Reading about Russell's case of the good ol' Singaporean Heebie-Jeebies made me realise just why I've been enjoyed Hong Kong so much: it's like Singapore but without the annoying bits.
I've just been transiting a couple of days in Hong Kong, and it took me a while to figure out why I was finding it so... homey. Although I've leveled a fair amount of vitriol at the Singaporean-industrial complex, it is ultimately the place where most of my family is concentrated, and the country that I spent the second-most amount of time in as a child, after New Zealand. And so I do have fond memories of the place, as well as the... well... odd untamable heebie-jeebie.
Like Singapore, Hong Kong has a muggy, mumsy humidity, and you are smothered by Cantonese comfort food everywhere you turn. You quickly sink into deep obsessions over models of cellphones, cameras and laptops due to pure environmental immersion. They subway is wildly efficient, so much so that the integrated transport card got bored of just facilitating your transport and decided to start paying for your movies, 7-11 snacks and phone calls too. Everyone looks and dresses like one of my Singaporean or Malaysian relatives, in the way that people don't in Northern China. Even Keith's mum reminded me of a cross between my mum and Pansy Wong. I'm not sure whether this is an explanation of why I liked Keith's mum, or why Keith likes Pansy Wong.
Yes, Singapore offers all these comfy attractions - but it has an inescapably weird feeling about it, if you're a political person. Even with the Chinese Communist Party casting its ten-year shadow over Hong Kong, the Singaporean heebie-jeebies are markedly missing from Secret Pirate Island.
Ten years after the handover, and Hong Kong is still a place where you can wander through the pedestrian mall streets and amid the product demonstrations, happen upon civil society demonstrations too. This week on Sai Yeung Choi South St, aside from the perennial Falungong street-performers (next: organ juggling!), was a campaign against a potential regulatory threat to the status of the de facto public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, within the broader issue of protecting press standards and free speech. According to the masking tape label on their PA, their system either belonged to the NGO 'Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor', or it was a mislabeled bit of events equipment. Here and there down the main shopping drags, median barrier-advertising announces events for various political NGOs and Human Rights groups, nestled between all that stuff that makes your skin really white.
While getting lost in a mall with Keith, we happened upon a photojournalism exhibit commemorating ten years of the return to China, complete with records of the regular mass demonstrations to commemorate the Tiananmen Square incident, the huge 2002 turnout against the potential curtailing of civil rights, and the WTO demonstrations of 2005. Just across the street from the Peninsula Plaza, where I blundered into Tiffany's, Prada, Versace, and Manolo Blahnik in my Kumfs, dude, was a photojournalism exhibition at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on the lives of the homeless street-sleepers who bed down every night outside the, um, Hong Kong Cultural Centre.
I'm now officially counting Hong Kong as Southeast Asia, just so I can say that it's my favourite Southeast Asian city so far.
Actually, Keith seems to despair of the Hong Kong media, which is apparently as obsessed with food-safety as the New Zealand media is obsessed with the weather. Maybe he has a point - I don't live in Hong Kong. But Keith sure doesn't live in Singapore. It's pretty clear that even though Hong Kong doesn't have universal suffrage, that its population and media enjoy a deeper level of political freedom, or perhaps, political motivation to maintain and deepen their civil society.
Singapore has changed in recent years, and I haven't been there for quite a while (once a place gives you the heebie jeebies you don't tend to run back), but at some point I'd like to pop back in and see how things have come along. If you're in Auckland for the upcoming Banana conference, you'll probably get a better idea than I can, when Mr Brown dishes the dirt (not our one, the Other one).
But I'm missing the Banana conference for the first time ever, and revisiting the irritating-aunty-land, as opposed to the Motherland, is a distant prospect right now, as I'm sitting in Hong Kong airport, enjoying the free wifi, about to leave the Eastern hemisphere completely.
I may be some time.