Brunei and Hong Kong.
Leaving Australia – a great sense of anticipation (and a smidge of anxiety) washed over me. For here I was about to leave the Western world for the first time in my life and immerse myself in countries, cultures and peoples I had never before experienced as a North American Westerner. Entering the Eastern World. I’m sort of at a lack of words here…but I’m sure you know what I mean when I am thinking that the experience will just be so DIFFERENT (even more so than seeing Central America).
In Brunei I had the opportunity to see their capital of Bandar Seri Begawan. Witnessing the beautiful architecture of the main shopping complex and the Sultan’s Mosque, I was just stunned by the beauty of Islamic buildings. Contemplating as well about the riches of the Sultan (multi-billion dollar palace and hundreds of cars) in contrast to some of the ways the people of Brunei were living was sobering. I witnessed the water village in the capital city – where people are literally living in shelters just above the very very smelly river.
I also became aware for the first time how completely foreign I am as a Western tourist exploring these areas that are so different from North America.
Different, but yet also somehow the same. What is common?
Well, exploring Hong Kong I had the opportunity to escort a tour. Our guide described the fact that she’s in a long-term relationship, but will never get married because the trend in Hong Kong is to have your own life and never have children – because there simply isn’t the time for the responsibility of caring for anyone else. People work min 10 hour days on average to afford apartments of several hundred square feet. The realities of crummy urban life are universal, as is the struggle to find work-life balance (I’m still slightly perplexed about what draws someone to actually desire LIVING in a metropolis, having done it myself for a few years – exploring a city is one thing, living there on the other hand…)
Starting my Asian adventure in Hong Kong, I now realize, was quite a good way to start considering my unfamiliarity with this “other-worldly” part of the journey. See, Hong Kong is a collision of Western and Easter cultures in one ridiculously busy/vibrant/chatotic/alive city.
In the evening after I was done work, I went out with some other crew members to simply wander the streets and soak in the urban night atmosphere.
We ate some food from a shop-front eatery…and only afterwards contemplated how that was probably the least hygienic thing we could have possibly done in a city on flu alert. Oops! At least my temperature is still down, and the food was deliciously authentic. (Btw, there was some concern among guests about us going to Hong Kong in the first place. Disappointingly, it’s the media that caused a good deal of the panic as they incorrectly reported that there was a case of bird flu…which wasn’t true at all…but I don’t want to get into a media studies debate here).
I’ll cut my Brunei/Kong Kong update here so that you can take in the photos. Not the least of them being the Hong Kong skyline light show. How in the world did they manage to organize the entire skyline into a musically-choreographed light show with lasers, spotlights, and customized architectural lighting? Whoever convinced the city and all those buildings to go along has more diplomatic skills than I can imagine.