East meets West in Hong Kong

I am always surprised how Eastern and Western Hong Kong can be at the same time. Outwardly, it could not appear more Westernized, with its ultramodern airport, efficient, modern public transport (MTR), clean streets, skyscrapers in the financial district, well-kept parks, business men and women dressed smart, fashion-conscious women with the latest hand bags and crowded department stores full of everything that is new and desired.

But at the core of Hong Kong’s vitality lies a culture and traditions that could not be more Chinese. Ironically, under British rule, Hong Kong became the most Chinese of Chinese cities. While Mao Zedong’s Red Guards topped traditions, festivals, customs and beliefs during the Cultural Revolution on the mainland, Hong Kong remained largely unaffected.

Today, you can still find row upon row of Chinese herbalists dispense ingredients such as shark fin, dried shrimps, lizard skins and pearl powder. In small shop-house factories Chinese artisans turn out company chops (seals), decorated chopsticks, paper fans and silk purses.

In other places, shopkeepers use abacuses to tally bills for rice and beans. Butchers carve up pigs and old ladies haggle at the fish market.

Inside numerous small temples, hidden behind high-rise residential towers (like the Man Mo temple or this temple in Kowloon) devotees burn joss sticks and offer fruit to Taoist gods before seeking counsel with fortune-tellers who read faces and palms (very popular at the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon).

Hong Kong’s numerous festivals (Chinese New Year, Ching Ming, Buddha’s Birthday, Tuen Ng Dragon Boat, Chung Yeung etc) are all also based on Chinese traditions.

East does not clash with West in Hong Kong – not like in other Asian cities where locals see the Western culture as undermining traditional beliefs. Rather it blends in Hong Kong. It is not uncommon for a successful businessman, wise in the ways of Western dealing to hire a feng shui master to design his office in such a way that his business will prosper, or for a lady to go to the women with the paper tigers under a bride next to the Times Square to wish away bad luck.

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