Hong Kong – The last day before future

by Sebastian Holler

I have been stayin‘ alive.

The hard part of a sometimes dangerous expedition across Asia is over. The Airbus A320 touches down in Hong Kong. It is 4 a.m. In the airport bus to the terminal, people’s smiles disappear behind blue face masks. Welcome to China. Shortly afterwards, the brightly lit bustle of the colorful containers of the Hong Kong port passes by as I hover in the red taxi running on natural gas fuel towards the city center on high bridges over the South China Sea. Hong Kong never sleeps. We are here. 220 dollar. Hong Kong dollar. I sigh with relief. The driver holds out a WeChat QR code in my face. The first dollar in history was minted in my home country Austria. The next revolution in the payment system is happening here right in this moment in Asia. So I look like a time traveler from a long forgotten past and hand the driver colorful bills and worn shiny coins. “Ok, thanks. Get WeChat. Have a pleasant morning.” With British humor and a Chinese accent, he dismisses me out in the ending night.

“Indian Premium Quality” they said. With a half-life of unfortunately only a few days, I now drag my battered Indian suitcase with shattered wheels through the brightly tiled hotel lobby. The eyes of the friendly, smiling receptionist duo are thunderstrucked by the crunching noise that disturbs the polite silence of the stylish boutique hotel. I hear the voices of old friends who look still fresh. Yet. “I am Mr. Krendl and I booked two rooms for…” “Are you alright pals?” I interrupt Florian’s chat with the receptionist duo with a shoulder pat. After a long time, the reunification with the homebase team Florian and Max. The two are being accompanied by Lara, the winner of our China competition. The next morning we leave the hotel groomed and well dressed. The surprised, smiling glances of the hotel staff accompany us out into the last day of the year.

Hong Kong is the perfect place to look ahead, but at the same time never forget how it all started. The increasing flooding of China with British opium from India and its confiscation by the Chinese government led to the First Opium War. The British crown won the conflict and forced the surrender of Hong Kong and other Chinese territories to the Empire in the Unequal Treaties. The relationship with mainland China became complicated from then on and only improved with the economic opening of China in the 1980s and the return of the colony to China in 1997. Within these decades, Hong Kong has now become the booming metropolis that has broken all records to this day. The best local transport network in the world connects this subtropical island world, in which between green mountains and high-rise urban canyons more people gather like nowhere else in such a small space. Here British charm mixes with Cantonese cuisine, Oxford English with Asian bustle.

Progress is being designed here in the subtropical Pearl River Delta. Here is the Silicon Valley of Asia. George Lam, CEO of Hong Kong Cyberport, talks to us about a future that combines the best of two worlds for the good of all. Where better to design such a vision than in Hong Kong, where east and west meet. It is not without reason that the famous author and former Portuguese Minister for Europe Bruno Maçães speaks of Hong Kong as the Eurasian metropolis par excellence. But this compromise of cultures, unique in the world, has an expiration date. After the return to China, it was agreed to maintain the liberal system for the next fifty years. Half of this transition phase has almost passed and Beijing is now increasingly trying to integrate Hong Kong into the surrounding pulsating Chinese metropolitan Greater Bay Area with its dynamic centers of Shenzhen and Guangzhou. As a result, young people in particular have been taking to the streets again and again in recent years to protest against Beijing’s increasing influence on Hong Kong’s future and for the first free elections, which have always been denied tot he residents by London and Beijing. On this last day of the year, thousands of demonstrators were again supposed to hold the masks against the tear gas of the police.

After talking about the future of Hong Kong and our initiative, we leave the editorial office of the South China Morning Post, the home of Asian press freedom, and step out onto Times Square. No, it was not a trip through an intercontinental wormhole to the world-famous New Yorker square, but to its South Asian counterpart. Not far from here, Batman jumped from the striking Two International Finance Center in The Dark Knight motion picture and Optimus Prime and his Transformers chased their enemies through the dystopic monster building. Asia has long since arrived in Hollywood and Hong Kong plays a significant role here as an intermediary. Movie stars like Jacky Chan and Bruce Lee suddenly made Asia, which had long been so exotic, more personally tangible. It was the first moment when people from all over the West found the idols of their youths in East Asia. My gaze wanders from Bruce Lee’s statue, which pays homage to its importance for a globalized culture, to the pleasant hustle and bustle on the water of Victoria Harbor. The warm winter sun of the South China Sea pinkens my face. The futuristic setting with the skyline, through which the winds of the old empire is still blowing, looks like a surreal dream in which past and future merge. It is time. Time to end the year.

The credit card billing was supposed to announce wetly cheerfully in Wilhelm Busch’s words for the New Year’s morning: “How sweet and airy the bubble fizzles, the widow Clicquot in the glass!” The champagne flutes clink. Welcome 2020! High above the rooftops of Hong Kong, I stretch my arms up to the rhythm of the Bee Gees most famous song and look down with relief at Victoria Harbor. I couldn’t believe we had made it and have been stayin‘ alive. Just a few hundred kilometers away, people in white protective suits close a fish market on the Yangtze River. The WHO had just been informed by the health authorities about the outbreak of a new invisible danger that was to change our course and those of the entire world forever. In the coming months the smiles of all mankind will disappear behind blue face masks in order to „Stayin ‘Alive!“