Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Ed
Finn 02 firstname.lastname@example.org
August 15, 2002
And it's a cell-phone world with a Princeton connection
By Ed Finn 02
Aside from the ubiquitous cell phone, Hong Kong
is a world that often seems impossibly distant from Old Nassau.
When I first arrived to take up my new Princeton-in-Asia
internship, the thing that struck me most about this place was the
frenzied compression of people and infrastructure onto one tiny
island. There is something reassuring about Princetons steady
rhythm of open spaces and buildings very distant from the compacted,
extruded volumes of Hong Kong. The physical immensity of it all
is compounded by a feeling of total mechanization: a flawless subway
system, millions of escalators, and all-conquering air conditioning
sometimes make me feel like an electron traveling through some vast
computer circuit. It took me all of four claustrophobic days before
I joined a gym, and two silenced weeks before I started learning
The residents of Hong Kong are often characterized by mainland Chinese
as brassy businessmen, a loud and jovial bunch who will eat anything
at all and swindle you with a smile.
Hong Kong is certainly all about commerce, but
Ive found the locals to be more polite than pushy, and what
could be a lifeless international banking city comes alive with
indigenous energy. Streets are always packed with people, and it
seems like everyone is willing to give you a break if you smile,
even if you forget to ask about the discount.
Theres a freewheeling hospitality that reminds
of some of my best Princeton moments. I thought I would miss those
serendipitous conversations with total strangers, but theyre
a part of life here too, constantly opening up new avenues to explore.
Ive been shown the sights, wined and dined, even invited to
an island pool party by almost total strangers. Its been three
weeks and I feel like Ive been here for a year.
Of course, part of that is the wearing effect of
Hong Kongs tropical climate (now entering the violent monsoon
phase), but mostly its the way Ive become engaged in
a new reality.
In many ways, Hong Kong is a city of fellow-travelers,
people who view this as a temporary stage on their way up in the
world. The city is full of people trying to get into China and make
money, or to get out of China for the same reason. Its a nexus
for airlines and wandering souls, one flight away from most of Southeast
Asia, a capital of happenstance.
Then maybe I shouldnt be surprised that there are so many
Princeton connections around here. It seems like every week I find
out about another alum passing through the region, and Im
sure there are thousands more hiding in the woodwork.
Ive come to realize that any world city will
attract its share of the great Tiger Diaspora, in offices, on sports
fields, and of course, at bars. And somewhere in the back of my
mind I always expect life to turn out like it did for Richard Halliburton
23, who hitched a ride to Europe on a tramp steamer and wandered
the world on the wings of his own eloquent insanity. The manic pace
of coincidence in his writing is familiar in the hectic comings
and goings of this tiny Asian metropolis, and I keep expecting another
madcap alum to pop up around the next corner.
Everyone here senses Hong Kongs transitory nature; we are
denizens of a maze of escalators and elevators designed to shuttle
and shuffle you onwards without pause. But that constant movement
also means perennial new arrivals, new friends, new adventures.
For the recently graduated, this is a time for
exploration, for taking a few spins on the merry-go-round globe
before settling down somewhere. Thats what Im after,
anyway, and Hong Kong is a good place to do it. I look forward to
sharing my adventures with you.
Write to Ed Finn 02 at