+ Hong Kong, a Jaded City
Jan Morris是我在travel journalism课的一本介绍travel writers的书里面认识的。在他生命的头四十几年里面，他的性别是“他”，但之后，他变成了她，她做了变性手术，成了她多年梦寐以求的“女人”。
读英国人写的文章，跟美国人的文章很有些不同。比起通俗直白的美式英语风格，英国人的文章带着一股书卷的香气 － 虽然是描写尘世中的香港，你却感觉到一中超脱凡尘的文学气氛。
The view downhill
Hong Kong was once the strangest place on earth, a fantastical mix of colonial style and rampant materialism. But as China's new cities steal its gloss, has it lost its way? In the first of an occasional series of dispatches from abroad, Jan Morris reports on a jaded city。
Monday October 24, 2005，The Guardian
Not long ago Hong Kong was one of travel's absolutes - history's absolutes, too. A city-state like no other, spectacularly unique, with the tallest buildings, the most extravagant shops, the grandest hotels, the busiest port and the most terrific airport - a marvellous anomaly, a historical epitome, a boast, a marvel and a show, whirling away night and day in the South China Sea. Traveller, just look at it now!
As it happens, I am looking at it now. I am making my pre-breakfast amble around the Peak, the high belvedere of Hong Kong island, and actually, the city below me looks about the same as it always did. There are the myriad attendant ships, container ships and shambling sampans and hydrofoils streaking out to the islands. There are the massed cranes of the container port and the regiments of concrete housing, clambering away among the hills like so many robots, all rectilinear, all symmetrical, with never an unctuous curve among them. And there at the heart of it, in the Central district, cluster the skyscrapers of legend and brochure, jostling for supremacy in glitzy arrogance above the restless harbour.
It all looks much the same. Even up here on the old pleasance, though, where the Australian joggers pant by still, and the t'ai chi practitioners silently exercise among the bamboo groves, somehow it all feels different. It has lost its allegorical thrill. Once there was nowhere like Hong Kong; now there are Shanghai and Singapore and Sydney and Seoul and Kuala Lumpur, and the brilliantly reviving cities of Europe, and the marvels of the new Arabia. Those serried ranks of apartment blocks, which used to shout of life and vigour, now seem a bit funereal, like memorial towers. Even the skyscrapers of Central, for all their competitive gusto in the detail, suggest to me something jaded in the whole, as though they are beginning to lose heart.
The wider prospect too, away over the northern hills into China proper, offers less epic messages these days. It used to propose arcane alternatives, ideological temptations of dogma and simplicity, waiting beyond the frontier for their time to come. Now it is veiled less by mystery than by industrial pollution, as the burgeoning factories of China churn out their millions of computer components, handbags, electric kettles and plastic geegaws for the Christmas trees of the west.
Are these just metaphysical changes, all in my mind? Perhaps, but mostly they are history happening. It is eight years since the British handed over the Crown Colony of Hong Kong to be a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, and insidiously, all but imperceptibly, year by year fusion occurs.
Fusion is not complete yet, however, and I am still reminded now and again that an alien culture created this Special Administrative Region in the first place. There still is a certain orderly individualism to Hong Kong, tinged with humour, that does not ring indigenous.
Generations of imperial rule have created here, for the moment at least, a separate kind of Chinese. It is presumably because of Hong Kong's highly educated middle classes, their worldly experience, their social skills and their wider outlooks, that the place still has its particular value for the Chinese Republic. Guangzhou and Shanghai may be just as brilliant, just as technically advanced, but they are not yet cities of the world, and thanks to its colonial past, Hong Kong decidedly is.
Of course, the British official legacy is hardly more than an idea now, or the faded remains of a style - somebody likened it for me to the smile left behind by the Cheshire Cat. There are a few old government buildings left, and the colossal airport and the plethora of bridges that the British built in a late flourish of magnificence during the very last years of their tenure. Legco, the Legislative Council, still decorously debates beneath Sir Aston Webb's baroque dome of 1900. There are some ancient double-decker trams about, and a few imperial statues. The Star Ferry, beloved of Victorian globe-trotters, still chugs faithfully to and fro across the harbour, Central to Kowloon and back. A few British-raised administrators bring the passionless Whitehall manner to the SAR government. As one of the city's political cartoonists told me, the snag about Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the new chief executive of the SAR, is that, being a former colonial civil servant, he is "uncaricaturable" except for his bow tie.
There are plenty of unofficial British expatriates, though, many of them much easier to lampoon. I went to an institutional banquet the other night at which the whole gamut of overseas bourgeois Britishness was displayed, from the exquisitely elegant company chairman to the boozy and garrulous lawyer - every one his own archetype, changeless down the years, and though now greatly outnumbered by Americans, Australians and Japanese, still recognisably descended from imperialists.
And nothing is more redolent of the lost empire than the funicular, the Peak tram, which took me down to my toast and marmalade at the still anglophile Mandarin Hotel. Think of colonial Hong Kong and you think tram. The rolling stock is modern and Swiss, but the track, which runs straight as a die from the city to the Peak, figures proudly in 19th-century photographs of Hong Kong island - direct, uncompromising, confident, a green slash up the mountainside which was meant to last for ever.
The new tourists
Down by the waterfront on the Kowloon side of the harbour, I hear some strange music - tinny, wheezy, reedy music, performed by tinny, wheezy voices with reedy accompaniment. I walk around the corner to find a combo of a dozen elderly Chinese ladies and one elderly gent performing to a raptly appreciative Chinese audience.
They come, I learn, from the Yan Oi Tong Sophia Dan Continuing Education Centre for the Elderly, and they are like visitors from another era. In uniform flimsy red dresses they stand there, while a xylophonist twangs away and a flautist trills, emanating happy enthusiasm. I am entranced by them, and very soon find myself tapping my own feet to their esoteric melodies.
So, I notice, do most of their audience, who turn out to be not local people at all, but visitors from over the border, from what Hong Kong citizens still call mainland China. They can freely visit Hong Kong nowadays, and thousands of today's tourists here have travelled from no further than Guangzhou (old Canton) or from the new industrial towns of the Pearl delta, where the pollution comes from. Hong Kong people do not invariably welcome them - they are seldom free-spending, even now - but their presence is a new and potent element of fusion. "Very good music, very old, very Chinese," they say to me down by the waterfront, and when a later ensemble of the elderly perform a German square dance, to the melody of O Mein Lieber Augustin, one man assures me that it is traditional to Guangdong province.
Chineseness is increasingly cool these days among young people in the SAR. Chinese achievements get lots of publicity - the flooding of the world with Chinese consumer goods, the launch of China's second manned space vehicle, the dazzle of new Chinese rock groups, film stars, fashions. Hong Kong dating agencies report that, for the first time, their female clients are clamouring for Chinese rather than western hunks.
It also gradually dawns upon me, as I wander the city, that far fewer people now understand English, no longer a compulsory subject at state schools. The privately educated middle classes speak it more fluently and elegantly than ever, but lack of English is making the proletariat of the old Crown Colony more akin to the labouring masses of the People's Republic. Perhaps it is part of the scheme of things? In the news recently was an elderly citizen who, having spent 50 years of his life amid the modernist frenzy of Hong Kong, had sold his possessions and gone back to raise pigs in his ancestral village in Guangdong - a model, it was implied, of patriotic idealism. Alas, I fear Mr Wu Zhongwan and his pigs will eventually find themselves snarled up in materialism anyway, as the People's Republic storms its way to capitalist fruition.
From my hotel windows in Central I can see only the stumps of the central skyscrapers, like the trunks of some nightmare forest. At night they are illuminated by moving lights and neon colours, and on brilliantly lit office floors I can see, long into the night, purposeful money-making motions. It is a spectacular but scarcely comforting scene.
Profit in property, in particular, now seems to preoccupy all classes in this city, and emblematic of the obsession are the skyscrapers of Central. In the days when this city was a fiery outpost of the capitalist ethos on the edge of the Marxist world they were undeniably exciting: now, to my eyes, they are beginning to seem a bit boring. In Hong Kong 2005, I pine instead for things small, delicate, perhaps holy. I can see bigness and richness almost anywhere I go in the world.
Some very famous international architects have contributed to the jam-packed grotesquerie of Central, unrestricted, it seems, by much aesthetic conscience. Within this couple of square miles no new building pays much attention to the one next door, except to make sure that it is smaller. It is all flamboyant clutter, and is at its most telling, I think, when on Sundays the vast, open ground floor of Norman Foster's brilliant Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building is taken over by multitudes of Filipina maids, who flock here in their thousands for their day off, and sit around in exuberant groups loudly talking. Their ceaseless gossip is often likened to the chatter of starlings, but it reminds me more of the frenzied calling of brokers on a market floor.
Even Hong Kong people, long accustomed to it all, have protested against the latest and tallest of the Central prodigies. For my own tastes, Cesar Pelli's International Finance Centre, with 88 floors, is the most elegant skyscraper since the Chrysler Building, an uncluttered phallic steeple standing all on its own at the water's edge. Everyone I have consulted here, however, indigene or expatriate, has disliked it because it obstructs the view of the Peak behind. Obstructs the view? Aren't there a thousand awful constructions obstructing the view already? Yes, I am told, but this is different. This goes too far.
Perhaps the building does seem, however lovely in itself, a kind of last straw. It may be that the tireless pressure for more of everything really is beginning to weary the civic psyche. Far into the surrounding countryside the new estates remorselessly extend; Disneyland has implanted itself on the once bucolic Lantau island; terrific new roads and bridges link everywhere with everywhere else, and although the publicity machine likes to present SAR and its islands as ideal hiking territory, year by year it is harder to get away from that exhausting acquisitive energy at the heart of it.
Will it never stop? When I dropped in at Legco the other day they were discussing yet another characteristic mega-project: a new cultural centre beside the water in West Kowloon. For it Lord Foster has proposed an enormous transparent canopy to be, so its proponents claim, yet another new icon for Hong Kong. They have been arguing about it for years, and it really seemed to me that it might be a good idea to forget the whole thing, and make do with what they have got already.
That has never been the Hong Kong way. But I wonder just which way Hong Kong now needs to go. Can it keep up its tireless momentum when its historic purpose is lost, and it is no longer a marvellous anomaly but just another city of the Chinese Republic? Will it need that vastly extravagant cultural centre in another half-century, when its uniqueness is all but forgotten, its skills are overtaken and it subsides into provincialism?
And yet I have only to step on to my hotel balcony, and see those skyscrapers straining so competitively towards the stars, to know that this city is not in its twilight yet. Down there, amid the streaming traffic, I know, all the human energies are working unabated as ever, working out contracts in a thousand boardrooms, eating gargantuan meals in 10,000 restaurants, sweeping streets, plotting political alliances, wondering whether to commission Foster or Pelli next time, looking for Asian Fantasy Girls or ladyboys, calling Frankfurt on the party line, telling secretaries to get hold of the chief executive, attending functions vulgar beyond the dreams of footballers' wives in Cheshire, hanging out the laundry, doing homework, copulating, ordering a jet for tomorrow or simply thinking, now as always, about better ways of making money.
The city in miniature
I have a friend who lives on the small island of Ma Wan, half an hour by ferry from Central. The island's only residents used to be a small fishing community on its northern shore, and life there was idyllically rustic. However, when the mighty new airport was built on the neighbouring island of Lantau, its approach bridge passed almost over little Ma Wan, making it easily approachable from the city and instantly changing its character. A resort sprang up there, a copse of high-rise buildings with a shady plaza, and the fishing folk were rehoused in a specially built modern village with a brand-new temple. In one of its houses my friend now lives.
I think of Ma Wan (now known as Park island) as Hong Kong in miniature. History is absorbing it into Hong Kong just as history is fusing Hong Kong with China. Behind my friend's house there is still a little grassy hillock, to remind me that only a few years ago this was just a rural islet of the South China Sea, but to the south the huge bridge rushes its traffic to the airport, cars on the upper deck, trains in a tube below. The island has become quite pleasantly suburban, and from its balconies gleeful children can watch the firework displays of Disneyland.
It does not feel to me an abrupt or cruel transition, and in the same way the future of Hong Kong itself is being almost organically engineered. The worst has not happened to the former Crown Colony. Beijing has not imposed its full despotism upon the place. Speech is free, censorship is self-administered. When the SAR government has seemed to be moving towards autocracy in the Beijing kind, public demonstrations have so far prevented it. Terrible things are still happening over in China proper, but they are not (touch wood) happening in Hong Kong.
So, just as Man Wa has been gently incorporated into 21st-century Hong Kong, so Hong Kong is being subtly ushered towards 22nd-century China - Confucian convergence, perhaps, rather than Maoist fusion. Gone is the hope of local democrats that the SAR would enjoy universal suffrage by 2007, but few citizens appear to care much. I seem to hear ancestral voices whispering, as I stand on the roof of the village house to watch the traffic on the bridge above. Take it easy, they seem to be advising destiny. Be patient. Let it all slow down, let it tire itself, and in the end - you'll see - we can forget all about Hong Kong.
BBC Four Profile - Jan Morris: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/profile/profile_jan_morris.shtml