Monday, December 28, 2009

Next time you need something colonized

or Manila vs. Hong Kong: a study in contrasts

Manila is the capital of the Philippines, a nation that had been a Spanish colony for three centuries until gaining independence at the start of the 20th century. Hong Kong has been a colony of the United Kingdom since being ceded to the British crown by the Chinese emperor in the middle of the 19th century and until it was formerly handed back over in 1997. Both cities lie in South East Asia, straddling the two shores of South China Sea, and share an extensive history of European influence, so they should have some similarities based on their colonial pasts? Well...

This is Hong Kong

So is this - modernity with a slight nod to old Chinese culture

Season's Greetings, celebrating a Christian holiday, Hong Kong, however, remains almost strictly all business, as the tower in the background might suggest

This, on the other hand, is Manila. The St. Augustin Church in the old town section of Intramuros.

Fort Santiago protecting Manila

So, what does Hong Kong remind me of? Well, a little London, a little Shanghai, a little Singapore, a little New York - a mixture of East and West: a distinctly modern, developed, Western city with an unmistakably Eastern influence. What does Manila remind me of? Certainly nothing in Asia. It's certainly closest to Cartagena, and Cuzco, and Panama City - other Spanish colonial capitals. The church plays a big role in former Spanish colonies, just as long as it's the Roman Catholic church.

The Manila Cathedral - it may have been destroyed a few times (fire, earthquake, WWII), but it'll always be rebuilt!

Hong Kong has a cathedral too - St. John's, an Anglican Cathedral, so not quite acceptable to the Roman Catholics, but close enough for our purposes

Hong Kong is a little more diverse - including several Buddhist temples, such as Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin, pictured here, nestled in between the sky scrapers

Religious insignia inside the Manila Cathedral

And incense burning in Hong Kong

Want more religious symbols? How about a big Buddha on Lantau island

There are no Buddha's in the Philippines

Well, how about just going out on the streets of the two cities? Perhaps some monuments to inspire the local population?

Manila. I don't actually know whom this statue commemorates. I'm going to say she wasn't that good at kung fu though...

Hong Kong celebrates its own heroes - Bruce Lee could take the Spanish down all by himself if he wanted to!

Old and new juxtaposition in Hong Kong at the Kowloon Walled City Park

And something not entirely Spanish, or Catholic, in Manila - not Filipino either though: the Chinese cemetery.

A couple more sights from the streets of Hong Kong

At this point I was going to make a complicated point comparing the different colonial approaches Britain and Spain had taken (Spain: full totalitarian control, flatly imposing Catholicism vs. Britain's more freedom embracing approach, which allowed for the local religions to remain) and the results: the British colonies have, at times, achieved greater economic propsperity (Hong Kong, USA), but the Spanish ones have almost certainly ended up being more stable, easier to govern, and much more similar to the home country in the long run (South America may not seem particularly stable, but it's got nothing on formerly British India and the Middle East). However, I don't like making that point, and I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to geo-political issues, and it's not really a true apples-to-apples comparison - after all, The Incas and Aztecs in South America may have been the most advanced local cultures the Spanish had encountered (the Philippines didn't have much of a developed nation-state prior to the Spanish), whereas the British colonies got to deal with long-established cultures like India, China, and the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So, instead, let's just say the two European powers took very different approaches to running their colonies, and the results may be most obvious in the Philippines. This is a country in SE Asia, but it may as well be in Latin America. The currency is the peso, the language has a strong Spanish influence to it (mas barato por favor! = cheaper please! both here and in Bolivia...), the names of streets, towns, and people are often Spanish based (Fort Santiago, Puerto Princessa, etc.), and not only is Christianity (Catholicism especially, even though other branches are popping up, probably due to the last 100 years of American colonial influence) the undisputed state religion, the thing I found to be truly surprising was the almost complete absence of Buddhism, in a region where Buddhism dominates all the neighboring states. Islam, by the way, is present down South, stemming from nearby Malaysia and Indonesia, where Islam is the primary religion (even though there's a lot more signs of Buddhism in both of those countries than there is in the Philippines). The opposing Muslims were apparently quite the annoying discovery to the invading Spanish a few centuries ago, as Spain had just finished fighting off the Muslim forces (the Moors) back in the Spanish homeland and in Northern Africa (this random historical footnote brought to you by Lonely Planet).

Well, that's probably enough geo-political musings and ramblings for the moment. Today is the last of my six here in Hong Kong - tonight I get on a plane bound for the beautiful beaches of Thailand to celebrate New Year's in style. Goals for today are to find a replacement camera (still! Hong Kong's been refusing to repair mine...) and meet up with Tim for more delicious local cusine - the food in Hong Kong is excellent as it is, but yesterday he and his parents took me out to a couple of really good local restaurants (that I would have never picked out myself), and the food gets to be even more amazing when you're with people who know what they are talking about, as opposed to me just randomly pointing at things on a menu!

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