Seeing the World from the Other Side

26 05 2010

As my month-long journey on the other side of the Pacific comes to an end, I am left to reflect on the things I have seen and thought about and learned.

If I had to declare my relationship status with Hong Kong and China on Facebook (to me, HK and China will always be different), I would choose “It’s complicated”.  The term “love-hate” also comes to mind.

Hong Kong is the home of my parents and where I was born, but it was China and the incident at Tiananmen Square that made my dad cry in front of the tv in 1989, mourning the lost of his trust for his incoming government.  My dad is a Chinese patriot who wants nothing more than for his people to flourish.  It was devastating for my father when he realized that he could not let me be raised in an environment where such violence, oppression, and injustice could prevail.  [Note on May 21st, 2010: I am writing this post in China and found Tiananmen Square on Wikipedia, but then I tried to click on the link to the page about the protests of 1989, at which point the page ceased to exist, the Tiananmen Square page that I had just accessed no longer worked, and I could no longer even access Wikipedia.  My dad told me that it was stupid to try to write a blog post about this sensitive subject here, so I stopped.]

[Note on May 25th, 2010: I am finishing this blog post in Hong Kong with no problems on Wikipedia.  Exhibit A for the difference between Hong Kong and China.]

Even though China seemingly still limits certain freedoms, I realize it’s not as black and white.  Cries of censorship, the one-child policy, and unrest in Tibet, among many other issues, seem to paint China as an oppressive state, but people in China have a different point of view:  “Google’s cry of censorship is just a reaction to its loss against Baidu.”  “The one-child policy was necessary to limit the number of uneducated children that would grow up poor and hungry while giving loopholes for those who can afford to raise and educate to make other arrangements.”  “China does everything in their power to rectify history with Tibetans the way Canada tries with the First Nations people; if Tibet secedes like Quebec wants to, Tibet will not be able to survive as its own entity.”  I do not know for sure what the “truth” is or if there is just one, but it’s refreshing to learn that there are other interpretations of what China is all about.  

This trip to China has allowed me to see citizens enjoying coffee in the sunshine with their family, laughing and playing basketball with their friends while wearing jeans fancier than mine, and working towards sustainable urban planning (for example, municipal governments pay to prevent factory pollution into lakes and to preserve parks and expansive hills so citizens can hike).  The only thing I really disapproved of was them playing basketball in jeans – I mean seriously, guys…  Perhaps I needed to take off my Western-coloured glasses to see China naked with all its flaws and beauty.

Yes, China blocks Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Wikipedia (if you search for sensitive topics), but without proper education, radical knowledge and ideas can be leveraged to manipulate a peaceful citizenry working hard to survive into an angry mob sacrificing everything for a cause they don’t understand or believe.  I am certainly not here to defend (or attack) China, but I understand their point of view and hesitation to simply grant unprecedented freedom immediately.  They currently allow Google, Gmail, BBC News, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Wikipedia (if you don’t search for sensitive topics…), and they are dedicated to slowly relaxing the one-child policy.  In the Western world, we believe freedom is a fundamental right and so we wish that for every citizen on this Earth, and that is admirable, but change cannot happen overnight.  External pressure to change for the better is necessary, but I think blindly accusing the nation of breaches against human rights without consideration of the progressive, though conservative, actions it is already taking, as well as the cultural climate of the times, is irresponsible.  With the recent Facebook crisis meeting on privacy and similar privacy concerns with Google, I sometimes wonder if China was visionary and ahead of its time when it decided to protect its citizens from these issues (via blocking these sites) before they came up =P.

My dad told me an interesting observation: the current population is really the first generation of car users in China, so they, accustomed to biking, drive cars exactly the same way they use bikes (i.e., driving casually into oncoming traffic, not following lights or lanes, biking and walking in the middle of a busy six-lane road – I’ve seen all of this firsthand).  Thus, when cars are introduced in a city, the number of deaths and casualties increase dramatically.  It’s a disaster because proper education did not precede the introduction of a new freedom.

Understanding the ramifications of making a decision based on context, and ensuring the proper infrastructure is in place to support these changes before they happen, makes all the difference.

Eastwood‘s comment on my last post is absolutely correct.  Poor mental health in China is a symptom of underlying stress, anxiety, and frustration due to a corrupt system, inequality, disparity, etc.  However, this inner turmoil is also the cause of violence within and without.  It is more like a signaling cascade where the effect (i.e., murder and suicide) has a chain of causes.  No nation is perfect.  Every country’s government will always struggle with controversial issues that affect the mental health of the people involved.  One example is the recent finding that more members of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community suffer from psychiatric disorders in US states that banned gay marriage.  Efforts are being made to overturn these bans, but in the meanwhile, it doesn’t mean that this community should not be offered psychiatric help.  In the same way, as China cautiously makes changes in its limiting policies and improper practices, it doesn’t mean that it is not important to offer mental health support and spread awareness in this great country.

I am so thankful for this trip to Hong Kong/China – the friends, the family, the experiences.  I think the value of traveling is in opening up new perspectives of the world based on firsthand experience rather than preconceived notions and beliefs.  It’s odd to me that it has taken me 23 years to finally realize the beauty of my home country and fall in love it.  

This time, I don’t just mean Hong Kong.


P.S. This blog post is dedicated to one Ms. Courtney Kohnen, my beautiful fiancee.  Before I discourage potential suitors, though, let me say that she is not actually my fiancee, but I love her just the same =). 

We are doing “The Rush” to raise money for the BC Lung Association so please let us know if you would like to help out an amazing cause.  My grandfather passed away from lung cancer and it not only ended a brilliant life prematurely, but it left my dad fatherless at age 10, changing his life forever.




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