A Tale of Two Cities

By another Charles form 2016

I went to bed at 9 p.m., while the streets were bright and they were working; I woke up at 5 a.m., while the streets were bright and they were sleeping.

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(The view from my room. The neon lights keep the night bright.)

 

I am Charles, who was born and brought up in a third-income-class municipality called Jagna, on the island province Bohol in the Philippines. As a third-year university student, I am only one from Tagbilaran who was sent to Hong Kong for a three-week business immersion course during summer break.

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(On the way to Hong Kong, it’s the capital city of my country. A big city, right?)

In this course, I was assigned to a local NGO who provides legal assistance to foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. Usually it is not the indolence but the precious time of Hong Kong households that offers job opportunities for foreign workers, who are currently paid at least HK$4,210 (statutory minimum) a month (equivalent to about twenty-five thousand pesos). I learnt from my collegue that the availability of foreign domestic workers actually allows many Hong Kong people to join the local workforce, generating additional income for the economy. I was then wondering why there were so many job opportunities in Hong Kong, but not in Jagna?

I am assigned to a small family of two in these three weeks. The middle-aged couple are the civil servants for the Hong Kong government for some good years. From the financial news they watch every morning, I believe they are indeed part=time investors, as most of the Hong Kong people are. The prosperous financial industry, joint by many international financial institutions, has been creating a lot of well-paying job opportunities for Hong Kong people, and indirectly for foreign domestic workers. I was then wondering why the financial industry in the Philippines is not as prosperous as the one in Hong Kong?

 

There are five voluntary lawyers, who offer their legal services once or twice a week. On the other days, they are the normal lawyers at different well-know and international law firms in Hong Kong, and are compensated by their time very handsomely. David, who has volunteered for the NGO for five years, told me that the comprehensive legal system and the rule of law in Hong Kong are the cornerstone of the economic prosperity and the vibrant financial industry, same as in the United Kingdom, United States, as well as other developed countries. With the respect of the rule of law, foreign investors are confident that their property rights are well protected, and therefore are willing to invest in Hong Kong. I was then wondering why those foreign investors are not confident enough in our legal system that they are willing to invest in the Philippines, as they are doing in Hong Kong?

The majority of the Hong Kong people lives in small apartment.The apartment where I am living is just over four-hundred square feet. Yet, in this tidy living room, there is a big book shelf, housing hundreds of books from arts, , history, philosophy, politics and economics. Among those I once spotted a book called Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. I was then wondering that did my homeland actually fail to prosper?

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(The book Why Nations Fail I took from the book shelf. My host family actually gave it to me as a gift, mostly because I could not finish reading it in these three weeks.)

The book took two examples of Spanish and Bristish colonisations of the South and North America to support their theory that the political and economic institutions are the driving force of economic rise and stagnation. The Spanish Empire landed the continent of America before the British Empire, and conquered the South America which was of more natural resources for economic development. By this natural advantages, the economic development of South America should outperform than the North. However, the current circumstances are apparently the other way round, which was explained by the authors that the absolutist monarch power of the Spanish Empire indeed hampered the economic growths of many of its then colonies. I was then wondering is the Philippines one of them?

The Asia’s World City – Hong Kong – that I am currently living in was once a British colony; the developing (or frankly, poor) country that I was born was once a Spanish colony. If the authors of the book are right (and I believe it is so), it should be the different institutions in Hong Kong and Jagna (or the Philippines.) accountable for the differences in economic prosperities in these two cities. I was then wondering if I change make the change.

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(The three-week course ended. And I had arrived the Tagbilaran city. I hope in the future I can afford another trip to Hong Kong.)

The border reflection of these three weeks’ time in Hong Kong is that, one should focus on tackling global poverty on a national level, which inevitably requires some institutional changes, rather than on an individual level, which, subject to exclusive institutions, is not a sustainable solution. I am now wondering, is there any one from the developed countries who are willing to come to Jagna, to help tackle poverty issues on a national level?

 

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