On mid December 2018, I was invited to attend DRT (Diving, Resort and Travelling) show in Hong -Kong. That was a nice opportunity for an intro to mainland China. Fortunately, for UE citizens, there is the chance of picking a Visa on Arrival for the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone, though it is valid for only 3 days.
Winter was cold on both spots and (coming from Indonesian hot and rainy season) one of the first things I had to do was to buy myself some warm clothing.
That shouldn’t pose a problem as Zhuhai has plenty of large shopping malls full of clothing shops, but it, somehow did. Most of them were nonsenses as a concept. Most were excessively dull, without actually being sober. Some managed to look cheaper than they really where. Some were pretentious instead of classy. Others, just ridiculous: I remember polo shirts with large logos of inexistent British clubs, some with spelling mistakes. They were too colourful, colours didn’t really match and surely, no club would pick those as merchandising.
Still they were there, along with weird shaped blazers. I became to wonder why… To produce such pieces, when the labour and material cost would be roughly the same, to produce something wearable and with good taste. Maybe their taste was not my taste. Maybe taste just didn’t matter in that area. From the beginning I started to believe it was all just to show how much money one has.
I ended up with the simplest denim jacked and a plain white shirt. …Funny, as I often buy Chinese inspired clothing in Singapore. Not being able to do it in China, was just crazy!
Eating was an interesting experience, as well: I remember going to a sushi place where the shrimp were still alive when served, fish was immaculate and tasty, prices were comparably cheap, and atmosphere was sober and appropriate. The funny part was, when the desserts came, they looked (and tasted) like junk food. A nonsense, among such exquisite fishes and sea-food.
Didn’t they understand the dining experience as a whole? Apparently, not! People could evaluate (quantify) the freshness of a fish or shrimp; but could not feel the impression of the overall meal.
One time, I went with a friend for a late breakfast / lunch in a teahouse, near the border with Macao. Dim-sum is something I love, and I wasn’t disappointed, with variety and flavours. However, the restaurant, itself, looked like a canteen. The dimensions were huge, the decoration expendable. One could see that people loved abundance and taste, down there. Again, the overall dining experience was something beyond their reach.
As for the landscapes, we went to the new Opera House and surroundings. Though it was impressive and colourful, it was also freezing cold, meteorologically and emotionally. It was probably made to be seen on postcards or on the TV, rather than to be experienced.
Buddhist temples, both in Zhuhai and Hong-Kong were places where people went in search of material prosperity. In Europe they used to be places for repentance and reconciliation; in India, special energetic places, where people could absorb it. In there is was mostly about money. The one you display and the one you’re searching for. Surely, Buddha wouldn’t be too happy on the way his name have been used and his image twisted, as a fortune-teller. I tried not to be judgemental, but didn’t quite succeed. I found temples and casinos to be too similar in there. Even some “games” looked alike.
I had the weird feeling of people labelling me on the basis of how much could I afford to spend. It didn’t feel great. Specially because I also felt that the spending had no further intention apart from spending. No culture, no pleasure, no comfort: spending for the sake of spending. Eating for the sake of feeling abundance and deference quantified on price.
Moving to Hong-Kong, my main purpose (apart from visiting the Diving exhibition) was to find Kowloon Walled City, unaware that is was demolished in 1994. I’d seen documentaries of it as a child, and wanted to see it live. My main question was: Why people build and choose to live on what I’d consider Hell. Why to deprive themselves of fresh air, sunlight, fresh water, green vegetation, and overall space? What is the mental condition or, in different terms, the “mental landscape” people collectively carry to express in such urbanism?
Kowloon was definitely gone, but Quarry Bay monster building was still there. One could argue that Hong Kong was just too crowded and necessity brought people into such building options. Well, Singapore is also crowded, but never that claustrophobic. In fact, people don’t mind living there, would feel homesick if taken out of there. Why, those elderly people kept playing cards in that yard? They could just pick a public transport and gather on a different area…
From what I understood, it is a choice. Why, the choice? Have no idea! For the first time on my travel experience I felt a total alien. I couldn’t possible picture myself living in such a place, and couldn’t possible share any concept of what life and happiness is all about, with people choosing to live in those places.
As much as I respect people’s choices regarding spirituality, food, urbanism or dressing, I hope they don’t impose their choices on me and others who see life differently.