Fairytales of New York

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Hong Kong openly patronizes Guangzhou, secretly sneers at Shanghai, and keeps a safe distance from Beijing—but seems tragically hung up on New York.
There’s a new bar on the waterfront that bills itself as a “New York lounge style bar” (which is different from any other “lounge style bar” in what way, exactly?). Not ten minutes from it by cab are nightclubs called, with depressing conformity, Tribeca and Big Apple. Some gushing twit of a copywriter referred, in a property ad I chanced across last week, to an apartment’s “Manhattan view” (funny, because it was Kowloon the last time I looked). The streets are thick with Uncle Toms in NY baseball caps. Our dining district is named, because we are such craven counterfeiters, SoHo. There’s a Hong Kong credit card called the Manhattan card, and there are apartment complexes called the Manhattan and Manhattan Heights. An English language textbook for Hong Kong students is published by Manhattan Press. There’s a large electrical retail chain called Broadway, as well as a Central Park Hotel and a Wall Street Institute School of English. The South China Morning Post publishes a column from its New York correspondent every week, force feeding its readers all the feeble old tropes (New York is a crazy crime-ridden jungle/city of limitless opportunity/a caring place beneath that gruff exterior/never sleeps/I Heart NY/Only in New York! etcetera, etcetera). And one of Hong Kong’s most popular malls is called—because we’re clearly incapable of bestowing original names even on the one kind of building we do better than any place else—Times Square. Why don’t we paint our cabs yellow and have done with it?
The semiotics of this—21st century Asian city still living in servile thrall to the great prototypical Western metropolis of the 20th century—are obvious to even the dimmest undergraduate, and countless examples can be found not just in Hong Kong but throughout urban Asia (Singapore has a Manhattan House, Manhattan Park Inn and Manhattan Mansions; Beijing, like Hong Kong, has a Times Square and a SoHo, as well as property developments called Upper East Side and Central Park). But enough’s enough. It’s not that I have anything against New York. I heart NY too. But I also want to look forwards, not backwards. I want a change. I want to be in China and not have to go to restaurants with names like Amaroni’s Little Italy, pay for meals with my Manhattan credit card and buy into a mythology that was imported along with the striploin and the cheesecake.

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