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Published: August 31st 2016
Mesmerizing green @ Sanzenin Temple Ohara
There are moments in your life that you always remember, for the good or for the bad; and there are things in your life that you associate with those moments: a song, a certain type of food, a certain place you have been to. My most recent trip to Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, will forever be linked to an experience which brought the meaning of the word "Kafkaesque" to new levels. More in detail, it did remind me of Kafka's novel "The Trial", where a person is being arrested and put on trial, eventually to meet his death without ever knowing what the reason for his arrest was. In order for my dear readers to understand how a real-life seemingly ridiculous situation can spark out into a Kafkaesque pandemonium, I will have to start from the beginning of the story.
As research is one of my principal tasks as this point of my life, I was put in charge of a data collection project in Hong Kong lasting for a total of 5 months. For those of you who have never had a close experience with life in Hong Kong - I need to shortly brief you
about the meaning of being in charge of anything in the SAR. Bureaucracy in Hong Kong is probably not what you are used to and it is certainly not what I was used to. Eastern Asian cultural traits such as extreme hierarchy and "saving face" (i.e. the total neglect of any type of responsibility) have made the city somewhat of an administrative nightmare. You will go to person A in order to ask for something, person A will have to contact superior person B, which will need signatures from his superiors C and D. However, because superiors should not be stressed by inferior human beings, person D will take 2 weeks to sign the permit for person B, while person C might take another week for the same. As person B is also superior to person A, the same principle can apply - and you will suffer. Long story short, you end up in a mayhem of waiting lists which are never-ending and slowly eat up your time and nerves. You will also be asked for lots of documents and signatures for ridding everybody involved from any type of duty and or responsability.
Now, I was in charge of
Ohara village life
collecting data in a public place under Hong Kong governance, where the place needs a permit for all researchers to be accessed. After a month or so of struggle and bureaucracy, I got the permit for myself and my 5 student-helpers. Each of the permits had a picture of the relevant person and expiry date. Sounds good so far. Well, don't open your champagne yet. After a briefing by a responsible person, we eventually carried out the research for 4 weeks, the permits expired and everybody lived happily. No champagne yet.
After another 3 weeks or so, I got a call from the authorities who had issued me the permits, telling me to return them. They way it was presented to me was that they had forgotten to tell me to give them back, but no issue, I could just drop them to one of their employees. Wait a little for that champagne though. I got in touch with my student helpers to return the permits, which 4 of them did within 2 days. Now we come to lucky number 5, a helper from Korea. She dropped an email to me, my boss and the responsible authorities, stating that
Hidden Buddha @ Sanzenin Temple Ohara
she would be gone from Hong Kong for 3 months or so, and the permit was "locked away in a box in Hong Kong". Therefore, she would be able to return the permit in september. The authorities were copied in the email and I was reaching for that champaign.
And here, my dear readers, is where your introduction to Hong Kong culture starts. An officer from the permit office came back to me, telling us that this delay was not acceptable and gave us a 10 day deadline to retrieve the permit. The easiest way, I was mailing to the person who had the permit locked up in a box to solve the problem, champaign ready to be uncorked. Long story short, the Korean student helper did not come back to me for 3 weeks, did not pick up her phone, did not react to facebook messages or any emails sent from anybody in our school. In the meanwhile, things in Hong Kong went balistic. While I was suggesting to just go to the police and report the permit as lost, the authorities, my colleagues, my boss, and pretty much everybody else were exchanging hyper-aggressive emails trying not to
Gates @ Sanzenin Temple Ohara
lose face, meaning to put the blame on someone else and extending the return deadline for 3-4 days every now and then. For my part, I was initially never told to return the permit but I did not mind taking the blame and solving the issue if this would let me sleep in peace at night. However, I was not allowed to do so by any means, as people were concerned with washing themselves of the guilt by meticulously quoting all the emails exchanged, blame each other constantly, and all-in-all, create a Kafkaesque inferno of burocracy. Finally I was asked by the responsibles whether or not I could "break in the students room" and retrieve the permit and when I suggested to report the permit as lost, I got the answer "you should not have lost it" (which I did not).
After 3 weeks of playing Asian clown games and the levels of involvement had reached the president of a local university, government officers, and pretty much anybody else in the city, I was ready to leave for a short trip to Japan's historical capital Kyoto. Kyoto had been on my radar since I went to Osaka a few
Sanzenin Temple Ohara
months ago. Osaka airport is in fact less than an hour of train ride away from the ancient city and most tourists pair the two up with another old capital in the area, Nara. So Kyoto it was and this time I really want to let the pictures speak for themselves. The first impression for a European arriving in what is known as a historial city is quite underwhelming: skyscrapers, shopping malls, pachinko, the usual Japan. But the best things are hard to find and Kyoto unfolds its 1600 temple-beauty for those who are willing to take the time to look for them. Unfortunately, in the middle of my trip I got an email from Hong Kong, this time from the president of the association I was working with. CAPSLOCK and !!!!! marks are never a good sign and this time the Korean permit really brought me, and my travel mood, down.
Now for the happy ending, everything sorted out back in Hong Kong when the Korean girl called me and I could retrieve that cursed piece of paper. Ready for the champagne. Kyoto was awesome and there would be much more to tell but just dive in my
Statues @ Sanzenin Temple Ohara
pictures and see for yourself. I am also ready to leave Hong Kong for good now and start my new life in neighboring Macau. This is it from Hong Kong, let the horror story end and a new chapter begin. Keep on moving folks.
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