highlights:
-HK colonialism was generally well accepted, but it was also one of the only British colonies that was not resource-exploitative (and thus did not rely on local hard labour etc). Plus, HK's perpetually surplus budget allowed reforms (as long as London didn't have to pay).
-Coolie trade as human trafficking, and 金山庄, 南洋庄)
-Turmoil in the mainland = prosperity in HK (Taiping, 1911, 1949, etc) ~ British colony appears more stable, business and rich people relocate. (Plus, capitalist outlet during communist lockdown).
-Figuring out how to go from Nation to being a part of a nation.
-Hamashita's theory of HK prominence based on Chinese tributary system and overseas Chinese connections thesis

In the afternoon we visited the HK Planning and Infrastructure museum and the HK Museum of History. For a geography nerd like me, the HK Planning and Infrastructure was just as exciting as the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum. I picked up a delightful packet called Hong Kong in Figures and would have spent so much longer in there, but on to the history museum we went. Oh well. After museuming a few of us went to the night market in Jordan (every time I say that I sing the Free Willy song just a little bit), and felt sad that we could no longer get the Chinese price. Cantonese! If only I could bargain through written notes.

Tuesday we had a lecture on the Hong Kong education system followed by a field trip to a school in the New Territories. The Hong Kong government is incredibly supportive of education. University students are heavily subsidized - if they attend an "in-state" school, the government pays 240,000HKD/student, and the student shoulders the remaining cost of around 80,000HKD. Higher ed makes up about 2% of GDP. With lower (that doesn't sound right) education, there is a direct-subsidy scheme (DSS), which I find pretty ingenious of the government. Most schools are private and are often run by religious organizations, NGOs or business orgs (like the chamber of commerce), but they still receive public funding. This way, the government can't be held accountable for poor management, nor can anyone say they don't put enough money towards education. Final note: HK spends a greater percentage of GPD on education than on R&D. The mainland is the opposite.

After the lecture, we saw what we learned in action. Particularly for me, that meant sitting in on a 1st grade math class and learning how to read a compass. The interactive activity was exciting, but there are only so many times I can discover that Jonathan is sitting to the west, and Brian to the North of my desk. Also, Brian was a total know it all. The main difference from the mainland clearly being that all of these children had legitimate English names.

Tuesday evening I went to Shenzhen to see Andrew's neighborhood. After some border crossing shenanigans (the guard photocopied the wrong visa page, and actually asked if the photo depicted me or someone else) it was immediately apparent I was in China and no longer HK. The toilets became squatters, the roads became wide, and people wouldn't let me off the subway. I love queueing. Andrew was a wonderful host (and except for that suspect and judged guestbed, Andrew, your place is really quite nice) and we had Xinjiang food. I also got my hair washed, something I haven't even thought of doing since the days I lived with Candy.

Wednesday we had an uneventful morning lecture on business in China (which was really more of a case study) and a visit to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The HKMA is located in the tallest building in HK, so the view was awesome. I also now know a completely unnecessary amount about HK currency. (Can you guess why they made the 5HKD coin round instead of hexagonal a few years back? Hint, it's not because it's cheaper to produce).

Back to campus for a weird lecture on Religion in HK. I was excited for this lecture, but then I didn't learn much. And it took me a while to realize why I couldn't stand the way the professor was talking when I finally figured out that he was talking to us the way I find myself talking to Chinese people with really poor English. We did get to watch videos of people climbing the bun tower for the Bun Festival though, always an entertainment.
Tower of Buns:

Wednesday night I went to Macao and watched my friends gamble and cavorted around gambling dens of sin and sort of learned how to play craps. I'm quite sure all the exotic dancers were actually men. And I lost Jae who was not recovered for almost 48 hours.

Friday morning we had a lecture on the geography and environment of Hong Kong. I didn't realize until this lecture (but now it just seems silly not to have realized it) that HK has so much greenery and wonderfulness because of a need for reservoir catchement. Apparently when the Brits arrived it was a blighted pile of dirt with minimal fresh water sources (97% of the habitat had been destroyed). Some more exciting geography tidbits:
-HK straddles three zoographical regions: Palaeoarctic, Ethiopian and Oriental.
-Central Park is 300 hectares, and Kowloon park is only a few, but they have the same number of bird species
-Only 20% of HK is urbanized, and that number probably wont ever rise above 22%. (Although if you think about it 10% is pretty huge. Also, I doubt developers would be on board with too big an expansion since the land price would drop too far).
-I can attest that the Shenzhen/HK border is probably one of the most starkly contrasting borders ever, but I didn't realize it was literally on the line of a catchement zone, which scares me a little.
-Rapid development is what keeps HK taxes so low since the majority of government money comes from land premiums on redeveloped land.

Friday morning there was a fake massive thunderstorm, so we weren't allowed to go hiking on Lamma Island. HKU took us to Stanley instead. A beautiful town, and actually quite homey as it reminded me a bit of the Cape, but not so much to do aside from shop and drink. I did check out several of the Tin Hau temples (of which there are so many all over HK). Tin Hau is the sea goddess worshiped by a good deal of local SE Asian religions. Stanley is also now home to some beautiful buildings, including Murray House and the pier, that were moved from Central after development there got too crazy.

For dinner they drove us all the way back to the New Territories, which struck me as completely illogical, but maybe if I ate seafood I would have appreciated it. The outside of the restaurant was certainly exciting in a grotesque sort of way. And the view was amazing.

View from Dinner:

After dinner I bid Sean adieu, and went out with some people for Natalia's birthday. Then I had the joy of retiring to the hotel to call border control and the Macao police department until 5:30 in the morning when Jae was recovered. Delight.
3 countries-ish in 7 days and only one student lost to a den of vice. Success.

In conclusion, proof of Hong Kong's civility:

The Mainland really needs this one:

Thursday I'm leaving to go couchsurfing through Fujian province. Mainly I'll be going to Xiamen, but I'll also have a random 16 hour stop in Wuhan (which makes so much sense, Qunar!) and a dayish in Wuyishan/Shangrao (Shangrao?! What the what?!). As always seems to happen to me on these last-minute holiday weekends, I'll be traveling via plane, bus, train (hard seat joys), possible hitch hike, and sleeping on someone's couch, in a tent, and god knows where else. Details to follow!


P.S. I finally successfully joined a soccer team. Thus far we are undefeated.

P.P.S. I forgot to share this glorious notice that was in my elevator lobby earlier this month:

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