17 June 2010

Extreme Hong Kong

My daily commute is an exercise in extremes. In the morning, I wake up in the socialist utopia of Lamma Island. Lamma is the least commercialized place I've ever lived: there is no advertising on Lamma, and the only corporate chain of any kind on the island is the tiny little branch of HSBC in Yung Shue Wan. Lamma is also the most egalitarian place I've ever lived: all the houses are roughly the same size, nearly all the apartments are around 700 square feet, and people don't advertise their wealth by the way they dress, since everyone wears shorts, a t-shirt and sandals all day everyday.

Then I get on the ferry, and arrive in Central. I go up an escalator, and I'm in the IFC mall. There I'm bombarded by images designed to make me feel bad about who I am, bad about the clothes I wear, and bad about where I am in life. I make it through the mall, and head to Sheung Wan on the pedestrian walkway. Once I come down to ground level, I'm reminded how this city isn't designed for me, it's designed to use me as a tool for corporate profits. Taxis honk their horns at me for getting in the way of their next fare, people on the street don't show the slightest kindness toward one-another, there's hardly any room to walk with all the money-making going on. I look up at the thousands of anonymous apartment and office windows containing the tools of the corporatocracy. I work, I eat, I get back on the ferry.

When I get off the ferry on the Lamma side, I remember why I'm willing to put up with that ferry ride everyday. Lamma is on a human scale. I feel like I fit. I'm a person, not a consumer. Every place I've ever lived has been designed by corporations for cars. For the first time in my life, I live in a place designed by people for people. And I found that place in the Hi-Tech Village, the world's greatest capitalist theme-park. Go figure.


  1. Yes sir, since young we were trained to become the money chasing machine that we are..schools exams are memory contests, and we became a generation of stiff thinking minds with no flexibility. We have more elderly hang out outside Bank of China staring at the stock exchange market report, than sitting at a park enjoying a game of chess.

  2. Damn, I better move to Lamma soon too

  3. Wow, that was a beautiful post! Many of us Lammaites would heartily agree!

    Could I republish your post in the Lamma-zine, the community blog on Lamma.com.hk, please? ;-)

  4. Lamma-Gung: Of course, feel free to republish in the Lamma-zine.

  5. I like your description of IFC. Every time I go there I feel like a schmuck. I'm astonished by the number of people who apparently work in designer suits and cocktail dresses.

    Unfortunately, you're being very reductionist. Central is just a small part of Hong Kong. There's more to the city than the "corporatocracy" you describe. (Not trying to downplay the problems of Hong Kong's entire economic and political structure, but it's not any worse than the United States.)

    As for Lamma, it's no paradise. You know why all the houses are the same size? It's not because of some underlying egalitarianism in Lamma culture. It's because of the government's Small House Policy, which was passed in 1972 as a concession to the indigenous villagers of the New Territories. Under the law, every *male* member of an indigenous family has the right to build a house, no more than 2100 square feet in size, on a piece of land in their ancestral village.

    This law creates two classes of people: indigenous villagers, who have special land ownership and voting rights, and everyone else. It doesn't matter if you are fabulously wealthy and raised overseas -- if you're male and your father is an indigenous villager, you get land for free, which you can develop and sell as you want. If you're female, well, too bad.

    So your "socialist utopia" is based in large part on a sexist law that creates a special class of people based on blood and gender.

    Lamma is a nice place. I like it. But still. Food for thought.

  6. Me again. I'm afraid that last comment came across as overly critical. I certainly share your sympathies. I just don't like the black-and-white way you've described your love for Lamma... the "socialist utopia" and (shudder) everything else. It's not a simple as that.

    I hope you keep blogging about Lamma because there's some interesting stories to be told there.

  7. Anon, Thanks for the comments. I didn't find them overly critical. The history is interesting, I didn't know that stuff at all. I think you are taking me a little too literally, however. I was trying to draw a contrast: so yes, I exaggerated it a bit. "Socialist utopia" was meant to be tongue-in-cheek hyperbole. I don't believe such things exist, and certainly not in HK.

    I think your comments about this "sexist law based on blood and gender" brings up some interesting issues. These issues come up a lot in relations between the West and the Islamic world these days: if we are to be tolerant of other cultures, should be be tolerant of their intolerance toward women? I haven't quite worked out how I feel about that issue. But still. Food for thought.

  8. Lamma ,
    hardly a non commercial backwater ?
    I could swear there a lot more shops than there
    used to be ! Commerce is commerce , buying and
    selling its all the same just on different scales .
    Lets hope Lamma does not become a victim of its
    own success and gets too busy . Its well on that
    path .
    Walking through the Village is not that relaxing
    anymore , too many bikes and those damn noisy
    shifter contraptions - mini trucks !


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