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Traveling around Hong Kong

An essay published in the Fukui Shimbun-Newspaper, on 30 January 2019

Traveling around Hong Kong

Shichio MINATO

Taking advantage of the New Years holidays, we embarked on a 3-day, 2-night trip to Hong Kong together with another married couple (with whom we were good friends). Actually, "steamrolled" might have been a better term. I don't want to say this out loud, but we took off after handing over our three kids to my father, who lives alone and is 80 years old. Early on, my wife was into it, but when things began to get real, she started to become reluctant, saying dour things like, "maybe I'll just stay home and watch the kids." But my father, who lives out in the country, was happy to take care of them, assuring us that it was no problem. "We can make okonomiyaki (savory pancake) and gyoza (dumplings), and oh yes, we can bake pizzas too!" He was happy to receive this special opportunity to spend time with his grandkids. For people who are raising children, a vacation without the kids is the ultimate luxury. Although my wife (who is a pianist) and I often have opportunities to travel abroad for work, we almost never go overseas purely for vacation, and we've also never been to any Asian countries outside of Japan.

Hong Kong was simply amazing. I was so inspired by the city's energy, and the zest for life in the people. I could instinctively feel that "something good was about to happen," and I was really glad that we went through all the trouble to get here. (Thanks so much dad!)

Hong Kong was previously a British colony, and now is a central hub of international trade and one of the world's most prominent financial centers. The streets are a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures, and the four of us were thrilled to be enveloped in that bustling atmosphere of freedom. Everything we saw, ate, and experienced was at once fresh and new, and at the same time somehow nostalgic. I wondered where this "somehow nostalgic" feeling came from. Maybe it's because, since I still remember as a child how Japan was a developing nation, I can relate to that environment. Men preparing their food stalls in the heat, naked from the waist up, construction sites rigged with bamboo scaffolding, the alleyways pungent with the stench of strange odors. This city is a dichotomy of such disorder and confusion, coexisting with the refinement of the highest upper-class luxuries, creating its own unique and inimitable atmosphere.

However, I was surprised to find that Hong Kong has been called a "cultural desert." I suppose it depends on how one defines culture, but compared to other cities of this scale, there are definitely fewer cultural facilities available. But Hong Kong is now trying to address and clean up these misgivings and has the momentum needed to mass-produce new cultural values. With regard to the art scene, Japan at the moment does not have any vibe or energy. It may be that since my work involves me with art, I experience that feeling more intensely. But here, I could sense the power of art moving the city, and it made my heart leap. Located in the Central district of Hong Kong is a fashionable area called SoHo. A venture that is raising its profile there is the cultural multi-function complex called "PMQ." Built in a long-abandoned former police dormitory (the Police Married Quarters), this space underwent massive reconstruction and was reborn in 2010 as a large-scale hub of cultural activity. Here, artists and creators gather, with over 100 studios, design offices, and stylish shops taking residence, to become an influential source point for trends and fashion. It is also very interesting how the organizers have an eye on maintaining a sustainable business model. The four of us hit the peak of our excitement as we discussed the possibilities: "It would be great if Fukui had a cultural hub like this." "No, it definitely is possible to build one."

Afterward, I studied up on Hong Kong's cultural policies. In 1997, ever since the territory was returned to China, development efforts driven by government policies were ramped up, and while the influence of mainland China has increased, the citizens voiced their desire to tamp down on such efforts, leading to the rise of a movement to reconsider and protect "what it means to be Hong Kong." Given these circumstances, in 2007 the Hong Kong government announced its "heritage conservation policy for the protection and development of historical buildings." Already there are close to 30 ongoing large-scale projects (including those already completed), and I was simply amazed at the speed at which they got things done here.

Thanks to this trip, I believe I was able to confirm the meaning of the phrase, "in order to remain the same, one has to keep on changing." And I think I realized that I myself had become somewhat conservative in my thinking. In the spring it looks like regular flights linking Komatsu and Hong Kong will become available, so I definitely would like to make another visit.

Morning at one of many popular tourist spots in Hong Kong, "Ladies Market." Visitors can relish the downtown atmosphere. (photographed by the author)

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