When I think of the Hong Kong I grew up in (till the age of 13), I think of a place with an easy balance between "local" and "cosmopolitan."
To be rigorous about that statement: handcrafted store-specific wonton noodles existed in harmony with the best imported premium lobster and steak. In other words, Hong Kong was a place where maybe even side-by-side in retail terms, you could find the best of "local," and the best of "cosmopolitan." And they were BFF’s, local and cosmopolitan.
There was no inherent conflict between the two. The emblem of Hong Kong was its very salty, distinctive Cantonese dialect, but also the wholesale permission for expats to use English freely. Hong Kong wasn’t like Tokyo where expats had to learn Japanese. It was the a balance of local and cosmopolitan.
Fast forward twenty years and for a number of reasons there are new fissures between local and cosmopolitan.
Indeed, Hong Kong is gradually polarizing in terms of local-vs-cosmopolitan.
I watched the protests on July 1st 2016, with some bewilderment.
Yes, Hong Kong’s "cosmopolitan" is getting further and further out of whack. Its top residential properties are often sold to non-owner-occupiers, if not outright speculators--nothing new there--but the extent to which prices are totally untethered and de-indexed to/from local demand has got to be a relentless, unending shocker to Joe Bloggs and the asset-less masses. 不進則退？Things are either getting better or they are getting worse, right? Treading water is a fantasy for a mustard burp of time- you are either going to get rescued or you are going to sink. No?
A friend who works in social impact in the New Territories told me that a number of kids she works with have gone to Central (the Canary Wharf/5th Ave. business and shopping district) only a handful of times.
Can you believe it, Dan Ryan's is gone from Pacific Place? I mean that was just supposed to be gentrification of the areas in Hong Kong needing gentrification... But whoa. Even the world's smallest sundae had to go. The cosmopolitan of the late 80's had become too local. It wasn't that the burgers weren't good; it was that Dan Ryan's was jarring to a tenant mix that must be identical to one in Shanghai and another in Stockholm.
On one hand there is a reaction to the cosmopolitan. There is a populist yearning for more Canto-cold-tea shops, more HK made stuff, more wonton noodle shops with indigenous proprietors.
But who is this indigenous wonton guy. What is a "local" wonton noodle shop?
Last time I checked, the ol' stalwart, 九記 Kau Kee beef brisket noodles had fallen into disfavor from many local aficionados along a general refrain that it is too touristy--too un-local.
Then again, at the local-local place, fine... Let's say the clientele are from the soil, grown and groomed HK'ers--what the hell is actually in the wontons, themselves?
The wonton guy is now using more and more filler, and commodity frozen gloop in his wontons. Yes, we know he has to do this because he has to cut input costs in the face of rising rents. Yet...bloody hell... we live today with the subversive prospect of "cosmopolitan" dining a la locavore, while "local" is chemically designed 'n "lab made" from a long, long-ass way away.
In fact maybe the tourists are the ones who might actually have a crack at the true local, as the wonton guy can deliver volume and charge them a premium. Our world is one where we need celebrity designers to repackage "local" for us--they are the final arbiters of taste as they can tell us what is worthy of "cosmopolitan," even if every one of us knows its "local" antecedents. Right?
What is "local"? What is "cosmopolitan" anymore?
These are global pressures we are all facing. Local and cosmopolitan are increasingly out of balance around the world. With globalization and offshoring and technology change, services are increasingly deliverable in commodity form, from service providers bidding the lowest bid to provide the service, i.e. think of software as a service; think of medical advice, legal advice, any manner of diagnostic service provided on a strictly economic basis, by the rule of offshoring.
Leaving "cosmopolitan" aside for a second...
I look at a number of the protesters this past Saturday flying the former colonial flag- and I'm thinking "what kind of "local" is that?
That's not a "local" I recognize.