Cover S Alice Mong and Douglas Young go head-to-head in this month's Weigh-In. Photo: Scott Brooks (Mong), Calvin at Nomad (Young)

Douglas Young, creator of Hong Kong heritage brand Goods of Desire, goes head-to-head with S Alice Mong, executive director of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, in this month’s great debate

Have restricted travel and closed borders been a positive thing for Hong Kong culture?

Douglas Young: YES

“By not being able to travel overseas easily [since the pandemic began], I have realised that Hong Kong is full of diversity. I’ve been exploring the New Territories, the outlying islands and even the sea around Hong Kong. In the New Territories, there are ancient villages that I never appreciated before, and these places are never in travel guides. It’s funny that it took a pandemic for me to realise that there are such wonderful things in my city. I’ve been to beaches on the southside of Lantau where you can dig for clams and have them cooked at nearby restaurants for very little money. There’s also an island, Yim Tin Tsai, in Sai Kung with the grade II-listed St Joseph’s Chapel, inaugurated in 1890 by Portuguese Catholic missionaries when they first came to Hong Kong. The island is now an art island and, every year, artists are invited there to create installations. There is also a private dining restaurant, which is known to bring in Michelin-calibre guest chefs. The restaurant operates salt fields that have existed since the Ming Dynasty, so all the salt used on the menu comes from the island. It’s because of the pandemic that I have suddenly realised Hong Kong is a diamond: dense and full of value.”

S Alice Mong: NO

“While I have certainly seen more of Hong Kong and [experienced] more of its culture over the past two-and-a-half years as a result of the pandemic, travel restrictions have meant that our beautiful city has been closed off to the outside world at a time when Hong Kong culture needs to be seen and celebrated. A city’s culture should not be frozen in time or only appreciated by a domestic audience. It should be lively and interactive in nature. It takes two to tango, so we must be able to interact with those from the outside world. Certain aspects of Hong Kong culture, such as films, can be accessed online or through streaming platforms, but others have to be experienced in person: for example, our culinary traditions. Hong Kong is a global city, just like London, New York and Tokyo, so inward focus does not become us. Hong Kong culture needs to be celebrated both domestically and globally, and closing ourselves off to everywhere else is like applauding with one hand.”

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