I taste a dynamism in Hong Kong I don’t get in Central Europe – which, while now in my blood, can at times be aloof and insecure. And I don’t mean HK’s big-city pulse of crowded sidewalks and streets, framed by neon. Until I understand it more deeply, I’ll guess that it’s a different level of self-confidence.
Today I dropped into a small antique shop in the historic Chinese neighborhood of Kowloon City. Inside I found a woman who was the only other Westerner I saw in the enclave. She was negotiating a business deal, with the occasional help of a young translator she’d brought.
Within seconds, the translator approached, asking what brought me so far from the traditional Western haunts around Hong Kong. When I mentioned the teaching-journalism bit in nearby Kowloon Tong, she grew excited, saying she’d tried to get a job with CNN-Hong Kong. She went further: could I get her into our one-year master’s program?
Bam, she asked for my card. Stunned by her assertiveness, I nevertheless pulled out a card.
Later in the day, while strolling around the Yau Ma Tei neighborhood, I spotted a tiny apartment-rental office, and popped in. Two women, one working behind the desk, the other her friend. The agent spoke no English, but her friend, Lihiuyim, spoke some. With a huge smile, she mustered her best effort: I’m 37, from the mainland, work for a bus company, living here with my young daughter.
Then, an epiphany: “You teach me English! I teach you Mandarin and Cantonese! You give me card!”
Forget for a moment that I’ll be happy to learn 100 words of Cantonese while here. What I marveled at was the day’s second example of someone who knows what they want – and go for it.