A lot has already been written about the six-story giant rubber duck that Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman is bringing around the world, most recently to Hong Kong harbor, but we wanted to share this reader-submitted photo by Aby Sam Varghese in Hong Kong, a less-common nighttime photo. Artist Hofman says the duck is for all, “We’re one family and all the waters in the world is our global bathtub.”
Open Door, a nonprofit organization that coordinates Hong Kong citizens committed to migrant workers’ rights, met a group of students and tourists in the neighborhood of Central on the first Sunday of June, amidst the bustling crowds of Filipina domestic workers gathering together to enjoy their weekly day off from work. Open Door is piloting cultural tours that are designed to introduce Hong Kong’s citizens to the cultures of the non-Chinese populations of the city. By promoting multiculturalism, Open Door is hoping to improve inter-ethnic relations in Hong Kong.
The tour guides opened with a brief explanation in English and Cantonese of Filipino history and the reasons that compelled 130,000 Filipina workers to migrate to Hong Kong. The labor export policy in the Philippines and the rising demand for domestic help in Hong Kong created a flow of migration that began in the 1970s and continues today. After providing political and historical information about the Philippines and Hong Kong, the tour turned to focus on the present day. The tour was led to neighborhood sites that hold historical and cultural relevance for Filipinas and for Hong Kong residents.
At each of these various culturally relevant sites the tour guides discussed the many ways that Filipinas maintain their connections to the Philippines and their culture even while living away from home: a shopping mall that houses Filipino shops and food vendors, a cathedral holding masses in Tagalog and home to a non-profit organization providing social services for domestic helpers, and different gathering places in the Hong Kong financial district for Filipina organizations were among the places we visited. The many groups of Filipinas we met all follow the same system: women from specific areas in the Philippines meet in the same spot in the financial district every week, thus providing a specified meeting place for new and old migrants alike to maintain relationships from home, speak their own dialects, eat regional food and exchange news from their home region.
A highlight of the tour was the interactions that we had with various groups of domestic workers – we were able to speak with people who showed us their crafts, discussed their experiences, explained their political work, and answered our questions. Filipina groups in Hong Kong are not only organized by geographical origin in the Philippines, but many meet weekly with other domestic helpers who share their political affiliations, craft interests, or religion. Las Filipinas described their crafts projects and tutorials to the tour, and discussed the seminars that they offer their members. Filguys discussed their work in promoting awareness of LGBTQQ rights and needs in Hong Kong. The tour ended with a sampling of homemade Filipino dishes and a discussion of the tour attendees’ impressions from the tour.
To participate in Filipino, Thai, or Indonesian cultural immersion tours, please firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get in touch with the author @fafa.
Causeway Bay, usually known as a middle-class shopping neighborhood in Hong Kong, was transformed on the evening of June 4th, 2012. Thousands of people walked in the streets towards Victoria Park to mark the twenty-third anniversary of the Tienanmen Square protests, during which the Chinese army shot and killed students demonstrating for democracy. The vigil last week drew an estimated 180,000 people, an astounding number for this supposedly “a-political” special administrative region of China. The city is known for its embrace of capitalism and its business prowess, and writers and journalists in the past have described the Hong Kong populace as politically complacent.
The recent election of Leung Chun-ying and the Hong Kong SAR’s deepening governmental ties with China, however, have given rise to new political anxieties which were reflected in the pro-democracy speeches at the vigil and the packed lawns of Victoria Park on June 4th. The main field was filled with demonstrators early in the evening, and by 8pm the adjoining fields were also crammed with attendees watching a video-broadcast of the event on movie screens. The surging crowds sang and chanted with protesters on megaphones as we approached the site of the vigil, and I was directed to the grass in a nearby park with the rest of the overflow crowd.
Hong Kong’s social and political independence from China, a result of its lengthy rule by the British, has been shrinking since the territory was handed back in 1997 to the Chinese government. In recent years, anxieties have surfaced for Hong Kong residents about the changes in Hong Kong’s freedoms, the role that China is playing in Hong Kong governance, and the identity of Hong Kong as distinct from mainland China. Hong Kong activists speculated that the huge crowds at the June 4th protest are an indication of the anxieties about Hong Kong’s future, and the desire for democracy. My interpreter and guide on June 4th taught me the Cantonese word for democracy, which was repeated in chants and songs throughout the two hour long candle-lit vigil. As a result of the transitional legal independence from China, Hong Kong was the only place in China allowed to commemorate the Tiananmen Square protests and was thus the focal point for mainland protester contributions and expressions.
The vigil featured pro-democracy student activists from Hong Kong University, local musicians, and protesters from the original June 4th, 1989 Tiananmen protest. One of these protesters, Fang Zheng, spoke to the crowd, crying, and urged demonstrators not to forget the event and the impetus for it. Mothers of 1989 Tienanmen protesters gathered pictures of their deceased children, and vigil organizers played a slide show over a recorded statement from one of the mothers. A candlelit procession to the main stage carried a bier in memory of the deceased activists and the names of the deceased were intoned. These somber moments, interwoven with activists urging the crowd to consider the current political situation in Hong Kong, provided a rare moment for public action in Chinese territory regarding democracy.
Architects and designers once hailed Kowloon Walled City as the closest thing to a self-regulating, self-sustaining modern city that had ever been built. If the high-rise was supposed to be the prerogative of Modernism, it was simultaneously disconcerting and fascinating to architects that a skyscraper city could be built by the masses. Claimed by both Hong Kong and China but administered by neither, Kowloon Walled City also became a dystopian breeding ground for illegal activity-opium dens, brothels, gambling houses, unlicensed medical clinics, and a thriving drug trade run by mafia syndicates. Even the police were afraid to go inside except in battalions larger than 40.