Since yesterday involved a lot of running around, today I thought I'd relax a little bit and just wander around Tsim Sha Tsui and take in a couple of museums. It's a real pity that I don't enjoy shopping, because it seems that's what everybody comes to Hong Kong to do. The lobby of my hotel is packed with people trying to load up all their purchases into boxes and newly-purchased suitcases so they can get it all back home.
But not me... I can't stand shopping, and have no desire to drag a bunch of crap back to the States. With the exception of a few Hard Rock Cafe pins and shirts I've packed away in my small suitcase, I'll be able to tell US Customs to kiss my ass. I am so tired of Customs Agents treating people like crap with their condescending attitude and abusive demeanor. I will never forget my very first trip outside the US when I was returning from Japan and was SCREAMED at by a bitch at Customs because I didn't have a receipt for a few cheap souvenirs I had bought. Never mind that my meager purchases couldn't possibly exceed the allowance, she was a bitch and wanted everybody to know it. In the dozens of times I've been subjected to US Customs, I'm guessing there have been only two times I didn't want to beat the shit out of somebody.
Anyway, the first museum I went to was the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which friends had told me was amazing. I was very much looking forward to my visit, and arrived just as they opened so I would be sure to have time to see everything. At first I was blown away by a very cool exhibit of Chinese brush painting... there were precious scrolls filled with stunning artworks that boggle the mind, and every new work somehow managed to top the previous one. It was art-lover's heaven.
But then I found out that huge chunks of the museum were closed due to changing exhibits and became enraged.
Changing out exhibits is a common event at museums, but usually it's done in stages. This way, only one major exhibit is closed at any given time. But the dumbasses at the Hong Kong Museum of Art had decided to close down most of the second floor, and the entirety of the fourth floor all at the same time... effectively halving the exhibits available. Needless to say, they didn't halve the ticket price.
So this was the highly regarded Hong Kong Museum of Art? To me it was more of a joke. A lame and amateurish production with little consideration for their patrons. Disgusted with the entire ordeal, I bailed after less than an hour so I could see if the Hong Kong Museum of History would fare any better.
Fortunately, it wasn't just "better", it was spectacular. All I knew of Hong Kong history I learned from reading the brilliant James Clavell novels Tai-Pan and Noble House (which were semi-fictionalized). But here was the whole story... from geological formation and Neolithic times... to the Opium Wars, British Colonization, and eventually return to China in 1997. And all of it beautifully explained with captivating displays, dioramas and audio-visual presentation. It is hands-down one of the best museums I've visited, and that's saying a lot. If you enjoy history even a little bit, there's a lot to love about the Hong Kong History Museum.
The period of Japanese occupation during the war is a delicate matter to be sure, but I think they did an admirable job of presenting it well. These were tragic times for Hong Kong, and the horrors of day-to-day life for it's inhabitants not a pleasant subject to dwell on. But it was the most memorable portion of the museum to me because of this image...
These are British (I think) residents of the colony being led off to a prison camp from which some were likely not to survive. It's a sobering image but, when you look closely, you see something remarkable and haunting at the same time...
Two of the guys are smiling. I find myself wondering what was happening at this one moment frozen in time. Perhaps the guy in the vest had said something like "smile for the camera, boys" and the guy in front with the black shirt thought it was funny. There's just something so undeniably "human" about it all that puts life into perspective. Even at your darkest hour, your world and everything you know is just a tiny slice of history. And then you realize it's not your life that matters, but how you live it. How you face adversity. How you find your humanity in inhumane conditions.
The joy and the hurt of it all.
Then I look at the television and see the horrifying images coming out of New Orleans and try very hard to keep all this in mind as I watch people struggle to survive in a city that means so much to me. It's heartbreaking and so very human all at the same time. A moment in history where people are having to face their darkest hour.
And doing the very best they can.
And that's why I get so pissed off when I hear people saying things like "well, they got what they deserved in New Orleans, because everybody knew it was bound to happen eventually." It just seems so petty... so unworthy of historical record that people would choose to address somebody else's tragedy with this kind of attitude. A wasted moment of time.
I mean, should San Francisco be abandoned because of the earthquakes? And what about L.A.? People have been talking about the impending "Big One" for decades. Or what about the tornados in Kansas? Should we evacuate the entire State? Typhoons have decimated Hong Kong more than once, should the area be vacated? Hurricanes also ravage Florida, should the Southern Coast to the Keys just leave? Wildfires plague the area I live in... should I be moving out? What about other dangers that plague our societies... flood, drought, landslides, and all the rest? What could go wrong in YOUR town?
We humans lead a fragile existence. There's always going to be something horrifying we have to face, and it's how we deal with it that defines us. Sure New Orleans has always been in danger of destruction from storm and flood. But you know how they face it? They throw a giant party every year and call it Mardi Gras. They developed a rich and unique culture and welcomed people to their wonderful city so they could share it. It's part of what makes me love the city so much, and the reason I am rooting for New Orleans to rise again.
Tomorrow is my last day in Hong Kong. I think I'll head back across the harbor and see what adventures I can find.
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Canadians had a big part to play in the defence of Hong Kong against the Japanese. We fought to the last and were captured when the Japanese overwhelmed the colony. We were actually treated comparatively well, in relation to the treatment of British prisoners in Singapore (they surrendered because they were attacked from the wrong side and couldn’t turn the guns around), but we lost a lot of people in the prison camps. A number of our veterans are still demanding compensation from the Japanese government for the conditions of the imprisonment and the deaths that resulted.