Today, over supper in Hong Kong’s Western District, I picked up a copy of HK Magazine, an English-language alternative weekly. As I happily slurped my noodles, I stumbled on a particularly eye-catching piece of news. It was a story about Victoria Habour, the sweep of sea that separates the southern tip of the Kowloon Peninsula from Hong Kong Island. The harbour is the heart of the city, subject of a million snapshots, home to pollution-wracked fish. “HK’s Completely Filled-In Harbour,” read the headline.
The basic premise was this: Due to strong demand for premium office space, the government has decided to ‘re-claim’ the famous harbour, connecting Tsim Sha Tsui, on the Kowloon side, to the financial hub known as ‘Central,’ on the opposite shore. A local official told the magazine the project was justified: “The entire city is basically a bunch of islands, so there’s lots of water all over the place.
Well, yes, this city is a bunch of islands and there is water all over the place. And South China’s titans do love turning water to earth. Hong Kong, a former British colony that’s now a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, is perennially short on space and ravenously land-hungry. A series of reclamation projects have already narrowed the harbor — quite dramatically, in fact.
Still, if I’d stopped to think, I might have wondered about the name of the concern group listed, ‘Guild of The Caring Harbour Defenders — Asia,’ or ‘GOTCHA’ for short. Or, I may have noticed that the government spokesman quoted was named ‘Justa Lai’. I didn’t. Mostly, because I’m a fool.
But even this fool has to wonder if there is something to this satire. When you live in a city where the head of government is picked by cronies in a distant capital, where many feel full democracy is a fast-fading dream, it can be hard to know cruel fact from clever fiction. Someone recently told me that this glittering city’s gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, was worse than Zimbabwe’s. I thought they were joking. Turns out, it’s true.
So, yes, I probably should have noticed that the author’s name was ‘Joe Kon-Yu.’ The joke is on me. But not entirely.
Update: Check out this animated map from ‘Friends of the Harbour,’ a concern group.