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Blog // Travel
April 25, 2008

Time Out – Hong Kong

Good news for Hong Kong residents; we finally have a local version of Time Out magazine. Editor Paul Kay opens up the first edition with an ambitious and truculent editorial, “Some people, I have found, will tell you things about Hong Kong that aren’t true. I’ve heard it said, for example, that there’s no live […]

Good news for Hong Kong residents; we finally have a local version of Time Out magazine. Editor Paul Kay opens up the first edition with an ambitious and truculent editorial,

“Some people, I have found, will tell you things about Hong Kong that aren’t true. I’ve heard it said, for example, that there’s no live music scene here. Others claim our city is no place for artists to blossom, and that business and excess are the only crafts at which we excel. I’ve even been told that Hong Kong is a cultural ‘desert’.

It is with satisfaction, and great delight, that I show these people the error of their ways. Stray a little out of your comfort zone and you’ll find Hong Kong is teeming with expressions of arts and culture, as these 112 pages testify.”

Bold stuff. I was already keen to read the magazine, but as someone who is prone to making the kinds of criticisms Kay lambasts, I felt personally challenged as well. Did I have it all wrong about Hong Kong’s cultural landscape? Was there really a vibrant underground here that rivalled other great global cities in both scope and local originality?

Honestly, I hoped the magazine would show me up and prove that Hong Kong really is a city “…teeming with expressions of arts and culture.” That would make living here a lot more fulfilling. Sadly, it didn’t even come close. But, maybe that doesn’t really matter; at least in the short-term.

Reading Time Out supports the clear sense that Hong Kong has a lot going for it in terms of places to eat (possibly one of the best in the world), high and low end fashion shopping (brilliant) and DJ-driven night-clubs (not my thing, but great if it’s yours). Beyond that, the coverage thins dramatically.

The section on Art starts not with “local expressions” but with a touring show of art featuring Banksy (yawn). The Music section starts with a good article on local musician Wong Ka-Kueng, but then leans heavily into upcoming touring shows by You Say Party! and James Blunt. The Classical music section features touring shows by the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire (the Le French May features heavily throughout the magazine) and pianist Michelle Kim. The Children’s section is a little more promising, with a feature on the Guangzhou Acrobatic Troupe, before turning to the inspiring idea of getting your kids to visit local rock-pools (really, first edition and that’s the best you could come up with for kids in Hong Kong?!?).

Touring shows – can you see a theme emerging?

I’ve never heard anyone claim there is no culture, art or live music in Hong Kong, so let’s assume that is a straw-man exaggeration. The meat in the criticism has to placed in the context of Hong Kong’s wealth, size and the claims it makes about itself (Asia’s Global City). You can visit lots of obscure places on this earth and find artists, musicians and writers at work. What makes a global and creative city unique is not the presence of such culture, but it’s depth, breadth and local flavour.

This edition of Time Out doesn’t defeat my argument about Hong Kong; it supports it. So many of the cultural events listed are touring events, not manifestations of local culture. There is a significant and meaningful difference between culture as entertainment and consumption compared to culture as creation and innovation. Hong Kong has a fair bit of the former, but far less than cities like London, New York, Tokyo, Sydney, etc. It also has some of the latter, but there it trails even further behind (with the exception of film and new media).

In the end, I don’t think this matters in terms of Time Out’s potential benefit to people living in Hong Kong. The city needs this magazine. In time it should help publicise the events that do take place here, especially the smaller ones, as well as providing more publicity for local artists. Towards this more modest goal, Time Out Hong Kong, edition one, looks like a promising start indeed.

[tags] Hong Kong [/tags]

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