There are books in which the footnotes, or the comments scrawled by some reader’s hand in the margin, are more interesting than the text. The world is one of these books.
I returned from Hong Kong on October 1st – and its tough to summarize the experience of this dense, Asian, multi-cultural city that sits between – both physically and culturally – East and West.
Hong Kong is a city built in layers. Physically the city is like a cake – it has a lower (underground) layer (at least in the downtown core of Kowloon), a middle street level, and an upper level of walkways that cross streets and travel through buildings to other buildings. But Hong Kong is also layered – or stratified – in other ways, and that makes it both complex and interesting.
Hong Kong marks the transition between Eastern and Western culture. It is stratified economically, and physically by virture of the layers I note above. But it also a liminal place – a place that is situated in between and so is a kind of nowhere land. It is both a city and a state. It is both a hybrid, and something else. At times it feels like a unique blending of factors, at other times cultures and ideas are held simultaneously, alongside each other without mixture, like parallel tracks. It’s not always easy to figure which is which.
But the mixing, and density and fluidity make Hong Kong a city of cruciality. It’s a term sociologists use to describe the tension of these unique settings, where you can see that these things exist side by side, and the pressure is on to figure out where you fit — who you are here, and what do you believe? Are you eastern or western? Are you Confucian, Buddhist or Christian? Is one right and the others wrong? Are you trying to generate a unique blend of these things so that you can more easily exist in this plurality? Are those believers who meet at Island ECC in the downtown on Sunday trying to just look and sound like one another, like some Western export of faith, or are they bringing their unique cultures to the Cross – to the Jesus who was born and lived as an Asian?
As an outsider and visitor, one feels displaced. It’s disorienting. But that experience of discomfort allows for the perspective of an observer, allows one to see how these different worlds exist side by side. Even though I never quite lost the feeling of looking through a window pane or a display monitor, I was still amazed by the unique expression of this peculiar and very modern city, sitting on the edge of the world’s oldest empire.