2nd Call for Papers for EARCAG in December 2016

Please see the message below from EARCAG conference secretariat. EARCAG stands for the East Asian Regional Conference in Alternative Geography, which brings together critical geographers around the world who work on the East Asian region. This time, the conference is to be held in Hong Kong in December 2016. I’m also planning to attend this, and it will be good to see more of my colleagues coming to Hong Kong.

===== forwarded message begins =====

-please circulate to those who may be interested, thank you; sorry for cross-posting-

The Department of Geography at Hong Kong Baptist University will organise the 8th meeting of the East Asian Regional Conference in Alternative Geography (EARCAG) on 6th-8th December 2016. EARCAG aims to establish an international network among alternative geographers in East Asia and to explore further perspectives to investigate local geographical issues in East Asia.

The main theme of this meeting is Radicalism in Theory and Practice. Attached please find the second call for papers. Please note that the deadline for abstract submissions is scheduled on 10th March 2016. Besides the themes of this conference, we welcome all sorts of relevant topics and area focuses.

To know more, please visit our homepage: http://geog.hkbu.edu.hk/earcag

Should you have any enquiries, please email us at earcag@hkbu.edu.hk

Best regards,
Conference Secretariat for
The 8th Meeting of East Asian Regional Conference in Alternative Geography

earcag@hkbu.edu.hk
http://geog.hkbu.edu.hk/earcag

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Hong Kong Island (Photographed by Hyun Bang Shin, 2010)

Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong

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Last month in December 2011, I paid another research trip to Hong Kong. Due to my short stay, I was not able to visit many places nor meet  friends as much as I hoped for. One place that I happened to pass by was Chungking Mansions, which is one of the unique landmarks in Hong Kong. First opened in 1961 as a trendy living place for the relatively affluent at the time, it is located on Nathan Road, Kowloon, not too far from the waterfront. The following note was actually prepared when I paid an earlier visit back in May 2011, accompanied by a colleague of mine Surajit who now teaches in Abu Dhabi University. (Hence, my thanks to him for the informative discussion at the time)

View Larger Map on Google Map for the location of Chungking Mansions

Its first two storeys are used as malls accommodating various stores (currently dominated by south asian restaurants, electronics/gadget shops and DVDs), and other upper floors are residential. The building complex has five towers, and I hear each tower has 18 floors: other than the ground floor, lifts take people up to the 16th floor, and there is yet another 17th floor which is not reached by the lift system. The rooftop has connection to other towers so that people in the tower’s middle section can be evacuated more easily in case of fire. Continue reading

Hopewell Centre and Wanchai redevelopment in Hong Kong

When I was told to come to the Hopewell Centre for a meeting this afternoon, it did not ring a bell to me that this was the tower that housed the famous revolving bar/restaurant on the 62nd floor. The name sounded familiar from the moment I read it, but I suppose I must have completely forgotten about it until today. So, it took me nearly half an hour of wandering around Wanchai before finally identifying the 64-storey tower, which used to be the tallest tower in Hong Kong during the 1980s.

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Hopewell Centre’s name comes from the Hopewell Holdings Limited, a HK-listed property company, and the top floors of the Centre accommodate headquarters of this company. The CEO of the Hopewell Holdings, Sir Gordon Wu, is ranked the 38th richest person in Hong Kong earlier this year, according to the Forbes report on Hong Kong’s Richest. The tower’s revolving restaurant is a must-visit place for those who would like to have a bird’s eye view of Hong Kong while enjoying a drink. It seems to have taken about one hour to make one full circle today. A pint of beer, Heineken, cost about 60 Hong Kong dollars, which was actually not too bad, given what I could take away as a memory in return. Sadly, my camera battery ran out early on, and these two pictures were what I could shoot. Another excuse to come back when I make my next visit to Hong Kong…

As mentioned earlier, the Hopewell Centre used to be the tallest building in Hong Kong until the late 1980s. I remember coming to this tower with my parents and to the revolving restaurant (less often than going to the Victoria Peak though). I cannot clearly remember now, but I suppose the view from the restaurant must have been magnificent, as the tower looked down upon every building around it at the time.

On the other hand, the view from the ground level is very different. Thanks to my earlier confusion that led me to wander around Wanchai for nearly half an hour, I was able to have a closer view of latest redevelopment projects in this part of Wanchai. Several pockets of Wanchai’s old district are now demolished, and construction workers are laying the foundation for reconstruction. While the bird’s eye view from the top of the Hopewell Centre projects Hong Kong’s more global image, the Wanchai district within which the Hopewell Centre is located provides a rich life of Hong Kong’s ordinary residents. The district is home to not only many night clubs and bars, but also to street markets, vendors and specialized small firms, which are frequented by local Hong Kong residents. Visitors to Hong Kong tend to associate Hong Kong with luxury goods and duty-free shops, but what lie behind buildings, hidden from the view from main streets, are what truly enrich the time and space of Hong Kong.

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These endogenous characteristics seem to face a great pressure of extinction due to a series of redevelopment proposed and implemented in this district. During my one-hour walk today, it was easy to find many sites of demolition and redevelopment. Interestingly, they were mostly bearing the name of the Hopewell Holdings Limited, strongly suggesting that the property firm is behind these projects. I haven’t yet had a chance to find out the extent of the company’s involvement in these projects or their ownership/finance structure. The scale of intrusion of these projects into people’s life, however, is simply amazing and difficult to describe. Perhaps the on-going process here typifies what an urban renewal project means to local people in contemporary Hong Kong. It is difficult to argue against any kind of demolition and reconstruction when one observes the status of severe dilapidation of some of the old, poorly maintained buildings. However, when projects are largely promoted and designed by developers to meet the taste of the rich who have a very different notion of urban life, they become a serious threat to people who pursue their daily life under current use of space, which may not be the highest and best use of land from the perspective of developers. Hong Kong seen from above at the top of the Hopewell Centre is certainly different from that experienced on the ground.

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(The bottom left picture above shows the round-shaped Hopewell Centre in the background)

Hong Kong, The Peak and childhood memory

To me, Hong Kong is like my first love. It’s a city where I used to live for some years when I was young. Although Hong Kong has changed substantially since then, it still retains areas that are associated with my childhood memory. For instance, whenever I approach Hong Kong University campus on Bonham Road, I am always relieved to find the old apartment block still standing. It may get demolished and reconstructed someday, but for the moment, it is still there and I am happy for it. When I approach the Star Ferry on the Kowloon side, I still walk by the shopping mall that used to house my favourite electronic games centre. The Hong Kong side Star Ferry pier  no longer retains its previous look, as the original one was demolished and relocated due to land reclamation. I think it was Hutchison House that used to have a bookshop where I used to buy my beloved SF novels such as those by Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke. At that time, it was one of the few English bookshop that sold SF novels from these authors. Asimov’s robot series was my biggest collection item at the time.

Retired old Peak Tram

Retired old Peak Tram

Since mid-2000, I seem to come back to Hong Kong at least once a year. Somehow, I haven’t had a chance to re-visit The Victoria Peak, and today, I finally made my way. My choice of transport was the Peak Tram, which always gave me the joy of riding in the old days. Today’s tram is not the same as what it used be in the 1980s, but the steep track is not replaceable. The most disappointing part was the Peak Tower, which has become too commercial and does not retain the old shape and memory any more. In front of the Peak Tower stands the old tram. I am not completely sure, but I think this is the same model as the one I used to ride. It was kind of funny to see this on exhibition in this way, as if my childhood is fossilised in time together with the retirement of this tram. 

 

Peak Path

Peak Path

It was already 6 pm when I arrived at the Peak, and it was getting dark. My main aim was to be able to take a short walk along the Peak Path, which was to some extent a ritual for me. My family visited the Victoria Peak frequently when we lived in Hong Kong. On Sundays, we often came here for a walk along the Peak Path, which took a little more than an hour to complete one round (or may be longer), and had late lunch before heading back home. The old Peak Tower used to have a nice restaurant that commanded a very nice view of Hong Kong.

While the Peak Tower and the surrounding area have changed substantially, it is relieving to find that the Peak Path is there without many changes. It is a lovely place, a good one for both couples and families. I suppose people have different preferences regarding which point of entry they would choose to start the journey. I think my family always used to take our walk in an anti-clockwise manner, enjoying the view of Hong Kong downtown first and then the remaining part of Hong Kong as we moved away from the Peak Tower. A bit difficult to explain, but you will see what I mean when you visit this place…

 

Hong Kong seen from the Victoria Peak

Hong Kong seen from the Victoria Peak

Luckily, before it got too dark, I was able to take a few pictures of Hong Kong island and Kowloon. Obviously, there are quite a few high-rises, which were constructed after I left Hong Kong, but the overall impression that Hong Kong presents has not changed until now. The high density of buildings is simply amazing and breathtaking. Due to the continuous land reclamation, the surface area of Hong Kong island and Kowloon seen in this picture must have increased accordingly. I must look up my old albums when I get a chance to visit Korea next time, and see if I can find any picture of 1980s Hong Kong.

I am leaving Hong Kong tomorrow, but I am sure I will be longing for my return.

홍콩에서의 단상

길다면 길고 짧다면 짧을 3주간 여행/출장 막바지. 일요일 오전이면 런던으로 돌아간다. 홍콩 1박, 베트남 호치민 5박, 다시 홍콩 2박, 광저우 11박, 다시 홍콩 2박. 앞으로도 홍콩이 출장 Hub이 될 듯 하다. 장기간 출장 막바지엔 항상 그렇듯이, 더 이상 어찌할 수 없는 일은 잊고, 미루었던 일 처리해야 할 압력과 여독이 함께 몰려 오기 시작한다. 그래도 여행의 마지막을 익숙한 환경, 익숙한 곳에서 보낼 수 있다면 피곤함이 덜하다.

지금은 홍콩 센트럴 The Exchange Square에 자리한 Pacific Coffee. 홍콩 어느 곳 모두 마찬가지지만 이곳 역시 에어컨 덕분에 시원하다 못해 서늘하기 까지 하다. 언제나 홍콩에 오면 느끼지만, 빽빽히 들어찬 건물 내부를 식히기 위해 이 도시가 얼마나 더 더워져야 하는 것일까? 인간의 편의를 위해 파괴되는 자연. 홍콩의 역사는 자연 정복의 역사이자 파괴의 역사이기도 하다. 오늘 아침에 잠시 시청한 디스커버리 채널에서 미국 어느 지역의 금광 채굴 과정이 떠오른다. 그 광산에선 1톤의 흙을 퍼가면 5킬로그램인가 1킬로그램인가의 금을 얻을 수 있단다. 이를 위해 지표 및 수십미터, 반경 수백미터의 대규모 채굴이 이루어졌고, 계속 깊고 넓게 파고 있다. 채산성이 떨어질 때까지 땅파기는 계속 이루어질 것이다. 이렇게 한번 파괴된 자연은 다시 회복되지 못할 것이다. 마치 약간의 새우를 얻기 위해 바다 바닥을 훝는 저인망 그물이 생태계를 파괴하는 것과 같다.

동양의 진주라며 20세기 내내 동경의 대상이던 이 도시의 역사는 또한 자연 정복사와 자본 축적의 결합사이기도 하다. 20세기도 아닌 19세기 중반 영국 제국의 점령과 함께 매립 공사는 지속적으로 이루어져 해안선은 원형을 상실하였으며, 그 만큼 도시 부 역시 증가하였다. Rail/MTR-led development는 토지개발과 인프라 건설이 얼마나 밀접히 관련을 맺고 도시 재정 확보에 도움을 줄 수 있는지를 증명한다. 이 모델은 중국에도 수입되어 주요 도시의 인프라 건설에 적용되고 있다. 이렇게 축적된 부의 대다수는 국가/자본에 귀속되며, 사회 구성원이 고루 향유하기 보다는 Super-rich와 다수 서민의 양극화를 초래한다.

이러한 홍콩의 역사는 사실상 동아시아 곳곳에서 반복되는 듯 하다. 좀 더 차분히 살펴봐야 할 주제다.