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Discovering the Tiny Global City

By Caroline Park

Hong Kong. I immediately knew what to expect as I leaned out on the rail during the hazy morning our ship pulled into Ocean Terminal Harbor City. The mass of sleek shiny buildings and the towering skylines told me that I’ve been in numerous cities such as this. Maybe it was an arrogant presumption but it was one that I carried with me the whole five days.

            On the first day of exploring Hong Kong Island, the sights of Starbucks Coffee and Seven Eleven no longer emitted an appreciative thought of home as they had in Shanghai two months ago during my first study abroad experience. The sight of the distinct logos were much too familiar, a clear indication of the globalization of corporations that I’ve been learning about my junior year at UCLA. I was witnessing it firsthand everywhere I went. The people that I passed by on the streets were unfamiliar but the place they were living in was all too much so. The images of LA, Seoul, Shanghai, and Kobe resounded a little too loudly in the busy streets of Hong Kong. The women in heels clicking into a café for their afternoon coffee, men in dark business suits marching alongside the double decker buses that displayed oversized images of European women in fashionable dresses. As Alan Smart says in Participating in the Global: Transnational Social Networks and Urban Anthropology, “many ordinary people construct their lives and livelihood relationships that cross borders” (62). Globalization was saturated in the lives of these people. What did Hong Kong not have that I could take back and remember as truly “Hong Kong”?

            I felt sweaty and dirty walking the streets of Kowloon. But it was my mission for the evening to discover Hong Kong. As I slowly paced myself glancing left and right, trying to take in as much as possible, I noticed the quicker steps of the people around me. Almost everybody was a step ahead of me and those who were behind speedily caught up and passed by with a swish. As I wondered what the rush was, I remembered that is also how I walk in LA and in Seoul. I felt as if I was in slow motion while the world passed by. Then I noticed an older gentleman being passed by the pedestrians just like I was. In a wrinkled suit after a long day, he had earphones in his ears and he stared ahead shuffling slowly, taking his time, completely unaware of those who were rushing by. For five minutes or so, that gentleman and I walked down Nathan Street almost side by side as everyone around us beat us to unknown finish lines. Then we parted ways as he stopped at a light to cross the street.

            I couldn’t help but wonder what that man was thinking about, walking the streets, lost in his headphones. Was he thinking about his long, weary day and all the things that had gone wrong? Or was he thinking about his family he was going home to? Or was he lost in the music in his ears? What about everybody else? In this glamorous global city with McDonalds, Channel, and Citibank on every block, with what thoughts did these people walk and down the streets?

Globalization—no, Westernization. This was definitely Westernization. As the world comes together in closer proximity, is every street corner in the world doomed to sprout billboards displaying Gucci and KFC? These thoughts were what I discovered in Hong Kong more than the unique qualities of Hong Kong itself. 

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