Monthly Archives: July 2012

Letting China be China: Retelling a Tale of Two Storms

Probably a good place to start this is with The Wall Street Journal comparing Hong Kong’s recent typhoon to Beijing’s flood, under the headline Hong Kong vs. Beijing: A Tale of Two Storms:

At least 37 people died in fierce rains that lashed China’s capital city over the weekend, prompting flooding in various neighborhoods and structures to collapse in the downpour. Many residents were highly critical of how the city’s infrastructure failed to successfully weather the storm, with many asking why the city, with its all its investments in dazzling Olympic facilities, could still experience such deadly floods. By contrast in Hong Kong, while a handful of scattered flooding incidents were reported, Vicente appeared to pass through without doing any serious damage.

Let’s leave aside that these were two very different storms. Though wet, tropical cyclones are mostly wind events and most damage comes from storm surge. Hong Kong never went over an Amber rainstorm signal during the recent typhoon. That’s the lowest of the three rainstorm signals.

Let’s instead talk about comparisons and expectations.

Flooding in Yunnan, photo by Dennis Kruyt http://www.flickr.com/photos/phantagom/

Before I left to teach English in China, I sat on the porch with one of my best friends who had recruited me into the job and was trying to cover every base, so to speak, of what to expect in China. I tried getting a fifteen-minute Chinese lesson and walked away with “ni hao” and “xie xie.” I also asked her what her best piece of advice was: let China be China.

I quizzed her on what she meant by that. “Don’t judge China by American standards. Also, you’re not going to change anything. Just accept it for what it is,” she told me. And it was great advise. I’ve also come to understand it works both ways – don’t judge China by American standards, but also be careful not to expect China to be like other “third world”/developing countries. I had at least two teachers in my employ who flew into Shenzhen expecting rice fields and conical hats. I personally expected a police state and endless grey factories. Beyond the superficial, there are a lot of similar issues that look and behave differently in China than they do elsewhere.

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[Open] Letter to the Editor for the South China Morning Post

One of the principal lessons we should impart on this Establishment Day is the value of Hong Kong’s diversity. Thus, it is of great concern to me when I hear our president, Mr Hu Jintao, say that Hong Kong’s political leaders should oppose foreign forces interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs. The colonialists packed up and left fifteen years ago. The “foreign forces” in Hong Kong today are entrepreneurs, teachers, students, business leaders, writers, and employees that want to make Hong Kong a better place for everybody. Even what is “local” in Hong Kong has a dozen shades of Punti, Teochew, Toyshan, Hakka and multi-generation non-Chinese families. This diversity of differences mesh and merge to give this a city a vibrancy in economy, character, and culture that no other city in the People’s Republic has. I left the mainland for Hong Kong two years ago in part because I would always be “foreign” – always a “them.” In Hong Kong, I am a small part of the “us.” Being different here is normal. Mr. Hu needn’t pit citizens against each other to make those of Chinese descent identify more as mainland Chinese, a task they empirically fail at more each year. Both Mr Hu and other “foreign forces” can all be part of the “us” coming to a big table with small pieces to complete the puzzles Asia’s World City faces. In this regard, leaders from Zhongnanhai would be better advised to come to Hong Kong with fresh ideas during their next visit instead of the overt displays of force – in rhetoric and ceremony – that have defined this trip.

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