I’m thrilled to feature a guest post by writer Shannon Young today! Shannon is American, lives in Hong Kong, and has just published a novella-sized travelogue about the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With the 2012 London games just a month away, it’s hard to believe four years have passed since the spectacular Beijing opening ceremony (which you can read more about in Shannon’s travelogue). Here’s Shannon!
Hong Kong is an inspiring place to live. It’s like the Wild West, where the big skies and heady opportunities sparked optimism and entrepreneurship. In Hong Kong, the high-rises and financial possibilities spur people to chase their ambitions and try new things.
People come to Hong Kong from all over the world to seek a better life, escape the doldrums of their home countries, or make their fortune. Every day, you encounter risk-takers who have crossed the world (or the northern border) and their energy is infectious.
I often get the sense in talking with my friends back home that they don’t realize how modern, exciting and prosperous it is here. This is a world where grannies in Mao suits carry iPhones and wealthy Mainland tourists line up to buy Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana. The buildings look like something straight out of a science fiction film. People get offered career opportunities after chance encounters on boats and in bars. Young Americans (like me) who graduated with staggering student debt can actually start paying off their loans early.
This world begs to be dissected, explored and celebrated. For me, it feels important to communicate the energy, especially while I still have the rosy-eyed perspective of a newcomer. Hong Kong has a lot of problems, drastic wealth inequality and a stifling school system among them. But as an outsider, I have the opportunity to see Hong Kong for its mystery, for its passion, and for the unique combination of historical and economic factors that make it such a vibrant place.
My outsider status in such a complicated and dramatic place inspired me to become a writer. I’ve lived here for two years, and in that time it has become essential to process and explore my experiences by writing them down. This is a pathway to understanding the people around me, especially my local colleagues, because it has made me more observant, and hopefully more thoughtful.
The more I learned about Hong Kong, the more I couldn’t keep China off my mind. The Mainland influences the city through the people who come here, the money they bring and the exponentially increasing political clout of Beijing. Even as this city was inspiring me to write, I felt drawn to explore China’s impact further.
My first visit was four years ago during the Beijing Olympics, long before I moved to Asia. For the first time, I saw the precise dedication to a wealthy, successful future, no matter what the cost. China can’t be ignored. Now that I live in Asia, I’m starting to put together the pieces and the repercussions of its growing influence.
The Olympics Beat is a newcomer’s story. It’s about the inspiration of a singular moment and one girl’s first attempt to understand China. Hopefully, the sights, smells and rumbles of the crowds will make you feel the energy. If nothing else, it will give you a picture of China as it wants to be. It’s one snapshot of a complicated picture, but as I’ve learned in Hong Kong, there’s always more to see.
Shannon Young is the author of The Olympics Beat: A Spectator’s Memoir of Beijing. She recently finished writing a travel memoir about the year she followed a man she met at a fencing club to Hong Kong, only for him to be sent to London a month later. She writes a blog called A Kindle in Hong Kong and tweets @ShannonYoungHK.
Look for an insightful interview with Shannon later this week!