LEX  BATTLER

home        author        address        articles        books        contact               

 

 Hong Kong is not Xianggang, and Macau is not Aomen

 


A difficult choice

 No sooner had we returned from our trip to Madrid and Lisbon that our irrepressible son Herman offered us yet another tourist trip – our choice of Mexico, Thailand or Malaysia. He had accumulated some “frequent flyer points” that needed to be used up. Malaysia has great beaches, he told us; Thailand has beautiful temples, Mexico has its own wonders. I personally believe that the best beaches in the world are in my home town of Astrakhan, where the murky polluted waters of the Volga and the sharp seashells and bottle shards underfoot combine to temper the body somewhat wonderfully. As for temples, I’ve seen plenty enough in Japan and China. Mexico is indeed on my list of places to visit, but at a different time and in another context. Nonetheless, Valya and I decided to help our son out and opted for … Hong Kong and Macao. These two city-states have always interested me from the scientific perspective: I wanted to see just how did European capitalism take root on Chinese soil. Valya, as an artist who paints in the Chinese style, was interested in the opportunity to see some more museums of Oriental art – her favorite kind of place. Having arrived at this consensus, we presented Herman with our choice, and the next day we received the full itinerary, airplane tickets, hotel reservations, and were set to go to the other side of the world.

Our choice of itinerary was somewhat unusual this time in order to avoid having to deal with Aeroflot. We decided to go first to Frankfurt with Lufthansa and switch there to the mighty carrier Cathаy Pacific. There was time between our arrival and departure to stroll around Frankfurt, a city strongly disliked for some reason by one friend of mine. The return trip was to follow the same route.

Valya by habit did some research on Hong Kong and Macao in the Internet; she learned locations, prices, exchange rates, weather patterns. Money was not a worry, since we were going with a powerful credit card. I didn’t bother to learn any Cantonese, assuming that everyone in those parts knows English or at least Mandarin; the latter I know enough to get served.

Kaiserstrasse, gays and sex shops

 I don’t like coming anywhere ahead of time, especially to airports; Valya feels differently. This time, however, Lufthansa delivered a pleasant surprise to me. About ten minutes prior to scheduled takeoff time, the airplane locked its doors and started moving toward the strip. It detached itself from the ground at precisely the scheduled minute. Valya looked at me triumphantly; in her eyes I saw a reproach to Aeroflot and to all those who arrive at check-in at the last minute, and joy about the German order. The Boeing-737 took us to Frankfurt Airport; from there a ten-minute ride on the electric train took us to the central train station. Our hotel was somewhere nearby – we knew that much, but it took us some time to find it, because for some reason no one here heard about the International Premier Hotel on Ludwigstrasse. The big train station had just one information booth with two employees. German attention to detail and order started to annoy us at this point. The employees in the booth unhurriedly asked for all kind of details the people ahead of us in line. Finally our turn came; the information lady produced a map, made a query in her computer, studied the map for a long time… and marked a street next to the station.

The hotel did not greet us with flowers, chocolates or champagne – stuff we by then came to expect. The stairways appeared narrow, the lights low, no one offered help with our bags. Only later did we come to the realization that this was just a 3-star hotel, and the room was only US$95 for one night – a most convenient place for a short stop and rest. We went for a walk right away. First we made a stop at Panda Chinese Restaurant. The food was strange: it looked Chinese, but tasted like typical German essen. The waiter was not sufficiently attentive, and we denied him a tip. We then moved on to Kaiser Street – the city’s main thoroughfare. It was full of women and men in gaudy makeup, and store windows that advertised “kingdoms of special beauty”. We are no experts on this kind of beauty, but the scope of this art did impress us. Same as in Hamburg, the downtown core area here belongs to gays and other sexually obsessed Germans of either sex. WE retreated quickly to another street, since our backwardness prevents us from feeling at ease in the animal kingdom.

The next day we followed the map in our systematic stroll of the surrounding area between Republic Square and Beethoven Square. On Bockenheimerstrasse, one of the main streets, we encountered a huge and beautiful opera house – bigger and better-looking than the one in Munich, it seemed to us. The streets were clean and full of spring. We admired a frau who was walking a tiny dog in Beethoven Square. The doggie was unconcerned about justifying the walk right in front of the cathedral door. The well-starched frau collected the poo in a cellophane bag, probably for use as fertilizer in her garden. I haven’t observed such rationality in Russian dog owners, or the ones in Lisbon, for that matter. In short, we liked the city. No idea why my friend disapproved of it.

Business class with Cathay Pacific

Our son, aware of my affection for all things proletarian, disturbed my peace of mind somewhat by buying business-class tickets. I applied even here my research approach, studying all the class differences between social strata. I have to admit, though: life is much more comfortable in business class. I was busy reminding myself about the blood of sepoys spilled in slaving for their masters, but the business-class lounge banished these thoughts from my mind. The lounge in Frankfurt was very comfortable, with a wide assortment of drinks, coffees and snacks, and even a shower. Instead of the shower, I took Tsingtao and Kirin beer in the amount equal to my desire.

The mighty Cathay Pacific served its Boeing-747 right on time, and we surged forward, or maybe backward, to Hong Kong – 10 ½ flight hours away, passing Russian air space on the way. The enjoyment was tremendous. Firstly, each armrest contains a flat-screen TV set with 19 TV programs and 20 audio programs. Secondly, the seat reclines to an almost flat position. Thirdly, from the moment you enter the salon and till the moment you leave, you forget that there are other things in the world except rest, food, drink and entertainment. Besides, the lovely Oriental flight attendants catch your eye all the time. But if you don’t need all these goodies, then you can put a plug in your ears, a band on your eyes (it is all included in the gift set) and sink in deep slumber until the “complete stop of the airplane”. I decided to explore this realm in its entirety, looking into every nook. The nooks include: a special menu that includes about 20 dishes at any given time; a great selection of booze, from French wines and champagne (which give me heartburn – must be my class hatred at work) to brandies, scotches and beers (stuff that my organism enjoys for some reason). The restroom is full of fragrances and toiletries. At this level of comfort and service, one can spend even 20 hours in the air in complete nirvana. Strangely enough, I really enjoyed it this time. I have flown business and even first class before, in the times of stagnant socialism (on American invitations), but for some reason I paid no attention then to these “details”. Could it be that I’m getting old?

Hong Kong: the fragrant harbor, or Manhattan on mountains

At Hong Kong airport, a reception was waiting. Our son continued his quest to corrupt my class conscience by ordering full-scale capitalist service. Almost at the ramp, an employee gave us a card with a bow, saying that we were expected, and gave us an airport map to find the place. A man in red livery picked up our two bags and led us to a limo that reminded me of Soviet government limos. It took us to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, that turned out to have 5 stars and a claim to be the best hotel in town. It is located very conveniently just a five-minute walk away from the Central Ferry terminal and close to other important transportation nexuses that we needed in the next few days. The suite offered standard five-star amenities, I won’t pause to describe them, except for this detail: the toilet flush includes soap and deodorant.

At first sight, the city evokes Manhattan, except it is built on mountains. The skyscrapers are innumerable, and their construction designs are original. Glass shines day and night, tinted gold or silver. I never managed to count all the stories in any single building; I always lost count after 50 or 60.

Having heard much about the famous cuisine of Hong Kong, about its variety, Valya and I were anticipating our first visit to a restaurant. Surprise: we walked quite a distance, but didn’t see a single one. It turns out that the streets of Hong Kong are dedicated each to a single activity: there are office streets, shopping streets, restaurant streets, bazaar streets. We decided to follow the well-known tourist rule: eat where the locals eat – the food is better and cheaper there. Elated from the quality of the reception that greeted us and the hotel, we dropped into one local eatery that was full of aboriginals. The absence of tablecloths caused us some hesitation, but maybe that’s just the local custom? We “engaged” English – the first official language of this island – and were “switched right off” by the staff’s incomprehension. Somehow we managed to explain what we wanted to a waiter who did know some English. We ordered a set of dishes known to Valya… and were unable to finish them. For the first time ever we encountered Chinese food that was inedible. But we realized later that this was due to the eatery’s quality, not the local cuisine.

Following Valya’s plan, we traveled the next day to the peninsula, the Kowloon district, located across Victoria Harbour; it is the bigger part of the Hong Kong territory. It took ten minutes by ferry (the other transit option is the subway line under the harbor). The southern tip of Kowloon is graced by the buildings of the Cultural Centre, the Space Museum and the Museum of Art.

The Museum of Art looks grand on the outside. Inside, however, there is almost no art to be found. It was like this: in April the Museum hosted an exhibition titled Buddhist Sculptures: New Discoveries from Qingzhou and Shandong Province. It featured a hundred of Buddha statues from temples. My relations with Buddha are specific: I regard all varieties of his teachings as historically harmful, therefore we passed on the exhibition. The historical collection of the art gallery was comprised of some 60 paintings, divided into three categories: Hong Kong Through the Ages, Macao in a Series of Views, and The Picturesque Voyage to Guangzhou. By the standards of Beijing museums, this is more than modest. We were surprised to see that some deformed silk roll paintings were carelessly fixed with scotch tape or tacks. The paintings themselves were mostly from not-so-distinguished artists, mostly of the Ming period. Liu Maoshang was the most prominent one among them. One of the rooms was devoted to modern artists – mostly Chinese “abstractionists” who decided to match their European colleagues in degradation. Blue-1 and Blue-2 by one Kwan Liun depicted smears of blue paint – streaking up in the former case, down in the latter. Figure-2 by Ding Yar Yung shows some kind of sticks. The rest is no better. I never suspected the Chinese of being capable of marasmatic “art”. But then, the people of Hong Kong are not exactly Chinese; more about that later.

But I must say, I’ve never seen such a modern-looking art museum building. Instead of ancient stairways like those in Uffizi or El Prado, there are lots of elevators. The washrooms are a joy to behold, with all the marble, gold and silver. The form (the building) triumphs here over the content (the paintings), which is in keeping with the spirit of Hong Kong and its people. The city of almost seven million has only six museums. I read in a local newspapers that the number of visitors to these museums has dropped by half in the recent years and keeps falling.

Not satisfied with this museum, Valya asked the concierge where Chinese paintings can be seen in large numbers. “Hollywood Road”, he suggested. There is indeed lots of stuff in that street: a long row of antique and art shops, offering mostly standardized crap: Buddhist statuettes and identical-looking paintings of mostly modern authors. Valya was uninspired, and I didn’t care.

Commerce, Hong Kong style

Since our “art” program was completed very quickly, we started simply exploring the streets, lanes, markets, etc. We visited the Bird and Flower Markets in Kowloon, both highly advertised in guidebooks. We took the subway (a very decent one, by the way – highly functional, much better than the one in London). The flowers turned out to be plentiful, but not the birds. We then walked up Nathan Road across the downtown area, now getting deep in the tangle of narrow streets, now emerging again into the thoroughfare. Anything at all can be bought here. Let me tell about it in more detail.

The process of buying stuff is quite peculiar in China in general and Hong Kong in particular. For example, Valya wanted a CD-ROM about Chinese painting. We walked into a department store. The clerk said the price was HK$220 (US1$=HK7,4-7,7$). Valya pretended that she needed to think, and made a step to the side. Immediately the price fell by HK$100. Valya realized that the price can be brought down even more. We said: very well, but we need to think some more; a hiss was sent in our backs. We walked some twenty paces and saw another shelf of CDs – the same ones, only the starting price here was $35. “What if we buy eight?” – “The discount will be 20%”. There you have it – eight CDs for the price of one in the “wrong place”. And that was in a department store. In the streets, as you can imagine, the situation is even more extreme.

Let me suggest a reminder for all those who are unfamiliar with the Chinese system of commerce: 1) never buy anything at once; 2) bargain, and you will bring the price down by a third at least, by two thirds normally, and by more if you can. The more you bargain, the more respect the seller shows you.

We got to enjoy a unique sight: the invasion of Hong Kong by Filipino women, their tourist life in the night city. Some kind of pre-paschal festivities were afoot, and thousands of these women were packing the streets, packing and unpacking boxes right in the driveways (some streets were closed for car traffic on account of this). A policeman explained to us that this was Eastern Family Fun Day. These women spent days and nights in the streets, eating, playing cards, getting haircuts. The noise resembled a gathering of a million birds. A bird bazaar at the foot of the golden skyscrapers!

Saturday night we were in need of cash. The much-vaunted American Express proved to be of little use in Hong Kong, for it turned out that in the entire city, there was only one cash machine, and it was closed together with the bank. We raced back to the hotel to put a call through to our son; he resolved the problem immediately – it turned out that cash could be borrowed from the hotel!

One of the days, we decided to climb the Peak – the summit that is the highest point of Hong Kong island, offering a view of the entire territory. But first we had to walk to the tram stop – not an easy walk on a hot day. When we got there, we found ourselves short of cash; the ride is HK$140 for one. AMEX was of no use here, too. Since we were already halfway up the mountain, we decided to climb another couple hundred meters to the Zoo. We were sweating rivers when we got there, and Valya - the hardened tourist! – collapsed on a bench. In the Zoo, we only found two sleeping leopards and some birds of the kind that can be caught in the streets. This Zoo was not worth our while; no comparison to the excellent zoological parks in Germany. Admission was free, though – perhaps as compensation for the effort to get there. If they charged for admission, I doubt anyone would want to do the climb.

Both on the island and in Kowloon, life is boiling in the narrow (five foot wide) side streets. They are full of vendors offering smelly salted seafoods. Fish and crabs keep trying to jump from the tubs. Exotic fruits and vegetables fill the stands. Carcasses are hacked, and the meat is fried right in the street (I doubt that it was subjected to sanitary inspection). There’s a hundred different sorts of rice. In one of the restaurants we were asked: “Which sort of rice?” We were baffled until we saw that rice here indeed does come in many varieties – from white to black. And in all the time we spent there, we didn’t hear any English. We did experiment with the Second official language. Right in front of a “golden” 100-story tower an old woman was selling papayas. Valya asked in English: “How much?” The woman showed a twenty-dollar bill and said: “Shu-shu”. We understood the reply, and the deal was concluded.

Even in the showcase downtown streets, we saw many panhandlers and homeless bums (we had seen none in Beijing or Shanghai). One bum was sound asleep on the pavement in Nathan Road, and huge rats were hustling all around him, but didn’t bite him – perhaps recognizing one of their own kind. A disturbing spectacle, especially for a woman. We also saw an old woman scratch her foot on a     wall, trying to remove the corns. Interesting “know-how” to file away.

Macao is no Las Vegas, but casinos are plentiful

Even before we left for Hong Kong, we were planning to visit Macao. We were quite curious, especially after our recent visit to Lisbon, to learn about the influence of Portuguese colonizers on the Chinese population. That colonizing started in the mid-16th century, and only in 1999 Macao was transferred to PRC jurisdiction, receiving the same status as Hong Kong – that of a Special Administrative Region.

It is easy to get to Macao from Hong Kong: just an hour’s ride on a cutter. At the ferry terminal we found an impressive modern building resembling a decent-sized airport terminal. Turbo cutters were leaving every 15 minutes; they were the ferry service. We paid HK$130 each for one-way tickets. Once we were seated on the cutter, we were given forms to enter our passport data; there are visa controls at the point of entry to Macao. Even more surprising was the fact that Hong Kong residents were treated as foreigners, same as us. The Macao border guard examined our passports very thoroughly and applied his visa stamp somewhat reluctantly. At the Macao terminal we were greeted by cabbies and rickshaws offering to take us to the Downtown. They somewhat reminded me of the cabbie crowd in Sheremetevo Airport near Moscow; I am repulsed by impudent service, so Valya and I took the bus. The ride to downtown cost us just HK$10 for both.

Looking around, we realized that only in the downtown area are there any signs of Portuguese presence left, and not a lot of them. The city creates a strange impression; the Portuguese street names (Rua do Campo, Rua de San Paolo, etc.) somehow don’t fit with the Chinese-style buildings and the bustling Chinese crowd. The rain was creating some discomfort, but the Chinese were ignoring it. Everything was as usual in a Chinese city: the haggling vendors, street noises, smells of Chinese food. We entered Ce Catedral Macao - the main city cathedral. Two men and one woman were inside; the woman looked half-Chinese, half-Portuguese – incongruous combination. The impression of an artificial hybrid took root back in Hong Kong, but only took verbal shape now. We saw the ruins of St. Paul Cathedral – quite ordinary ruins, it seemed to me. The St. Dominic Museum is a beautiful building. At a short distance from it is a square in purely Portuguese style. On Rua F. Do Amaral we saw a casino; a Slavic-looking girl was hurrying toward it, most likely a Russian “Natasha”. Macao’s main casinos are grouped around Amaral Street, justifying the idea suggested by the street’s name. In two hours we completed our walking tour of the sights of Downtown Macao and decided that there was nothing left for us to do there. Valya got lucky in a bookstore, though; she found an album of works by some artist who is “headed in the same direction” as she is. Good luck to both of them, I say.

I attempted to persuade Valya to play the roulette just once, but she failed to show any enthusiasm and kept staring in her album. Come on, you can bet just one dollar and become a millionaire! At least that’s what they say; I read a lot about it. But Valya refused to tempt fate; should my attempts to become a millionaire have failed, we could have become stuck in Macao.

We left Macao-Aomen with very little in the way of impressions. The only thing that really stunned us were the bridges – the longest ones we ever saw. The San Francisco Bay Bridge is child-sized compared to these. Friendship Bridge was only visible in its midsection, about four kilometers of it, and the rest was shrouded in fog; according to the map, it is perhaps 15 km long. Equally impressive is the Macao-Taipa Bridge.

We failed to reach the Peak, but Chinawomen are tops

We returned to Hong Kong that same day, and it looked very familiar and friendly to us. For some reason we were liking it more with each day.

The next day we were planning to visit their famous Ocean Park, but gathered from the prospectus that it contains nothing special; just some dolphins, flamingoes and other waterfowl – that’s all that was advertised. We decided to skip Ocean Park, especially since admission is HK$140 (US$20). We decided to see instead the famous market in Stanley district, in the Western part of Hong Kong Island. A double-deck bus took us high up the mountain slope on our way there, and we enjoyed the panoramic view we failed to get from the Peak. Closer to Stanley, the South China Sea came into view. It was breathtaking – both the view and the sensation that we could tumble down the cliff at any moment. The skyscrapers built somehow into the steep slopes and ridges are a bewildering spectacle. I can’t imagine how they survive the typhoons, earthquakes and other local calamities. And what if there is a fire? The market itself turned out to be not very large and nowhere near as rich in assortment as the Nathan Road district, not to mention the markets of Beijing. But we felt compensated for this disappointment by the picturesque trip.

We noticed that Western tourists were rather few here (but Japanese tourists were visible in large numbers). The Western tourist women tend to pale beside Chinese women. Maybe they are mostly businesswomen, or military, or bisexual – who knows? Chinese women come in different shapes, but many are stunningly beautiful. There were two girls that gave both Valya and me a start with their picture-perfect Oriental beauty.

Then I suddenly remembered about Palpalych (Pavel Pavlovich Borodin, former Kremlin official currently in an American prison – P.S.) Here we are, enjoying these beautiful sights at the edge of the world, and Palpalych, the martyr, is languishing somewhere in the dungeons of the American capitalist state. We tried to find any kind of information about Russia – the great country whose leaders keep pontificating about its greatness. But the 42 channels of local television (including all the leading information agencies of the world) gave us no information at all about economic growth in the Derzhava (Russia – P.S.), about Palpalych, about President Putin. Amazingly, local television airs no commercials! Well, maybe just a few spots seconds long. Neither did we hear any swear words on TV. Also, there was very little talk of Great Britain – the recent colonial master of Hong Kong. That’s the Oriental way for you.

In short, we left Hong Kong filled with the impression of incompatibility. We kept visualizing the local businessman who takes off his business suit as he leaves his gold-plated office and reverts to an ordinary Chinaman as he crosses the street, heading for a meal of noodles at the eatery we visited on our very first day here. Chinese culture here looks mauled by Western-style business.

The airport bath

Our flight was departing around midnight, but we arrived at the airport at about 9 p.m. since our legs were giving out. The hotel shuttle bus took us to the futuristic-looking, spaceport-like complex that is Hong Kong International Airport.

We did not regret that we arrived well in advance. This airport is a landmark; it cost about US$12 billion to build. It is the biggest airport in the world; all of Sheremetevo Airport would easily fit into its back yard. It is very functional and comfortable, despite its enormous size.

Having already acquired the habit, we headed straight for the business lounge; it looked very large to us. I decided to go through with the entire program – from beer and snacks to the bath. A Japanese meal, washed down with Japanese beer, did very nicely for the first stage. I then procured some wine and fruit for Valya and headed for the bath. For the first time ever I was enjoying this service at an airport, and I believe I will stick to this habit for as long as my finances – or those of my “sponsors” – allow me to continue flying business class. My proletarian conscience went tipsy and soft from the soaking. The “servants” expressed concern that I could miss my flight, but I assured them that I was on top of things.

After the bath, I went to the Smoking Bar, where drinks are served as well as smokes. I took a couple more cans of Kirin Daiichi Biru and settled in an armchair across from an Italian who was smoking a pipe. I decided to have a smoke myself and produced my lighter with a portrait of Mao Tsetung, the Great Leader (bought in Kowloon). When switched on, this lighter intones the Red Chinese song Bright Dawn Colors the East with its beautiful words about the wind from the East prevailing over the wind from the West. The Italian became curious and asked me whose portrait it was. - Mao Tsetung, I replied. – Who’s that? He wondered. I was startled by his question, and he was startled that I was startled. So we struck up conversation, and he told me with apparently hurt feelings that the Chinese and Americans don’t know anything about Italy and think Italy is a kind of food. This complaint confirmed my observations that to the Chinese and Americans, the whole world is like nothing, one part indistinguishable from another. In their minds, in all the world there exist only two states – China and the USA, the dragon and the tiger, all the other beasts don’t matter – they are nothing but food for these two.

Our return trip was with the same Cathay Pacific, only this time it took 12 hours instead of 10 ½ hours. Those who don’t know, please note: eastbound flight time is always shorter than westbound flight time. In business class, the flight to Frankfurt was over in one minute, it seemed. The Frankfurt Airport didn’t appeal to us this time: it is not very comfortable, the service is somewhat rude, with frowns and irritation instead of smiles. I kept up my spirits during the time we waited there with several cans of Kirin Daiichi Biru that I managed to smuggle away from the business lounge in Hong Kong. But my mood was finally spoiled when we boarded the Lufthansa airplane: we were seated in the very last row at the back, with no newspapers within reach. That’s economy class for you.

The flight was short, however, and after a little over two hours we were in Moscow, greeted by 20 C warm weather. I dressed down to a T-shirt, but in the Metro, I felt ill at ease since everyone around was wearing raincoats, overcoats, some women were even wearing fur coats, despite the 20 degrees Centigrade. Evidently, President Putin had not yet given the order to switch to summer clothes. I have noticed this peculiar trait of Russians long ago: they dress according to season, not according to weather. When it’s winter, they will wear fur coats even when the temperature is above freezing, especially the women. But on the plus side, our women are the most beautiful ones in the world, more beautiful even than Chinawomen… en masse. 

The people of Hong Kong – are they Chinese or Cantonese?

And now a few words about the matters that really interest me. For starters, a little information for the readers. The population of Hong Kong is about 7 million people. There are more billionaires there than in the rest of the world. In 1999 Hong Kong exports amounted to $175 billion, imports to $173 billion; in Russia (population 146 million) exports amounted to $75 billion, imports - $50 billion. Hong Kong’s gold and hard currency reserves amounted to $96 billion, those of Russia - $9.6 billion. Hong Kong’s nominal GDP is $173 billion, Russia’s - $276 billion. This means that Hong Kong’s per capita GDP is $24,716; Russia’s is $1,876. Hong Kong’s total land area (all 260+ islands) is about 1,000 square kilometers, as for Russia’s land area – I assume that everyone knows it.

The people of Hong Kong used to be the most aggressive of all huatsiao (expatriate Chinese); in 1997 they ceased to be huatsiao as they became part of the People’s Republic of China, albeit as a Special Administrative Region. In this connection I was curious: how do the people of Hong Kong define themselves? Who are they? This is not a simple question; it raises a whole batch of problems, unresolved to this day.

In 1985 a poll found that 60% of respondents identified themselves as Hongkongese, and only 36% identified themselves as Chinese. Following newspaper articles, I determined that since reunification with mainland China, the situation hasn’t changed all that much. The problem is that "Chineseness” is associated with “mainlandisation”, i.e. with the Communist regime. In other words, calling oneself Chinese is tantamount to calling oneself a Communist. Many are unwilling to do so.

In order to resolve this problem somehow, the Beijing authorities, acting through various pro-Beijing organizations in Hong Kong, initiate the restoration of ancient Chinese traditions such as the Ching Ming festival or the Lunar New Year celebrations (involving red lanterns, patriotic songs, acrobatic shows, etc.). All this “Chinafication” is received largely with mistrust, especially by the young people who are quite remote from Chinese traditions simply on account of their interests. They are busy doing risky investments in startup companies and real estate, spinning in the business sphere that has nothing in common in either morals or functions with both Confucian and Taoist canons. This mafia-style Hong Kong business is connected to family-based clans, but removed from Chinese values. A Chinese capitalist is a contradictory phenomenon. A Chinese person is part of the Chinese nation, he works and lives in the name of China, to affirm Chinese values. A Cantonese person lives for the sake of his own interests, for the sake of money. This contradiction is manifested even in the fact that a Hong Kong resident usually has a European first name, such as Kitty, John, William, etc., while the last name is Chinese. Automobile traffic is left-sided (as in Britain), pedestrian traffic is right-sided. A peculiar arrangement two-sided arrangement.

Orientation toward business, toward making money deprives the Hongkongese of national character and national culture. A businessman has no face of his own (analogous to Lenin’s pronouncement: capital has no nationalities). One vendor told us that even though he calls himself Chinese, he is not like those people on the mainland. We live for the sake of money, he said, while they on the mainland live in the end count for the sake of strategy, for the sake of great China.

One should remember that the two groups of Chinese are also separated by the big difference between Mandarin and the Cantonese dialect. The two hieroglyphs that serve as this territory’s name read as Hong Kong in Cantonese and Xianggang in Mandarin; the other former colony’s name is pronounced Macao in Cantonese and Aomen in Mandarin. Whenever I said Xianggang in Hong Kong, the locals didn’t understand at once what I was talking about. I was surprised to learn that few people there know Mandarin. The vendors told me that Mandarin is taught in schools, but the people soon forget it. To them, it is a foreign language.

We were also surprised to find out that the Hongkongese are equally at arm’s length with English. The hotel staff speak English, as well as everyone connected to international; business. The simple folks in the streets are practically unfamiliar with English. By the way, I got the impression that the departure of the British caused no sadness there. On the contrary, it opened greater opportunities for doing business with the Mainland. Judging by the newspapers, on the psychological level the Hongkongese perceive the PRC as a foreign state, even though they travel to the Mainland without visas. Mainland residents need a visa to visit Hong Kong, and this visa is rather hard to obtain.

The overall results are unique: Hong Kong is neither West nor East, neither Chinese nor European. A synthesis didn’t work out; the end product is a special form of Asian capitalism in which secret societies (triads) are almost the dominant element; they have spread throughout the world. Of course, this contradiction will eventually be resolved in favor of the Mainland. After all, the history of China is almost five thousand years long, while the history of British Hong Kong is only one hundred years long. “The Mainland” has absorbed all kinds of peoples in the course of history; it will absorb the Hongkongese, too, and they will become Chinese again.

From  Oleg Arin and Valentina Arina. Between Titi and Kaka. The Impressions of a Tourist…but not only (Moscow: Alliance, 2001).