Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong travels

On the way to China my wife and I spent several weeks in New Zealand and Australia. Then we went through Hong Kong on our way to Beibei. One of the fun things about travel is the unexpected things you bump into. Two left an impression on me.

Australia and New Zealand

My prior image of Australia and New Zealand (or ANZ as they call the region) was one of ethnic homogeneity. As a young student many years ago I learned that in order to migrate to ANZ one must be a white, Anglo-Saxon. Potential immigrants from other ethnic backgrounds were not welcome. For instance, at the same time the U.S. was importing Chinese laborers to build our railroads, the ANZ countries were using Irish and Italian laborers. Today, as a result, you find many good Italian restaurants and Irish pubs throughout the ANZ region; while in San Francisco one of the major tourist attractions is Chinatown.

Well, the policy of limited immigration has certainly changed in the past thirty years. In recognition of a labor shortage, ANZ has opened its gates to immigrants from any ethnic background. The impact of this new wave of immigrants is most evident in Sydney and Auckland, but new migrants are found throughout the region.

Our first exposure was in Auckland where there is an absolute flood of Japanese immigrants. As we walked the streets of Auckland, I did a totally unscientific and ethno-centric survey of who was walking on the sidewalk. My count was about 60% non-Anglo-Saxon. I was amazed. Granted, some, like us, were tourists; but, most were either long- or short-term immigrants. Most were young which has very significant implications for their social security system (lots of young immigrants paying taxes to support retired Anglo-Saxons).

As we chatted with Anglo-Saxons of our age group, there was a strong feeling of tolerance towards the new immigrants. But there was also a subtle, sentimental feeling that the countries have lost something of their unique identities. The only unsolicited, direct reference I heard came from a nice gentleman of about 70 who spoke about unnamed changes since the “policy of diversification”.

What are the implications? The labor shortage is no longer limiting economic growth although unemployment in Auckland is at 3.5%--well below what we currently have in the U.S. In over two weeks, every cab driver we had was an immigrant. Only one, an immigrant from Scotland, was a native English speaker. His family left Scotland and settled in south Florida for several years before leaving for ANZ because of concerns about raising his kids in a “culture of violence”. His family is now very happy in Perth, Australia. Every restaurant where we ate was ethnic. Each night the question was the same: what will it be tonight—Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. In Wellington we had a memorable meal at “the first Balti restaurant in New Zealand”. [I leave it up to our food critic, Vickrama Rangala, to explain what Balti cuisine is like.]

In Auckland, many of the immigrants are Japanese students. Most are high school students who are learning English in the hopes of getting into universities in New Zealand or elsewhere. For the most part, these are the children of very rich Japanese families who most likely would not make it into the very competitive system of higher education in Japan. At the present time, these students are enjoying the free, universal secondary education that New Zealand offers. This is not a bad deal for the Japanese students, but the local taxpayers are beginning to raise doubts about the policy of universal education.

Hong Kong

One of the tourist highlights of Hong Kong is a harbor ride on the famous Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong. Sunday we boarded the ferry early in the morning so we could enjoy the view before the inevitable pollution settled in for the day. The sun was shinning and the trip was spectacular.

On the Hong Kong side, as we walked along the docks we were surprised to see hoards of people sitting on cardboard flats with what appeared to be picnic lunches. We figured they must be waiting for a ferry to the outer territories. As we walked into downtown we found more of the same in city parks or any open space—people sitting on cardboard flats or stools with picnic lunches. Further examination showed that about 99% of these people were female and that there were no children. They all seemed to be having a good time—many were playing cards or just talking.

Later we learned that these were Filipino maids. Many families in Hong Kong have Filipino maids who earn about $50 per month. During the week the maids live-in with their employers. On Sundays, the universal day off, extended families of mothers and daughters get together in the parks, piers, or any other open space they can find to socialize. The rest of the week they are isolated from one another, hidden in the maze of high-rise apartment buildings that house most affluent Hong Kong residents. The men are at home in the Philippines.

Some Reflections

Waves of human migration are sweeping across Asia today. The melting pot of Asia is certainly boiling more furiously than that of the United States. Aside from Hong Kong, China has been immune from this mass international migration. Instead, in China the migration has been internal—from the rural western provinces to the industrialized eastern provinces. If China were to open its borders to international migration it would be interesting to see what would happen. Don’t forget, we are talking about one-fifth of the world’s population.


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