Posted by: Jason | December 4, 2009

Hong Kong, Days 1-2

Hong Kong is an extraordinarily difficult city to convey in two dimensions.  We’ve agreed that it needs to be experienced in at least four.

We had two excellent meetings on Thursday – Carlos Lo and Frank Lee at Hong Kong Polytechnic in the morning, and Chrstine Loh of Civic Exchange in the afternoon – and a set of seminars at Chinese University-Hong Kong today.

At HKP yesterday, Professors Lo and Lee talked to our group about the cross-border water distribution project for the Dongjiang ( “East River” – one of three tributaries of the Pearl River, and the source of 80% of Hong Kong’s freshwater supply) they’ve been working on since 2006.  Management of the Dongjiang is an immensely, immensely complex dance, and Lo and Lee are looking at (1) how the players manuever to achieve their agendas, which are often at direct odds with one another, and (2) how effective the long-term compromise is likely to be.  The consensus – among our group as well – was that the current allocation plan isn’t likely to create long-term conservation, preservation, or healthy use.  The allocation of rights – despite pressure from local and international non-governmental organizations – are handed down by Guangdong’s provincial government, despite the fact that the Dongjiang’s origin is in Jiangxi and that Hong Kong (a special administrative region, outside the provincial system) gets a vast majority of its water from the river.

Christine Loh is leaving for Copenhagen today, but took an hour and a half yesterday afternoon to talk about the work Civic Exchange – the public policy think-tank she founded in 2000 – does in Hong Kong, mainland China, and around the world.  CE’s office is on an upper-floor of a non-descript building on Hong Kong Island.  Inside, eight employees were working in a large room – mostly working at desktop computers and making phone calls.  Like the building its in, the Civic Exchange office is far less impressive than the work the organization does.  It’s clear where the organization’s priorities lie – in rigorous research and political change, rather than impressing visitors with mahogany desks and gleaming glass panels.  (All that said, the office is hung with a number of original paintings from Christine Loh’s personal collection, and they’re fantastic.)

It was fortuitous that we went to CE yesterday, since (unbeknownst to us) they’re releasing a report tomorrow on the hydrological and political management of the Pearl River Basin, particularly as allocation affects Hong Kong.  It’s called Liquid Assets, and I’ll post a link to the pdf as soon as they put it online.

Wednesday evening, the students had free time while the other two faculty members and I met a Lawrence alumnus and his wife for a magnificent dinner.  If you’re eating duck that isn’t Peking Duck, you’re doing it wrong.

Today, we made our way east to Chinese University – Hong Kong, a campus of about 22,000 undergraduate and graduate students, for discussion seminars on geography’s role in China’s history, the economic importance of the Pearl River Delta, and the economic and environmental impact of the Yangtze River.  And another excellent meal.  The seminar was organized by CUHK’s Asia-Pacific Institute of Business, which, according to their site, ” was established in 1990 as the external arm of the Faculty of Business Administration of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. APIB is the vehicle whereby the Faculty makes its fine tradition of teaching and research available to the outside world. APIB’s mission is to assist managers and companies in meeting business challenges in Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific region.”

One of the themes that particularly struck me was Professor Leslie Young’s argument that China has, time after time, been “destined by geography”.   With a long historical lens (often thousands of years long, in fact), Professor Young made the case that China’s political, social, religious, and environmental landscape have all been driven by its geography – particularly by rivers like the Yellow, Yangtze and Pearl.  It’s the kind of realization that sticks  – once the wisdom of that begins to sink in, it shapes your lens on the world.  Just incredibly profound.

This evening, another fantasic meal with a Lawrence alum, this time at the American Club.  It’s going to be years before I eat this well again (and, unfortunately, months before I get back to my pre-trip weight).



  1. Read every word and enjoyed/appreciated hearing the news from you. Will be looking forwrd to the next!!!

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