Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hong Kong vs. Bangladesh

After that hectic finish I was whisked away to Hong Kong with little time to spare. A heated internal debate ended with a China Eastern ticket in my hand and thoughts of India that would have to be put off until after Zhongguo. Over the next month and half I am interning with Ventures in Development (ViD) to help pump up the sales volume and increase marketing (among many other things) for Mei Xiang Yak Cheese, a social business that ViD is incubating. The trip to HK was to meet Marie So, the director, and apply for my China visa – the actual internship takes place in mainland China. More on Mei Xiang later.

Arriving in HK, I had no Lonely Planet guidebook, no idea of where to stay, and no contacts other than Marie. We planned to meet that afternoon for orientation, but otherwise I was on my own. I finally found a cubicle-esque place to stay, with only a bed that my feet hung off and a "cozy" bathroom. I paid 20 USD a night! And this was just before having lunch for 5 USD! I was beginning to see an expensive pattern.

My weekend stay in HK made me realize two things. First, I realized that although people like to be romantic about “winging it” during international travel (myself included), in default everyone likes to have a schedule, likes to have a plan. It’s human nature. I’d wake up in the morning in HK and by the time I’d figured out what I wanted to do, it would be too late. By coincidence I met a nice guy named John from Austin, Texas at the China embassy. He invited me over to his apartment where he, his girlfriend, and I shared travel stories over pasta and amazing oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. They told me about their time in Vietnam when they tried to wing it, and ended up getting screwed by hotels and trudging around the city carrying their luggage in the pouring rain.

The second thing I realized is that HK is everything that Bangladesh isn’t, and I didn’t like it. Obsessed with wealth, this city runs on java and is on the go 24/7. Maserati and Louis Vuitton billboards line the freeways. People here walk faster, talk faster, and always seem too busy to chat or give directions (although to be fair, there were several people who were very willing to help). In Bangladesh, if I looked lost for half a second, there would undoubtedly be someone asking me if they could help in no time.

In fact, HK is a lot like the US (no visa needed for Americans to visit HK, making it almost like another state) – except more sterile. Leaves on the road are an eye sore, and the buildings shine like diamonds. They are paranoid about Swine Flu here. A large population wears surgeon-like masks, elevator buttons in many buildings have signs that read “These buttons disinfected every 2 hours”, and city staff are employed to wipe down the hand rails (have a pic, but won't upload).
And not only that, everything here seems to go as planned. Prices are fixed, people drive between the lines, and everyone speaks English and is accustomed to foreigners (most of them are foreigners in the first place). It takes the adventure out of it. There are no rickshaws or small-scale transportation to just jump on that will take you careening down the wrong way of a one-way street, dodging cars, roaming children, and other rickshaws.

One of the biggest things you’d notice in HK is that there are no poor people – at least not many from what I could tell. During my two days I never saw a single beggar or homeless person. Why is this? To be honest I haven’t had time to research, but I would bet it has something to do with the cosmopolitan appearance the city is trying to preserve. If you’re not a rich foreigner, it’s very hard to get a visa (mainland Chinese have a lot of trouble), and even if you do get in, the cost of living is so high. While I do feel that a society in which no one is in poverty and has to see poverty, like HK, is one we should strive for, for my international experience (and my wallet), I knew I had to get out of HK. I took the next train to Guangzhou, saying goodbye to HK and feeling a little homesick for Bangladesh.

1 comment:

  1. Your brief stay in HK provided you with pretty much the same opinion as ours...albeit, we had not just arrived from a place such as Bangladesh. We came via Shanghai, Xian and Bejing, but HK was far more austentatious (sp?)than all of those put together. Did you happen to find my diamond (from my wedding ring) laying in the streets of HK?