Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy 4th of July From An American in Hong Kong

(It's already July 4 in Hong Kong so here goes...)

When did it happen?

When did I stop being glad that I was away from America and start missing the damn place?

Sure, I don't miss the traffic. And I certainly don't miss the sometimes gross inefficiency of utility companies in the D.C. area -- PEPCO, I'm looking at you! -- nor do I miss the threat of casual violence from some thug or redneck brandishing an easy-to-purchase firearm.

No, but I miss the ideals of America.

I miss the diversity.

Hong Kong is a diverse place but the reality -- a reality that might be painful to admit for some people -- is that I could stay here for 40 years, learn to speak perfect Cantonese, and yet I'd never truly be a Hong Konger.

Anyone can come to America, take up our ideals, and be one of us -- be as American as I am.

An encyclopedic knowledge of the Shaw Brothers studios isn't ever going to help me fit in here. Not really.

While normally I thrive on those situations where I'm the different one, I'm sometimes not thriving as much here.

I'm not failing but I ain't thriving 100 percent of the time.

And when things are tough I think about home. About America.

My biological father, my mother, and her parents were all liberal Democrats. And while my grandfather resembled Archie Bunker in more ways than I'd care to admit, his deep and abiding love of Franklin Delano Roosevelt made such comparisons moot.

I got my weirdly innocent patriotism from those people.

My biological father grew up in the era of J.F.K. and Frankie Valli. He was the sort of guy who read Playboy for the articles, when saying such a thing wasn't a joke.

An East Coast liberal, I got a lot of my questioning of authority from him.

And from my mom I got a love of diversity. When I was a kid she worked for a U.S. Navy program where foreign naval officers studied in the United States.

I count myself very, very lucky indeed to have toured Monticello with naval officers from Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, and Iran.

That those "foreigners" wanted to see Thomas Jefferson's home said a lot to me as a kid.

What ideals did those students want to learn more about?

What American concept was so special to those visitors from such exotic countries?

In America, everyone thinks they're special and here in Hong Kong no one thinks they're special.

(That's a wild generalization but I think you get my point.)

Like the Manic Street Preachers sang:
"If you stand up like a nail, then you will be knocked down..."

So people put their heads down, play with their "smart"-phones, and slam through another day on the MTR.

The concept of American exceptionalism is lost on non-Americans who tend to think that we're all walking ego cases.

It's why my beloved Captain America is a character sometimes not appreciated so much overseas.

No, the important thing is not that we are all exceptional but that we all have a chance to be.

We all -- at least according to the law -- have a chance to become president (if you're a citizen), Donald Trump, a quarterback, a doctor, a slacker, a student, a rock star...a hero in our own personal drama.

And *that* -- that idea of a chance -- is why I love and miss America.

For all the shitty things we've done throughout our young history, we usually, as a nation, right those wrongs. We get shamed into fixing things because of our own history, the very documents that outlined our nation's creation.

I'm not gonna get all Bill-Pullman-in-Independence-Day (1996) on ya, but God help the first American I see in Hong Kong today 'cause that guy or gal is gonna get some stares when I shout:

"Happy 4th of July!"

Moscow on the Hudson (1984) - 4th of July Scene...