Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Asian Century?

Today (August 29th) I accompanied my friend Jenna and her family to Church, located on the 79th story of one of the tallest buildings in Hong Kong. This was not the traditional church that I grew up with (and even less like the church that many of you grew up with). There was no alter, no pews – in fact nothing that resembled a church in the slightest. The pastor wore a suit and tie rather than a robe (although he was a 66 year old American – the one thing that made this believable) and stood at a transparent lectern. Behind him was a band that played and sang modern Christian songs rather than psalms, and a wide screen TV displaying the lyrics and passages from the scripture. The mass consisted of singing songs and the pastor’s sermon. There was no parading in, no alter boys, no communion, and no rituals. And I thought my church back in Freeport was progressive. This brought a whole new meaning to contemporary Christianity.

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. 

1 comment:

  1. Daniel! I really enjoyed reading this. I think you're exactly right about the US. I was getting my nails done the other week by a guy who moved here from Amsterdam (he was Asian, believe it or not), and I asked him what the heck he was doing here in the states. Apparently, in Amsterdam, he had a degree in Economics. He said that when he came to the US to visit friends, he saw how many open spaces there were in plazas etc just waiting for someone to buy them. That kind of opportunity isn't available anywhere else, really. Come back to the states, please! We need you here.

    This is sort of unrelated but I think you'll empathize... I had a terrible fight the other day with a few people while we were waiting to get into class. One guy asked me how I felt about illegal immigration and what Arizona was doing to try to curb it. He kept telling me how expensive "the illegals" are and how they're "a huge drain on our system." I told him that the entire anti-immigrant buzz going around the country was really reminiscent of the red scare, and that people need to be vigilant about those things instead of letting purely economic arguments govern their reasoning. We need to remember that we are a nation of immigrants, and that our country was essentially established as a refuge. He kept telling me that all they have to do is fill out the proper paperwork and go through the proper channels to become citizens, and I was just disgusted that this guy was essentially saying that it's okay to kick an entire family out of the States just because they didn't comply with some bureaucratic procedural bullshit. The final straw, I think, was when a girl sitting next to him turned to me and said, "Olivia, empathy can only go so far. When you work hard for your money you don't just wanna give it away to some people who don't even belong here." Needless to say, I zoned them out.

    When I tuned back in, this asshole says, (and the hypocrisy of the comment needs no explanation whatsoever--)
    "Israel is like that woman you're keeping on the side. If she asks for something, you give her twice that. if Israel wants 500 F15s, we give her 1000."

    At that moment, I really missed my Tufts friends.
    Miss you, Daniel!