Beauty and the Beast: Hong Kong in Black and White

By: Hruy Tsegaye

It’s like your first love relationship. There are some aspects you want to forget and some to cherish. This is almost universal for those who are lucky and blessed with a much better second, third, fourth love or for those who are not capable of letting their first one go.

Hong Kong is just like that, Hong Kong is beauty, and Hong Kong is beast! Ethiopian landed in Hong Kong on the 14th of March 2018 around 11:45 AM, and I was among the weary passengers rushing out hoping to hit the bed as soon as possible. Yet, I was clueless about the beauty and the beast and simply assumed the city is nothing more but like all the other cities I knew; maybe super fancy and big but just another city.

Yet Hong Kong is different, you will love and hate the city and, at some point, you will not know which is which!

I am an Ethiopian and so is my passport. For those of you who don’t know what this means, I am black, and I am an African.

Upon landing, the immigration officers collected all the blacks and guided us toward the confinement area by a corridor; all the white people will pass by you while you sat there wondering why you are feeling ashamed. As if the confinement corridor was not enough, the immigration officers pulled another stunt.

The other black fellows and I were given a thick instruction, an immigration officer, holding our passports in disdain, ordered us to follow him immediately; one look at your nationality and you are automatically directed to ‘the detention’ room.

I got my visa from the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Addis Ababa and I assure you it is a valid visa; it is not some sort of on-arrival visa and it is not immigration or work visa. It is a single entry business visa validated meticulously via the Chinese embassy in Addis Ababa.

Strange! I thought, okay, even though it is not my first time to fly to China, it is my first time to fly to Hong Kong and maybe the Hong Kong special administration needs further check-ups. Don’t be bewildered, mainland China and Hong Kong have two separate visa systems.

My colleagues who had visited Hong Kong before warned me about the detention or even deportation, but they didn’t tell me how silly the examination system was and that how all this shenanigan is spurred by crooked racism. Let me tell you why it is racism and not an ordinary security measurement.

I flew to Hong Kong accompanied by another business partner, iCog Labs’s Chief Technical Officer, and he had visited Hong Kong before. We, both of us, assumed that he would not be detained again because this was his second time. Unfortunately, he was also directed to the confinement corridor.

While we sat there chatting about this and that, another black man, in his mid-50s, was led to us by a stern looking immigration officer. The man asked about something I couldn’t quite remember and the officer replied, “wait a moment” and took off with the passport. Guess what, the man was holding the United States of America’s Passport. After realising this, the immigration officer said, “Sorry Sir, here is your passport and please proceed to the exit”!

Yes, the immigration officers were simply collecting people to the confinement area based on the passengers’ skin colour!

I can assure you that such outspoken racism is not present in mainland China. In fact, I was welcomed with a warm smile and the process of passing through immigration took less than a minute. My passport was examined just like all the other races; at the counter, quickly and professionally.

Here in Hong Kong, I am sitting amid several other black travellers wondering how China can tolerate such explicit and childish racist system, questioning how China endures the injustice toward her own citizens; forget the blacks!

After ten minutes, my colleague, two black men, a couple of Asians and I were told to follow an immigration officer who led us to the detention room.

The room was half-full; Asians and Africans only! The Asians are mainly from Philippines, Thailand, India, and mainland China. It is hard to guess about the blacks, but I am certain that the majority of them are from West Africa, probably Nigeria.

On the right side of the room, three officers, sitting behind a desk flooded with dossiers, were busy doing some mysterious paperwork.

I whispered to my colleague, “this is better, at least the place is private, and we can yawn shamelessly”.

After two and half-hours, we were called to the interview room; a female officer tossed a couple of questions, questions that had already been verified in the Addis Ababa embassy. After a couple of ‘cross-checks’, she, firmly but politely, demanded to see our US dollars and count what we have in front of her.

In short, we left the airport after three hours.

On the second week of my stay, I went to The Consulate-General of the Peoples’ Republic of China, stand in line for straight 5 hours to apply a visa request for mainland China, and was told to get lost. I was told that it is almost impossible for a man from Ethiopia to get a visa from Hong Kong to China. While the ‘Hong Kongee‘ officer was disgusted to accept my application with all the technical documents, he kowtowed for the white skinned people, even for those that lack the mandatory passport size colour photo and accepted their papers faster than a quick slave on a cotton plantation. Looks like the ‘Hong Kongee‘ are scared shitless in front of a White Skin. The view, from the 20th floor was great though!

Hong Kong is not a mere mega metropolitan, Hong Kong, if not more then equally, is a jungle. The green is not just green, there are small mountains, and big hills all over the city and these are covered with wild trees. In one moment, you are passing through skyscrapers, and in the next, your eyes will enjoy countryside like scenes with all the grace green can offer. Unbelievably, even there is a scenario where Monkeys will harass you in Hong Kong!

I know monkeys and when I was a child, I can say, they were plenty in my hometown, and they were barely mysterious to us than any other farm animal. That was a long time ago and I decided to see these Asian monkeys. At the same time, I was a bit sceptical because the Google search results were full of incredible monkey tales. Of course, I was certain that these tales were exaggerations.

I ventured to Kam Shan County Park, which is not even very far from where I have stayed, two stops to Sha Tin Station a couple of minutes’ walk to the Royal Park Hotel via exit A4 and hop on Bus number 72 to Cheung Sha Wan. It took me an hour and half to reach to this monkey heaven; yeah the monkeys there treat humans as if they are the descendants of Sun Wukong.

Although I did not see the brigand monkeys, whose tales of adventure is plenty in the Google search results, all the individual monkeys I walked by were scornful, and they had no fear of me or the other sightseers.  I think there were many monkeys at the beginning, and they become scarce and scarce once I began walking on the narrow but paved path toward the middle of the park. True, no monkey has dared to attack me, unlike many of the tales from the Google search results, yet a couple of them tried either to touch me or something like it. I don’t speak monkey but it looks like they were begging; imagine a hairy aggressive bum that jumps from one part of the road to the other and that stares a lot. You know the beggar is there but you cannot be sure that qualifies as begging.

Such is Hong Kong’s wealth, a natural jungle amidst the motionless cement towers.

The harmonious marriage of the concrete jungle with the real jungle transforms Hong Kong into a fairyland.

At the top of The Ten Thousand Budha Monastery

SingularityNet was my business in Hong Kong; I was invited to attend a series of business meetings. Unfortunately, I make it to the last business meeting. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to explore Hong Kong.

These SingularityNet meetings resemble a mini-UN assembly. Experts from Russia, USA, England, Brazil, Ethiopia, Germany, Italy, and China were present. In addition, the technical team includes experts from Ecuador, Mexico, Netherlands, and…

Yeah, the diversity within SingularityNet is richer than that of Hong Kong’s scenery. It is not easy to remember all the partakers’ nationality who either were there to participate in the meetings or are stationed in Hong Kong to work for this start-up.

SingularityNET in one sentence is “an open-source protocol and collection of smart contracts for a decentralized market of coordinated AI services”. At the Core of SingularityNet, there are two things— AI and Blockchain.

When you see the smokes of Blockchain, you can assume a cryptocurrency fire is not too far. Despite the crucial role of fire in our civilization, it is also a tool of destruction.

One of the biggest challenges for startups like SingularityNet is the question of choosing or creating a cryptocurrency and how to ensure the particular choice of cryptocurrency has a valid and economically sane value.

The decade is marked by the rise of blockchain-based start-ups; sadly, the magnitude of such companies simply sells one form of money for another form of money. Despite the technology behind cryptocurrencies, their fundamental liberating nature that will no longer enable governments and banks to exploit the majority through economic notions like fiat money, they are, after all, same old same money! If not backed by tangible goods or services, their value will only rest on the subjective notion we call “the collective trust”. We trust in money so money has value, yet real products and services also back every form of currency we know of.

To make this simpler, let us take the case of the US dollar. Each and every human being on this planet, from each and every sect, is unified by one trust, we trust in the United States of America’s dollar. We trust it because we know the United States of America’s economy is bigger than anything we know and the economy is big because it has lots and lots of goods and services.

Even after the Federal Reserve Bank begins to create fictitious Dollars, our trust remains intact. Even after the notion of Fiat Currency and after its perfection as a tool of exploitation, our trust remains intact. We are faithful worshipers not just because of our collective trust; it is also because of the objective goods and services that are produced within America.

The value of most currencies goes hand in hand with the amount and quality of products and services of the nation that issued that particular currency. There are exceptions but even the exceptions follow the same principle.

The danger of cryptocurrency arises from this reality; currency needs not only the trust of the public but an actual product or service. Many startups seem their sole purpose is to deliberately abuse the trust of the public; they will sell fictitious money with another form of money. True, the educated public knows that all forms of money are fictitious and it is the trust that makes it valuable, yet the trust needs a sort of guarantee and, for now, the world backs its fictitious money with real products and services.

The classic Hong Kong View from Victoria Harbour

SingularityNet is one of the very few companies that offer a cryptocurrency backed by real service. The focus of the business meeting was on selecting specific AI services and the right technologies that will facilitate the delivery of such services.

Gone are the days when cryptocurrency was viewed as the new cool kid on Tech Street. Even Merriam Webster’s Dictionary officially added the term as a formal English word in its 2018 edition.

I am pretty sure that the experts at SingularityNet know what is waiting, and I am also certain that they have thoroughly discussed on how to isolate SingualrtyNet from the throng of blockchain based startups and blend the blockchain technology with a product based cryptocurrency.

Besides the decentralization of technologies and the pro-poor features, which will enable companies and individuals from the third world to access powerful AI tools, SingularityNet has the potential to shine as a company that utilizes product-baked cryptocurrency.

For nations like Ethiopia and the rest of the Sub-Saharan, except South Africa, understanding the core concept of digital currency and replacing it with whatever kind of currency currently in use is outlandish. The magnitude of the population is illiterate while the market system is just a little advanced than mediaeval Europe and the financial check and balance system is an infant; it cannot regulate and protect the mass from cryptocurrency related frauds.

Yet again, it should not be a surprise to see few start-up companies in Ethiopia and as well the rest of the sub-Saharan working on blockchain and local cryptocurrency. With the current rate of advance in the ICT and education sectors and as well the rapidly growing economy, the potential for cryptocurrency in Africa is much brighter than that of Europe; less evil banks and more population.

So far, Africa is a wealthy continent handicapped by poor people. Among many reasons, the lack of inter-continental trade is a good place to search for the solution to this paradox. Among many reasons, currency regulation has been one of the major hindrances towards creating a better performing intercontinental trade within Africa.

Africans are forced to use US Dollar for their intercontinental trade because first, they do not have a common currency and second the majority does not trust other African currencies. To overcome these, Africans choose US Dollar as a common currency but this by itself has created an artificial inflation; in the process of exchanging their currencies to US Dollar, the price of the products on sell raise to the rooftop.

Africa might see a way out via cryptocurrency and the inter-continental trade is potentially the perfect place to start utilizing cryptocurrency.

And what better place is there than Hong Kong— a developed city that belongs to a still-developing nation— to blend this new future, a future that stands on meritocracy based money system, a future that can protect the interest of the common people against cryptocurrency sharks instead of what we have now.

Indeed, it is a brave new world.

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