HONG KONG – Teaching journalism in a free media environment like Hong Kong, to students who mostly hail from the un-free media environment of mainland China, it’s easy for an American carpetbagger like me to prattle on about high-minded issues like democracy, press freedom and state control.
Many Chinese students I come across, though, have more mundane – but universal – desires. Like access to Facebook and cyber-connection to the rest of the modern world, as I’ve written before. Last night, a new one came to light.
I was eating out with a former grad student of mine, who’s now 24. Rather than return to the mainland, she’s trying her luck in Hong Kong. While we munch on barbeque pork and crispy duck, I ask her what she likes best about living here.
“The films,” she replies.
What a banal response, I think: That’s the first thing that springs to mind? She continues, explaining the mainland’s quota policy that restricts how many foreign films are allowed in.
“I love film, and if I want to see a French movie, or Malaysian, or Indonesian, or New Zealand film, I can see them here,” she says. “I don’t recall any French film coming to my city in China.”
It dawns on me that this mirrors the banal yet symbolic aspect of daily life that I love about New York City, but miss in the Slovak capital of Bratislava: the huge spectrum of ethnic restaurants.
My student, too, wants freedom of choice, diversity of tastes. Which multi-ethnic Hong Kong delivers.
“Here they’re more tolerant of different cultures and do more to expose people to those cultures,” she says. “It’s not just that I’m interested in different cultures, but that I can choose from among them.”