From The Balkans To Hong Kong And Back

Sometime in April the old and refined Victorianist Robert Langbaum came to Virginia in order to hold a conference at our university. Going out for a meal, I mentioned that I was going to spend a week in Hong Kong at the beginning of May for professional purposes. He answered me in a witty manner: I've been there. That's the only city in the world that makes Manhattan look like a rural centre. I smiled politely: of course I didn't believe him.Yet reality widely exceeds the impression one might have from watching photographs and movies. The splendour of this centre, that was a mere fishermen's village 150 years ago (and thus didn't profit by the many centuries of growth like Paris or London, with all their layers) is hard to explain. The thin blocks, higher than 70 storeys, show ingenious architectural differences and an artistic atmosphere that New York doesn't possess. At night, many of the blocks change their electric colours every quarter of an hour. The sea gulfs, the approximately 2000 islands (big or small), developed in towns or purely natural, the mountainous heights that surround the centre, the lack of sidewalks (replaced by aerial corridors-gangways, most of them endowed with air conditioning systems), everything represents a mixture of both artificial and natural, that makes you imagine yourself in postmodern futurism. The highest taxes are less than 15%, the unemployment rate is about 2.5% (a few years ago it was higher but now it is going back to "normal": We swagger in America when we reach 4-5%, and we have good reasons for that because socialist countries like Germany or France reach about 10-11%). The hotels exceed everything I have seen in the West as luxury, the high-life people won't go in anything less than a Mercedes, a Jaguar or a BMW, in restaurants (and restrooms!) you are overwhelmed by little presents, the Disney company is struggling to build up the first Asian theme park on one of the bigger islands. When it comes to cellular phones, the Scandinavians are the only ones who outrun the people from Hong Kong; a "cyberport" is under construction and it will control all the buildings in the city and in the area. The Medical Academy is being led by a certain dr. David Fung, whose BBC-English could hardly be matched, just as his research centre could hardly find its equal in North America or in Western Europe. The local authorities in Peking have the situation under control (for the moment! Knock on wood!) and even manage to stop the rush of millions of continental inhabitants towards the precious city. This time around I was watching TV and reading newspapers trying to keep up with the events in the Balkans. Poor Athens (where I had spent ten days a few months ago in November) appeared to me comparatively as a mere village. In the Balkans, a country or two (and their intellectuals) would do almost anything, humiliate themselves in every way they can, in order for the masters to "integrate" them in Western Europe (militarily, economically, whatever). Another country or two would suffer terribly because of the great powers that have become overnight tempestuously moralist and are ailing to solve delicately-rough centenary conflicts by throwing guided bombs galore. The ecology was a disaster (as a result of the terrible martial actions), not to mention the economy. In a nutshell, this Western world and the world of those who are endeavouring to the West are fighting in a stingy manner for some 50 hectares to the left or to the right. Some inhabitants should be placed further South or North, otherwise both parties might reach to the weapons. The wise leaders of the West would turn these tribal and primitive actions into ideological Hegelian-Cartesian categories, as it is known that they all are well-read as far as the left movement is concerned. These scissions and slaughters actually direct the attention away from what is of greatest importance, that is, the planetary re-ordering expected for the 21st century. As I have motivated in more professional works, the "social grammar" of the global future is and will be of Western origins: it will be routed in the intellectual categories and in the historical practice of our common Atlantic civilisation. But: will the political and financial power centres in Brussels, Strasbourg, Washington, New York, Paris and London still exist there as such 30-50 years from now? I will probably not be alive by that time and I won't be able to see the results but I strongly doubt that the situation will stay the same! Because it's not just Hong-Kong: Guangdong and Shanghai are tenaciously struggling for the same goal. The same goes for Taipei, not to mention Singapore and the big Japanese centres. Even Bangkok, Manila and Kuala-Lumpur have the same objective: an archipelago of futuristic and avant-garde throng.I don't want to play the prophet, but I think that we are about to assist to reshufflings and re-organising connected to mankind's attitude towards the future, towards the margins of humanity, towards the areas in which science and religion overlap just like the intersecting circles (I burst into laughter when I was asked whether I was disturbed by the demonstrations connected with the heroic anti-Chinese NATO-air raids: Hong-Kong hadn't even heard of the Balkans and didn't show any interest in the savageries of the Western people and in those of the South-Eastern Europeans.)In Hong Kong (I resume the idea) I expected to see Chinese and English people, as I had read in books and magazines. But I was absolutely wrong. Cosmopolitism is all over: Hindi and Sikhs, Muslims and Philippines, an "Austrian week" at the very hotel I stayed in – these are only some of the varieties co-existing peacefully in a tiny space. Curentul, 10 June 1999Excerpted from: Tradition and Freedom, Curtea veche, 2001

by Virgil Nemoianu