If you look out your window and down on the streets of your neighborhood, or the area where you work, you expect to see a diverse population moving about their business. You believe that your community has people from different backgrounds, from different cultures, and from different heritages. If you are in America, you believe that this melting pot of people is part of the reason that the country has grown into what it is today. But take a closer look at those people as they pass by your window. Is it really as diverse as you think it is? Do you really see a huge mixing of cultures, or are you only imagining it because this is the way we have been taught how to think? I know that when I look out my window it is not a vast collection of cultures, but then again I live in a place where this melting pot idea has not taken root yet.
Some people would claim that this segregation of cultures is one of the downfalls of the American society and something must be done about it. But how are we to combat this problem if we are not the ones who segregate ourselves? Look at a lunch room at any local high school and you will see a phenomenon that will make your stomach turn. The cultures that you believe should blend so well together move to different tables to be with like-minded people. You can’t blame these people for doing this. It is a scary thing to get up from one table full of the people you are comfortable with to make that huge journey over to the next table of people who might not see the world the same way as you do. What if they don’t bring you into their fold? What if they don’t listen to the new ideas that you have to offer them? What if they shun you for being different, or even worse, what if they just kill you? It is better to stay put with like-minded people and not deviate from the place where you find comfort. There is no place on earth where this mythical blending of cultures exists anyways.
I have pondered this problem for many years wondering if there was ever a way to create a society of diversity that would be accepting of others and was about to give up. This was until I visited the city of Hong Kong. This is where the melting pot of the world happens. I have never seen such a blending of cultures in my life. Any corner you turned would introduce you to a diverse group of human beings speaking different languages, practicing different beliefs, wearing different clothes, and yet still managing to get along. How could this be possible? It went against everything I had observed so far in life. What event brought all of these people together to work towards one common goal of bringing a great city up from the depths of a small fishing village? It must have started with the British occupation of the town.
Even though diversity is present in Hong Kong, there are still two major influences occupying this city, that of the Chinese and the British. The clashing cultures seemed to find a way to work together in harmony, and I hate to say it, but the thing that probably brought them together was the concept of money. Hong Kong is definitely one of the economic hubs of the world. It makes sense due to the fact that it is nestled in the perfect location for shipping trade between Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and even North America. Goods and supplies must have come in and out of this location for years, but it would not have happened if it was left under the control of the Chinese. This is not meant to criticize that culture in any way, but it has only been in recent history that this country had opened its doors and was willing to let visitors in to witness its greatness. If the British had not colonized this small portion of the country, it would have taken a lot longer before people could have experienced their unique brand of culture. It would have been as closed to the world as the rest of China had been.
Combine the British colonization with the economic rise that this city experienced over the years, and it is no wonder that more cultures found their way to this place. They all started to work together to develop the city into this fiscal giant it is today, as well as the true melting pot of the world. So now, when you visit this bustling metropolis, it is easy to experience many different corners of the world all at once.
Hong Kong doesn’t only leave its mark on the world financially, but it is also one of the greatest film producing cities in the world. I did not know this when I came to visit here, but after walking around for a few minutes, I quickly realized that I was in the East Asian equivalent of Hollywood. Pictures and statues dedicated to the legends that this industry has produced are all over the town. There is a walk similar to the one in Hollywood where you can see how your hands and feet match up with some of their greatest stars. And if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will be asked to wait as a film crew pieces together a scene that will be used for an upcoming blockbuster. I was lucky enough to experience this on the first day I was in town. As I was checking into my room I looked out my window and watched as a film crew shot a scene on the busy streets of Kowloon. Once again, it was an aspect of the culture that I was not expecting.
I was also surprised at how green this city was. Not very often do I think of a city in the protection of China as having the ability to take care of the nature that surrounds it. Expansive parks are in the middle of the city inviting you to take a leisurely stroll through them. You no longer feel like you are walking through one of the largest cities in the world. There are even surprises along the way. What you thought was just a pond placed in the middle of a park after further inspection would reveal that it is actually the home to flamingos, another inhabitant that I don’t believe is indigenous to the region.
While I was walking the streets of Hong Kong, I started to believe that there couldn’t be a place more diverse than this place. But on a day trip from there, I soon discovered I was wrong. I traveled over to the city of Macao. This took an hour to get there by high-speed ferry. It was another city in the China region that was influenced under the sphere of another European country. This time it was Portugal instead of Britain. The difference was that this city did not become the giant economic powerhouse that Hong Kong had become, and because of this, the flavor of this city is different than the one I was staying in.
First of all, the Portugal influence is huge. There are city squares placed strategically all over to allow the fine citizens of the city to congregate and the merchants to sell their wares to visitors. These plazas are still there and in recent years they have undergone some revitalization to attract more visitors. It has worked because these are now the central meeting places in the city.
Besides the city layout, other Portuguese architecture can be seen here and there. St. Paul’s Cathedral was one of the first Catholic churches built in East Asia, and the Jesuits opened the first university in the area as well. Sadly, early in the 19th century, the building caught on fire, and all that is left is the façade of the building. It is now one of the biggest landmarks and the greatest tourist attraction of the city. There are thousands of people milling on the steps of the cathedral to take picture and stroll further up the hill to the other structure that reminds visitors of the colonization of this city, the old fort that was built to protect the citizen of the town from would-be invaders.
It is quite the fortress on what used to be the highest point of the city. Of course, modern buildings have overtaken the peak’s high point, but it is still interesting to wander around this structure’s great vantage point to see the various parts of the city that have been left behind. This is when you start to see how diverse this city actually is.
The first thing that you notice are the collection of buildings situated near the ferry terminal. They seem a little out of place, almost like the Portuguese ruins. This is because they are replicas of the casinos that you would find in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is as if a piece of the United States has been placed in the middle of the East Asian city. When you start to think about the economic structure that has been set up by the modern Chinese government, it sense of irony really starts to bug you. This bastion of capitalism really seems out of place in a country that has lived by the precepts of communism for so long. It adds more to the mix making the argument for the most diverse place on earth even stronger.
There is still, of course, the various temples to old Chinese gods, and Buddha. The biggest one is the temple to A-ma on the southern tip of the island. It is an old maze of stone staircases, and shrines that ask practitioners to light some incense to pay homage to the god of the fishermen. By doing so, it ensures that the next catch they make will be a good one. It is amazing that this ancient temple has been preserved for so long. It makes you wonder about what that says about the strength of certain institutions and how some can withstand the test of time while others are only there for a shorter period.
My trip to Hong Kong begged for me to search the path of enlightenment to find the true meaning of togetherness. Which path has led us to this ideal. Is it the great American melting pot, or is it Hong Kong? Should togetherness come through assimilation or should it come through acceptance? I know my trip to Hong Kong opened up my eyes to different possibilities, and I now must ponder the question further to come up with the better answer. Therefore, I will find a tree to sit under, gather up its shade and think about this as I travel this voyage to true enlightenment.