Posted by: scribe9 | July 22, 2010

The erstwhile colonies

Hong Kong and New Zealand both served time as British colonies. Naturally, they survived with some similarities.

I have trouble understanding the English of the natives in both places, having come from a different former British colony. But in both places, the people are friendly, polite, and helpful.

In both HK and NZ, the steering wheels are on the right and people drive on the left. The huge difference is that HK has very few private cars, and NZ has millions. I felt much safer as a pedestrian in HK, where most of the vehicles are taxis (all Toyota Crown Comforts–the modern version of the Checker Cab, I guess), buses (of various sizes and ownership) and trams.

Both are surrounded by water, but HK has been far more agressive in building out into its harbor. I figure in fifty years, HK will have stretched all the way to Kowloon and those cute little ferries one rides now will all have been retired.

Both have a smattering of colonial buildings, although NZ, having its main success in agriculture, seems to have saved more than HK, which keeps tearing down and rebuilding higher–because it’s so rich and because lots of the island is so steep you can’t build on it.

Both still have remnants of the old English measurement system. In Hong Kong virtually every apartment ad (there are many real estate agents with their windows full of ads) mentions the square footage, which is frequently as little as 250 square feet. In New Zealand, some–but by no means all–sections (what we call lots) are described in acres, and many babies are announced in pounds and ounces. Our Icelandic friend told me her baby had gained a pound–not half a kilo–last week.

Both HK and NZ have reminders of the importance of Scots in the expansion of the Empire. If you’ve never read How the Scots Invented the Modern World, I recommend you do so. HK has the Murray House, originally built as a barracks in what is now the central part of town. When it was replaced, popular sentiment forced the government to number and save all the pieces. Over several years in storage the humidity made some of the numbers disappear, and the government spent several years putting the place back together in an outlying town. They ended up with six “extra” columns, stuck awkwardly in front, which I think belong in the second-floor breezeway, but they didn’t ask me.  NZ has Dunedin (Celtic for Edinburgh) and more place names starting with “Glen” than you can shake a stick at.

Both places have fairly bland food, light on the green vegetables. When we were in Seoul last September, I met an Englishman who’d been required to relocate from Hong Kong to Seoul. He warned me about the dangers of Bebimbap–which is mildly spicy–and I guessed one reason he was desperate to go back to HK was for the unchallenging food. In HK, we ended up seeking out Vietnamese, Thai and Korean food to reawaken our tastebuds and satisfy our cravings for vegetables.


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