Hong Kong: in China’s shadow

hong kong in dark shadow

 

Two years before the mass protests that now paralyze Hong Kong, Michael Paterniti from National Geographic has already written out a lengthy article that explains how Hong Kong’s future – and also credentials – is being put at stake with encroaching control by Beijing. That is increasingly evident with the recent decision by Chinese government’s National People’s Congress (NPC) to restrict democratic reforms in one of the world’s most important financial and business hubs.

Entering day 5, Occupy Central movement is becoming increasingly larger than ever.

Read the full article in National Geographic, published in June 2012.

 

Excerpt:

 

“If you want to see capitalism in action, go to Hong Kong,” economist Milton Friedman is credited with saying. Yet to idealize the city today as a free market paradise, thriving in its 15th year after the British handover to China, is to sorely oversimplify, if not misconstrue, the darkening forces at work here. It’s to miss the tensions and tectonic shifts beneath the glitzy financial center that Hong Kong shows to the world. In the city underneath, one finds asylum seekers and prostitutes; gangsters with their incongruent bouffants; thousands of Indonesian housemaids who flock to Victoria Park on their precious Sundays off; and those barely scratching out an existence, people crammed into partitioned apartment blocks of “cage houses” the size of refrigerator boxes. While Hong Kong’s per capita gross domestic product ranks tenth in the world, its Gini coefficient, an index that measures the gap between rich and poor, is also among the highest.

Hong Kongers say their city reinvents itself every few years, citing the ever morphing skyline as one visible example. “We feel all of these great changes, but we don’t know how to name them,” says Patrick Mok, the coordinator for the Hong Kong Memory Project, a $6.4 million effort to address Hong Kong’s identity problem by creating an interactive website of old objects and photographs. “The pace of the city is too fast for memory.”

Yes, Hong Kong is changing again, but into what and molded by whom?

The City Solution

geumho, seoul

 

 

Pictured above: Seoul, South Korea

 

Cities can become a huge headache if not managed well – numerous examples, say, Lagos or Jakarta, can say a lot about it. But, looking at it on the other perspective, cities can also offer a great lesson for some of the world’s most cumbersome problems in 21st century, in particular the solutions policymakers are seeking.

Take a look back at this National Geographic’s December 2011 edition article.

 

Excerpt:

 

The fear of urbanization has not been good for cities, or for their countries, or for the planet. South Korea, ironically, has never quite shaken the notion that its great capital is a tumor sucking life from the rest of the country. Right now the government is building a second capital 75 miles to the south; starting in 2012, it plans to move half its ministries there and to scatter other public institutions around the country, in the hope of spreading Seoul’s wealth. The nation’s efforts to stop Seoul’s growth go back to Park Chung-Hee, the dictator who jump-started the economy. In 1971, as the city’s population was skyrocketing past five million, Park took a page from the book of Ebenezer Howard. He surrounded the city with a wide greenbelt to halt further development, just as London had in 1947.

Both greenbelts preserved open space, but neither stopped the growth of the city; people now commute from suburbs that leapfrogged the restraints. “Greenbelts have had the effect of pushing people farther out, sometimes absurdly far,” says Peter Hall, a planner and historian at University College London. Brasília, the planned capital of Brazil, was designed for 500,000 people; two million more now live beyond the lake and park that were supposed to block the city’s expansion. When you try to stop urban growth, it seems, you just amplify sprawl.

Sprawl preoccupies urban planners today, as its antithesis, density, did a century ago. London is no longer decried as a tumor, but Atlanta has been called “a pulsating slime mold” (by James Howard Kunstler, a colorful critic of suburbia) on account of its extreme sprawl. Greenbelts aren’t the cause of sprawl; most cities don’t have them. Other government policies, such as subsidies for highways and home ownership, have coaxed the suburbs outward. So has that other great shaper of the destiny of cities—the choices made by individual residents. Ebenezer Howard was right about that much: A lot of people want nice houses with gardens.

 

 

 

A Tribute to Discomfort

 

Dropping out of school, and living the life of the homeless, the young Cory Richards had never expected what he would become in the future. Nonetheless, in a twist of fates, and through gradual transformation in phases of life experiences, he gained a new school to learn better, take and tackle challenges, and even grab control of his own destiny; the school later he called it ‘the world’. The world outside there, with numerous natural features and its particular challenges, ranging from the tallest mountains, avalanches, oceans, peoples, faces, all of which taught him different stories and lessons, and all of which would reshape and enlighten his life forever.

Now, the new Cory Richards is born: no longer lingering in the cycles of desperation, he is now a well-dedicated National Geographic photographer and explorer, all the time committed to bringing us, and the whole world, a new perspective on life, and how it should be well-lived while we are still here.

Here’s the video, and this is where we should pay our tribute to all the breakthroughs and horizon-expanding experiences he had gained, with struggle, with blood, and with tears. Enjoy.

Far From Home

far from home

 

A happy-sad story about foreign workers in Dubai, who fill up 90% of this city’s 2.1-million-strong population, and obviously, most of the jobs the Emiratis completely never want to: serving up the coffee on Starbucks, taking care of these Western expatriates’ kids, building bizarre-shaped skyscrapers, assisting customers at splurge shopping malls, and a long list to go.

Read the full article on National Geographic Magazine.

Bonus: click this Wikipedia article to find out, in details, a table of countries’ list with the world’s largest foreign-born population.

 

Excerpt:

 

No other city on Earth, though, packs 21st-century international workers into one showy space quite like Dubai. Arrive in the standard manner, disembarking into the sprawling international airport, and you will pass a hundred remittance workers like Teresa and Luis before you reach the curbside cabstand. The young woman pouring Starbucks espressos is from the Philippines, or maybe Nigeria. The restroom cleaner is from Nepal, or maybe Sudan. The cabdriver, gunning it up the freeway toward downtown Dubai, is from northern Pakistan or Sri Lanka or the southern Indian state of Kerala.

And the mad-looking, postmodernist skyscrapers outside the taxi windows? This building, the one like a massive hatchet blade, or the one that resembles a giant golf ball atop a 20-story pancake stack? All built by foreign laborers—South Asian men primarily, from India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. If it’s daylight, empty buses will be parked in the shade beneath the skeletons of the skyscrapers still under construction. They’re waiting to carry men back at dusk to group-housing units, crowded as prison barracks, where most of them are required to live.

Difficult living conditions for foreign workers can be found everywhere in the world. But everything about Dubai is exaggerated. The city’s modern history starts just over a half century ago, with the discovery of oil in nearby Abu Dhabi, then a separate and independent sheikhdom. The United Arab Emirates was founded in 1971 as a national federation encompassing six of these sheikhdoms—the seventh joined the following year—and since Dubai had comparatively little oil, the city’s royal family used its portion of the country’s new riches to transform the small trading city into a commercial capital to dazzle the world. The famous indoor ski slope is only one wing of a Dubai shopping mall, which is not even the biggest of the city’s many malls; that one contains a three-story aquarium and a full-size ice hockey rink. The tallest building on the planet is in Dubai; Tom Cruise was seen rappelling down its outer wall in one of the Mission: Impossible movies. Nearly everywhere the visitor looks, things are extravagant and new.

A Jewel in Two Crowns

yalta

 

Photograph by Gerd Ludwig. Source: National Geographic

 

It is in Ukraine. It is, in geographical terms, not so far, but also not so distant, from Russia. It is ruled by an autonomous government supervised by Kiev’s authorities. But when it comes to bulk of its people, there is hardly any feeling about being Ukrainian though. They mostly talk in Russian, that’s fine; most of the populace in Ukraine is bilingual, back then, thanks to its centuries-long historical ties with the former, in particular during Soviet’s rule, lasting seven decades. Nevertheless, deep down their hearts, many of these residents feel more proud to be Russians, display Russian culture with more ostentatiously than with Ukrainian one, and almost everything they do in daily lives is much or less similar to their Russian counterparts.

This is Crimea, Ukraine’s uneasy peninsula.

2014 has been an entirely challenging year for Ukraine, notwithstanding its current, interim government in Kiev. A months-long political protest in Kiev that saw nearly a hundred civilians killed. Internal split between those who support Brussels and the others who favor Moscow much better (part of that reason may be attributed to Putin’s high willingness to provide financial rescue package worth 15 billion US$ to Kiev). A shaky, provisional regime now being tested with the interference of a few thousand Russian troops in Crimean peninsula, excluding numberless scores of pro-Russian militiamen now occupying most government offices in the territory. Exacerbate that matter with today’s Crimean parliamentary referendum, most of which favors ‘unification with Russia‘.

With another referendum for majority of the 2-million-strong population in Crimea scheduled in no more than 10 days, the future of this peninsula remains in deep limbo. Will it continue to be part of Ukraine? Or will it embrace back the hugs of Moscow?

 

This article, released in National Geographic Magazine‘s April 2011 edition, attempted to explore deeper what exactly happens in Crimea, the crown that, implicitly stated, dubiously ‘belongs’ to both Ukraine (in nationality) and Russia (in identity). Click the link to find out more.

 

Excerpt:

 

The Crimean Peninsula is a diamond suspended from the south coast of Ukraine by the thin chain of the Perekop Isthmus, embraced by the Black Sea, on the same latitude as the south of France. Warm, lovely, lush, with a voluptuously curved coast of sparkling cliffs, it was a jewel of the Russian Empire, the retreat of Romanov tsars, and the playground of Politburo fat cats. Officially known as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, it has its own parliament and capital, Simferopol, but takes its orders from Kiev.

Physically, politically, Crimea is Ukraine; mentally and emotionally, it identifies with Russia and provides, a journalist wrote, “a unique opportunity for Ukrainians to feel like strangers on their own territory.” Crimea speaks to the persistence of memory—how the past lingers and subverts.

In 1954 Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, signed Crimea over to Ukraine as a gesture of goodwill. Galina was 14 at the time.

“Illegal,” she said, when asked about the hand­over. “There was no referendum. No announcement. It just happened.”

What was Khrushchev thinking?

“He wasn’t,” she snapped. “Khrushchev had roaches in his head.”

Crimea was a lovely present, but the box was empty. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union anyway. “My parents discussed the transfer, but we weren’t concerned,” Galina said. Moscow was still in charge. No one could have ever imagined the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when Crimea would be pulled out of the orbit of Russian rule along with an independent Ukraine.

Vote!!

To be honest, the decision that I joined Canon Young Photographers Award competition was partly accidental. As I saw that a friend of mine had uploaded her picture, I was – okay, using a motivator’s vernacular should be no problem – highly motivated to submit some pictures I took as well. Well, I didn’t use paraphernalia like DSLR or EOS; I was only equipped with a ten-year-old Canon camera that my mom had just recently given to me. I don’t want to be trapped in the vicious cycle of ‘wishful thinking’, but regarding winning competition and getting an all-expenses-paid trip to US to attend National Geographic’s photography workshop – one of my lifelong dreams is to, at least, be able to join a Nat Geo project – who would dare enough to refuse these efficacious offers?

 

Therefore, do please vote for my pictures by clicking these links I provide below (I submit 2 pictures, in fact):

http://celebrationofcolour.com/gallery/#/keyword/a%20meditation

http://celebrationofcolour.com/gallery/#/keyword/to%20the%20sea%20and%20beyond

 

I will really, really thank you very much if you either vote or like my pictures. I wish you countless blessings!

 

As an indirect reciprocation, to thank my friend, Adriana Salim, for indirectly, and unconsciously, ‘alerting’ me to join this competition, I’ll also enclose another link for you to vote for her picture as well:

http://celebrationofcolour.com/gallery/#/keyword/solitude

 

Thank you!