Spacing juxtapositions

Finding space in a neoliberal city

Jordan road runs along the edge of Mong Kok.  As one progresses down the street  towering behind is the ICC building, which completed in 2010 is the worlds fifth tallest building and bosts a hotel that has the highest lobby. The street runs through a market district with side streets are impassable in a car becasue of market stalls and street hawkers (leagal and illeagal) physically stand in the way automobiles while the throngs of people make other forms of mobility also as impossible.

This area is one of the poorest parts of the city.  Children from these neighboorhoods attend primary school, but will most likely not attend universtiy. This is not to say that only the wealthy children attend university, but the entrance requirements are difficult. Students are required to have some level of fluency in Cantonese, Putongua, and English. They must pass an extremely hard exam. As places are highly competitive, they must also have achieved good subject grades and perform well in an interview. Not all students who are elegible to attend univeristy will be offered a place.  In 2012 just over 12,000 students were offered places to study in one of Hong Kongs univeristies under the JUPAS system (JUPAS is a centralised scheme that matches students to university places).  The time required to study and the cost of a tutor to ensure that grades are high enough, means that those without families who can afford the extra tuition and where these languages are part of family life will have a greater degree of difficulty passing the hurdle.

Hong Kong has a long history of a missionary presence and one finds christian teaching embedded in the culture in what might think of as very odd ways (for example, many people in Hong Kong are tea total but Christmas is not a holdiay that shuts the city down).  People are taught to give charity to others.  More recently in the city the idea of social enterprises have taken hold and offer a place for finance and relious piety to come together. In some cases the desire to offer charity gets in the way of understanding about the messages that the giving is sending. You see, for example, social enterprises hiring young people to serve coffee and tea on universtity campuses –fair enough, Starbucks and the local version Pacific Coffee also offer these employment opportunties–but the difference is that the Starbucks does not provide a 20 foot sign outside that proclaims its enterprise as one that is providing employment opportunties to the very poor. Such a sign reminds both customers and workers of the contrasts between their lives every time a coffee is served.  Both students and the young workers are gaining employablity skills, but the university student knows they will finish thier time with so much more opportuntiy than will ever be available to the barista and the barista is equally aware.  In the mean time, the religious group that is partnering the intiative gets to proclaim its good works and those supporting the charity can feel pios at little investment and have their guilt over their own participating in a system that limits opportunities and enables thier wealth eased.

I don’t often come down on the side of the ways that corporations run their businesses, but certainly a business that is run professionally will teach more to its workers?  Conversely, certainly isn’t it real charity that does not proclaim that which it does and does not demand credit, but which instead happens quietly and endevours to protect the dignity of those it seeks to support?

This post is part of the wordpress weekly photo challenge. The topic is juxtoposition.  You can find the challenge here.