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Colonial Legacy in Hong Kong

by Corey

Evidence of migration overwhelms my senses as I exit the Hong Kong port directly into a 3 story commercial machine.  Toys R Us, Columbia, Adidas, Gap, Nike, and an array of American corporations assault my perception as I attempt to make my way to fresh air unscathed.  But the air isn’t so fresh in the smog ridden bustling city as McDonald’s awaits on the nearest corner… soon followed by Starbucks and Hagen Daas.  British colonial legacy has undoubtedly left its mark on Hong Kong tourist traffic.  An array of European tourists can easily travel in and amidst Hong Kong, reading from English signs on every wall.  Migration has shaped the urban landscape and ranges greatly in scope, ranging from domestic workers to big-wig business.


My personal experience in Hong Kong includes meeting an American born businessman in the airport shuttle and his adventurous tale in China.  Bill was born and raised in northern California, studied political science at UCLA, and attended a semester exchange in China.  After graduation, Bill packed up his bags to teach English in Shanghai.  Sixteen years later, he now has two fifteen million dollar homes, one in downtown Shanghai and the other a vacation home in Bell Air, California.  American poultry company Tyson Chicken has recently employed Bill, sending their new Senior VP of Asian Distribution to remote corners of South East Asia.  Tyson figures cite the migration of American poultry at 4000 tons of chicken sold to McDonalds every month while KFC imports over 400,000 tons of chicken every month, with KFC earning over 60% of its profits in China.  Bill has married a Chinese woman and now returns to California with his two children for holiday twice a year.


As I exited the Star Ferry port, Filipina domestic workers filled the subways and public squares of Hong Kong, rallying in a unifying dances and leisure activity in their only day off.  Given only Sundays to themselves for leisure activity, the hundreds of domestic workers fill the streets to engage in social networking and support with other Filipinas.  My travel companions and I witnessed a beauty pageant and organized dance, as well as many organized games Filipinas played in the streets.  The sheer numbers is what made the lasting impression, for women were sitting on blankets or cardboard in every nook and cranny of the public park and plaza.  Rain had driven some underground to the subway, but their presence was easily detectable as the hum of a foreign language echoed from below.  As discussed in Nicole Constable’s article titled “Maid to Order in Hong Kong”, the common challenges these young women face create a social fabric within the community.  Constable points out that Chinese racism against Filipina workers is always unfounded, but is reflected in the harsh restrictions and limited personal time allotted for these migratory laborers.

The colonial legacy left by British rule has placed Hong Kong as a hub for foreign direct investment and the city now serves as one of the leading economies in the world.  Its affluence is portrayed in both the designer filled malls and the need and ability to exploit low waged immigrant services such as the Filipinas.  Its relationship to China has made many of the infrastructural advancements possible, ushering China into the 21st century as an economic powerhouse.  Anyone intelligent enough to see China’s poignant position as a world leader in the approaching decades, much like corporate executive Bill, will surely benefit immensely as China continues to climb the ranks.  Migration of products, urban form, corporate change, transnational executives, and low wage migrant workers will undoubtedly increase as new and innovative opportunities continue to arise.

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