Monday, December 8, 2008

Just Do It

Hooters in Beijing. Nike in Beijing. It's as if Beijing is being transformed into another America or something. Beer, girls, playing China being culturally imperialized by America? I know Beijing still has the Chinese culture, history and heritage, but small things like this, like the Hooters down the street or teenagers living through an American basketball brand, I can't help but wonder whether these intrusions of Americanism will (in the long term) detriment or benefit the Chinese culture, disrupt traditions or create new and positive types of change.

I learned in my communication/sociology/development classes at CUHK that globalization is bringing cultures together whether they like it or not. Cultures are hybridizing (the east with the west, the north with the south) and new types of cultures are being created. Some people reject and protest the changes globalization brings to their cultures while others embrace it because it's different and new and more contemporary than the traditional way of thinking. I don't know exactly where China is just yet. It seems like it wants to embrace the change because it wants to get a better global reputation, but at the same time, it doesn't want globalization to change the way its people think (maybe because they're concerned it will eventually lead to greater democracy in the country).

It's weird because Americanization is on the one hand embraced in China, while on the other hand, it's kept at a distance. If there's anything I learned from my classes at CUHK, it's that there is really no telling which way a culture will go. There is no way to determine how cultures will be affected in the long run by other cultures, and that's why China is so nervous. It just doesn't know where it's going to end up.

Cars or bikes?

Bikes were how people used to get around Beijing. Now cars are the big thing. Whatever form of transportation you fancy though, it seems like there is always traffic or gridlock or something in the city. The old and the new keep clashing in this city trying to figure out whether it's something of the past or the new thing of the future.

A dark cappucino with no foam please

Here is a Starbucks in Beijing. Pretty similar to the ones we have in America right? It was really interesting to be in Beijing, to be in China, a country known for its strict authoritarian control over its citizens...and to step into a Starbucks and feel like I was back in Los Angeles.

The Beijing-ers inside the Starbucks could have passed for everyday Americans getting their cup of joe. They were on laptops, sitting and chatting, reading the newspaper. It seems like the culture of Starbucks gets carried wherever the chain goes. Though things on the outside may be one thing, stepping into a Starbucks seems to make those things disappear and people can just enjoy the Starbucks feeling.

Does that mean that transplanted American companies can help people forget about their country and escape into American culture? Or could this be a sign that people would rather be American?

I thought the whole situation was interesting because I know that when McDonalds entered China, lots of things about the way the company was run and how it interacted with its customers changed. There was more focus on family-style meals, it had closer relationships with its customers, and it was less about fast food and more about slow eating.

But for Starbucks, it was like America in Beijing. Almost like how an embassy feels in a foreign country.

Tourists only

One of the destinations in my Beijing trip was a stop at the Olympic village, which is pretty much a shopping mall with Western stores and a Western feel. So that explains why there was almost no one there except for other people from my tour.

I feel like a lot of the time, China and Hong Kong adopt the Western way of doing things, the American concept, like these types of shopping malls. They do it to make themselves feel and look more Western, more American, because they think that's the what they need to do to become more modern.

I think it ultimately hurts them. I mean, these buildings look pretty and everything is nice. But local people know that this isn't what their country or city stands for. They know it is a sham, which is why they will never end up going. It's just a place for tourist to come, to look and see how "developed" things are now.

These types of mall rarely have any business. I guess that is the return on profit for trying to become more Western and less of who they actually are.

Out with the old and in with the new

I knew before I arrived there that Beijing had developed into a modern city since the 1990s. But I was still surprised when I got there and saw skyscapers and office buildings dominating the sky. I felt like it could have passed for Toronto or Los Angeles or Chicago. An ancient city with so much history and heritage? And all I see are Western designed and shaped buildings? Oh how Beijing has changed...

Cranes in Beijing

This picture was taken from the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. I know I should have been focusing more on the ancient kings' sacrificial ways to the heavens, but I got distracted when I saw five cranes from this one point inside the Temple of Heaven.

The thought that came back to mind was how China has been rapidly growing and building these past couple years. I learned in my Crisis of a Planet class at USC that this rapid growth is seriously straining the world's natural resources and it's burdening the rest of the world. China's rapid construction and building efforts are burning through natural resources faster than the world can compensate. And that's why our world is in a crisis (well, amongst other things). China is developing at such a fast rate, it's polluting the air immensely, making its river systems undrinkable, and making its lands sustainable.

China is so focused on its economic development, working its way into the global trade world, and scaling capitalism that it's lost focus on everything else - social problems, the environment, etc. It's letting its capitalistic desires take over every other part of its infrastructure because it so desparately wants to be included in the group of elite countries.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hong Kong's Hidden Social Inequality

When people think of Hong Kong, they think of cheap shopping, good food, and swarms of people all around. And yes, Hong Kong does have all these things. But underneath Hong Kong's bustling surface lies enormous social inequality. Contrast the bankers in Central to the beggars lying on the streets of Mong Kok. Compare the shoppers at Causeway Bay (as shown in the first picure) to the workers at the side of the street in Quarry Bay (as shown in the second picture).

Every city has its rich and its poor, but the divide between the two in Hong Kong is particularly strong because a dollar can go a long way in this city. Though it is no longer on the World's Bank list of top countries with income inequality, Hong Kong was on the list in 2002; it was number 17, right behind Zambia, Sierra Leone and Nicaragua.

With its economy continuously expanding and with more young people getting post-secondary education, the upper-middle class of Hong Kong has grown. However, at the same time, those whose parents or who themselves did not take advantage of the 1980s and 1990s economic boom are now falling behind.

If we move across the border into mainland China, a similar situation is brewing. The country's economy has taken off in the past decade and its global influence has expanded. But it is growing too fast and too quickly for its citizens to catch up. A socio-economic divide has already emerged within the nation, and it is up to China to act swiftly to make sure the social inequality of its citizens doesn't become too far gone.


About Me

Originally from Canada. Transplanted to LA. Lived and worked in Kentucky, Toronto, now Kelowna and who knows where next! Let the adventures begin!