I don’t get Hong Kong. I like Hong Kong, I certainly am enjoying Hong Kong, but I don’t get it. It’s sleek, modern, and, previously unbeknownst to me, full of trees and great for hiking. On a purely physical level, it’s such a contrast to the China we saw on our bus ride here. The trip is only a few hours, but it passes through several worlds, from the giant city of Guangzhou to the suburbs, to the urban/rural hybrid that dominated most of the trip. From my window on the bus, I could see tiny farms with ancient brick houses, flanked on one side by the six-lane highway and on all others by rising concrete apartment complexes. I can only imagine what this all looked like ten, twenty years ago or what it will be in the future. From the comfort of my bus, it’s easy to romanticize the back-breaking life of a peasant, but it’s hard to be happy about the omnipresent smog or the clumps of white tile buildings with reddish brown streaks under every air-conditioning unit. It looks like the buildings are sweating rust, I think. Then, I think, don’t begrudge them their AC.
Hong Kong has so many things the rest of China seems to lack: beautiful buildings, large parks, Western-style entertainment (at Western-style prices), and enough freedom of the press for the local newspaper to cover protests over illegal conditions in a plastic-toy factory on the mainland. Interestingly, it also seems to lack some things Beijing has like an interesting contemporary art and rock music scene. But, despite their differences, Hong Kong is still a part of China. Sort of. With separate currency and a trip through immigration. I start wondering if China needs Hong Kong like a dry country needs its county-line liquor store: control can be maintained precisely because there’s an outlet. But mostly I don’t get it. As far as my passport’s concerned, I am no longer in China. I don’t know if China would agree.