Anyway, after the mass was finished, I met another young American named Nick who had moved to Hong Kong a year ago to start a new life. We began talking and it turned out we are both interested in a lot of the same things – China, business, international affairs. Then he made a startling confession. He said he wasn’t planning to return to the US. “There’s no more opportunity in the US,” he said. “All the opportunity is here, in Asia.”
Looking out the window of the 79th story of one of the tallest buildings in Hong Kong, at the surrounding skyscrapers, trade ships, cranes and construction sites, at first it was hard to disagree with him.
|View from Jenna's church|
But his comment disturbed me, and for a while I couldn’t stop thinking about it. No more opportunity in the US? The US has always been the land of opportunity. For over 200 years it has welcomed immigrants from around the world seeking a better life, with more opportunities and freedoms than any other country. But other questions continued to plague me. Is the US political system and the US treasury, just like the investment banking sector, going bankrupt, as so many people are beginning to believe? The 20th century was the American Century, as Henry Luce stated in 1941, but these days everyone is talking about “the Asian Century.” China has grown at three times the pace of the US for the last 30 years, and some of its neighbors (i.e. Singapore, South Korea) have grown even faster. An increasing number of young westerners looking to seek their fortune, like Nick and myself, are going to Asia where business is booming.
And as many of you may suspect, I have been thinking a lot recently about whether I could see myself permanently moving to Asia. And now I realize what really disturbed me about Nick’s comment: I used to think I would only move to Asia for a few years and then return to the US, but lately I have become increasingly uncertain. There's so much opportunity here that its tempting to consider staying.
Part of the reason I’m going to China is for the disorderliness, for the chaos, the discomfort, and the conflict – because it will be an adventure and because there is an almost endless number of problems to be solved there (check out this really cool video made by a friend of mine that does a better job at describing these issues than I ever could). But there are also plenty to be solved in the US – and plenty of conflict and chaos there as well. And I don’t believe that there is no longer any opportunity in the US. As long as American’s continue to hold their government truly accountable, and don’t let apathy and ignorance take hold, America will continue to be a dynamic, prosperous society. And above all, there is one thing that the US will most likely continue to have in the next century that Asian countries may not have: innovation and creativity – because unlike Asian societies, American society rewards and encourages initiative and independence. The rise of Asia presents a healthy new challenge of the US, and as long as we don’t give up on our core values, I think Americans will rise to the challenge.
But as this contemporary church at the top of a skyscraper demonstrates, Americans also need to make sure we don’t get stuck in our old ways, that we are aware of what is going on in the greater world, and that we continue to move forward, adapting to the changing world around us.
I think for now I’m still set on returning to the US after a few years. China is an adventure that will help me to see the larger world and bring some of the insights I gain back to the US, where we need it now more than ever. Asian Century or not, I still believe in the American system – it just needs some work.