A Week In Hong Kong

November 29, 2014
Iain MacLeod

People move to New Zealand for all sorts of reasons – there are the obvious ‘pull’ factors – they fall in love with one of us and the partner says ‘I am going home, come with me’ or they come on holiday and fall in love with the country having fallen in love with the lifestyle and people and sometimes they are pulled in our direction by family responsibilities or needs.

Sometimes they don’t choose us at all – as the 750 UN sponsored refugees we accept every year discover – this is your new home – like it or lump it.

Then there are the ‘push factor’ migrants – those that feel they cannot stay living where they are for religious, political, economic or other reasons and seek a non-judgmental haven where no one really cares who your God is, whether you are straight or gay, whether you vote left or right or whether you are rich or poor.

I have long had a need to understand why my clients choose New Zealand and after another week in Hong Kong I have gained a better understanding of the drivers operating in that market.

The clients basically want peace and quiet and some balance in their lives – more than just work.

And it is not hard to see why. Most of them have never known much in the way of peace and quiet.

They live in one of the most densely populated cities in the world that never seems to sleep.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to grow up and live there – surrounded always by teeming masses, concrete and tarmac, roads the floors of deep canyons bordered by glass and steel towers, of block after block of tiny apartments stacked like so many shoeboxes, laundry hanging like fading flags from every other window. No privacy. No green spaces. No breathing room. Choking.

Where at night there is no real darkness, the kilometers of twisted neon signs, at once pretty but equally shining a constant glow of red, yellow, green and purple.

People. Everywhere. Always.

There has been a long history of migration from Hong Kong to New Zealand – starting 150 years ago as the departure point for thousands of single young Chinese men heading to New Zealand to make their fortunes during the gold rush of the 1880s. Most had no intention of staying – usually they only stayed a few years, lived in atrocious conditions by today’s standards and while some made money the majority did not. Most eventually returned home. When the easily mined gold was gone some used their savings and opened stores and other businesses, had brides or wives and children shipped out from China and slowly but surely a local community took root.

Often persecuted for the ensuing decades many of these migrants were denied all sorts of basic rights other ‘New Zealanders’ took for granted – including the ability to secure citizenship. It is a wonder many stayed at all.

The next wave arrived during the late 1980s through to the mid 1990s when Hong Kong was handed back to China by the British Government to much surprise and chagrin by many Hong Kongers. Most believed this would never happen and wanted to remain independent of China. Coinciding with that was the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing in 1989. Thousands of Hong Kongese fled to New Zealand to build new lives. Most stayed and their children are now adults, many with children of their own. Truly Kiwi in every respect.

My first trip as a wet behind the ears immigration adviser was to Hong Kong in 1989.

I was blown away by, well, virtually everything about the place – the food, (what these people will not eat!), the colour, the relentless noise, the stink, the traffic jams, the bustle, the cheek by jowl existence, the bright neon lights, the sky scrapers – the utter urbaneness of it all.

My first trip back since 1989 was almost a year ago and while much has changed so much has not. It still blows me away and I challenge anyone in Hong Kong to find a life lived more differently to that of your average suburban New Zealander.

We enjoy space. Personal and physical. Parks. Uncluttered footpaths. Available carparks (usually). Fresh air. Forests, beaches and farms.

And when we need it, cities, supermarkets, malls and schools.

A life lived more gently and slowly where we have time for our children, our loved ones and ourselves.

I always believe that we New Zealanders love visiting cities like Hong Kong but few New Zealanders could survive there for long. Even those chasing the big bucks don’t usually stay more than a decade.

Where else are you going to see Deep fried pig intestines on the menu, or deep fried stomach fish? Goose intestines anyone? Pigs blood pudding with veges? What about roasted goose head (with the eyes left in….) or roast baby pigeon (a personal favourite of mine).

It has to be said this city really is a foodies paradise but I do wonder if any of them really connect their food with nature.

I wonder if any of them have ever planted a tree.

If you want to shop for things you don’t really need, this is your kind of city.

Away from the tourist traps of LV and Gucci stores is the old Hong Kong – the merchant city, trading volumes of all sorts of goods on small margins.

I have realized that if you cannot buy it in Hong Kong it is only because it has not been invented yet.

Where east still meets west but east is slowly subsuming west. The money men from the north are replacing the money men from the west and I cannot help thinking that it while it will never lose its slightly grimy, pithy, energetic personality it’s new owners in Beijing will turn it into just another Chinese mega-city.

I for one hope not as there is only one Hong Kong but I totally understand why so many are now looking for the greener pastures and fresher air of New Zealand and I hope more can find what they are looking for.

Peace and quiet.

Leave a Reply

There are currently no comments. Why don't you kick things off?