This week the Humanities Course I headed for its first ten years will celebrate its 25th anniversary, so here I am this morning, on the thirteenth floor of a hotel that did not exist when I left in 2000. In light of so simple a fact of Hong Kong life, I thought I might begin with some photographic evidence of the certitudes I found on my first day here.
All these pictures were shot in Shatin, one of the original ‘new town’ communities in the New Territories. The dozens of high rise apartments across Tolo Harbor from our busy bicyclist did not exist when I moved to Hong Kong in 1987.
Translation that accounts for the intimacies of words is still a problem. This warning appears in a men’s room in the posh New Town Plaza mall.
Running parallel to the man-made river at the heart of Shatin are the original apartment blocks of the development. They are completely surrounded by the decade by decade modernization of Shatin.
On the mountainside above Shatin looms the Baptist University’s senior staff quarters where I lived.
One of the original blocks now houses a hostel for the aged. Like many Hong Kongers, these folk keep up with the stock exchange, gathering outside the bank to chat, cheer, lament, depending on the fate of their shares.
A moment’s rest to reflect on the changing market.
The wet market is now but a shell of its former self. Once it smelled of fish, blood, veggies, fruits, pungent tofu. Now only a few stalls remain.
Choi sum at its greenest and sweetest.
Shops in the old market tend to specialize. For variety you need to go to the Park-n-Shop even if there’s no parking and you don’t have a car.
A share of this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine has gone to an 85 year old Chinese researcher whose work with traditional remedies has explained how some ancient cure helps treat malaria. When I first arrived here, the university’s health insurance would not cover Chinese remedies. Now Baptist has a thriving Chinese medicine department tasked with studying, in modern bio-chemical terms, how and why traditional medicine works.
In the meantime, children still come home from school, stopping on the way for a freshly made sweet.
Escaping from grandma’s grip and hiding behind a lamp post is, of course, a universal occupation.
Escaping from the grandchildren for a ten minute sit-down is, of course, a universal occupation.
Part of the price of cultural modernization. Back in the bad old colonial days, this toothpaste was called Darkie. The cartoon face was stereotypically African and so black that the white teeth positively glowed in the dark. It is to no one’s particular credit that the company re-branded itself before the colonial era ended.
The development of Shatin has been, somehow, seamless. The original apartment blocks and their wet markets, tiny shops, endless concrete have given way to the gleaming marble and glass of the new mall, the posh hotels, and the luxury apartment towers. Still, they are all connected both by proximity and elevated walkways.
The New Town Plaza, the Vast Mall in Shatin