First Impressions of Hong Kong
Another post from guest blogger Lexie Ermi.
Hong Kong is a city I had never given much thought to. For that matter, Asia was a continent I had never given much thought to! But somehow, this summer, I ended up living in Hong Kong teaching senior middle schoolers (equivalent to our high schoolers) English. Say what??
I am blown away by the city, the culture, and the people here in Hong Kong. Hong Kong literally has it all. It has the bright lights big city atmosphere in the most extreme way possible. If you think New York City is fast paced, you need to visit Mong Kok in Hong Kong. Sensory overload extreme! It is beautiful in a pushy, hawker, blinding sort of way.
Hong Kong also has mountains. The humidity is insanely high and the heat is oppressive, especially in the middle of the day. But the mountains that you can see from almost anywhere practically make up for that. Imagine standing in the middle of a crowded city sidewalk and looking up to see luscious green mountains simply towering over you. Hong Kong is a city of paradoxes.
And then finally Hong Kong has beaches! As if the mountains and the city weren't enough, Hong Kongers (yes, that is really what they are called) really get your goat by also having beautiful beaches. The water is warm (though the beaches are a bit rocky) and, where we were, very shallow. My teammate Megan and I went kayaking, which I had never done before and always wanted to do. It was such a cool experience.
But this city that has it all also has its downsides. Though it seems to have everything, it also seems to have nothing. There is a distinct lack of meaning in the culture. The lights, the shops, are beautiful. And they are genuinely everywhere. Every single MTR (metro) station is surrounded by a mall. Think of our metro stations in DC—they are not exactly where the finest shops are. But here, even their public transit is swamped with shopping. The malls are clean, the metro stations are well-laid out and easy to maneuver, and the streets are free from homeless. It feels very safe. Yet it is this very state that seems to point to a lack of something more. They are trying to fill a void that cannot be filled by stainless steel malls.
The shopping culture is inundated in Hong Kongers from birth. They eat, they shop, they eat, they shop, they walk to malls and sweat, they shop. When I ask my students what they did over the weekend, invariably the answer has something to do with shopping. It is more than an activity; it is a pastime, an attempt to fill the emptiness. The malls are seven or eight levels, massive structures, and it is more common to see a mall than a church. The malls never seem to fall into disrepair, and they never seem to close. To get to the MTR station, we have to walk through the Kowloon Tong mall. We have come home as late as midnight and found the mall still bustling. We have left for school as early as 7:15 and found the mall already open and functioning. I have never experienced a culture that places so high a premium on what can be obtained from the mall. The focus is not even just on the material goods themselves, but rather on the act and "sport" of shopping, or so it seems.
Many people want to bring the gospel to people in the jungle, or the desert, or the Artic, or some place remote and far from human habitation. I once heard someone say, "There are more lost people in the city than in the jungle today." People with nothing frequently have the most joy in life. They know what they lack and they can often respond to general revelation (God's glory in creation) better than almost anyone else. But people with everything, living in a metropolitan world with anything they want at their fingertips, do not know what it is they lack. They think they know everything and so they think they have the answers. But they do not truly see the darkness in which they live.
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