In a famous scene of "The Matrix", Morpheus, the leader of the insurgents, explains the truth of the doomed human civilization being captured within a computer simulation.
»The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us… You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.«
For those grown up in Hong Kong, Asia’s financial centre, capitalistic and meritocratic values permeate through every corner of society. “Truth” as people generally know it revolves around achieving success through monetary gains and societal status.
It subconsciously infiltrates into what major we choose, what career we embark upon, what spouse we desire, even how we introduce ourselves when we meet a stranger. In “The Matrix”, humans serve machines, unfortunately, in reality, many humans also serve capital.
Being a lover of classical music, I often sneaked into our school’s auditorium to play a bit of Rachmaninoff on the Sauter grand piano. Curious individuals who listened to me play were often inquisitive about my origins. I recall the question, »is it true that poor people live in cages in Hong Kong?«
I was pained by a fact I couldn’t deny. Capitalism built a rat race, where losing the race rewards you with a genuine chance of living like rats.
Upon arriving, I found that travelling is like taking the “red pill”. It yanks you out of “The Matrix’s” illusions, flushes you down the rabbit hole, and makes you question existentially all that you have assumed to be true.
In Copenhagen, I counted the ducks pecking for nuts buried in the soil softened by the morning dew during my daily runs, gazed at the warm winter sunlight slanting across the windowpanes of a three-story building on my way to the supermarket and appreciated the works of ancient masters at museums scattered across the city.
Slowing down felt natural yet deeply shocking at the same time, I realized that I have been imbalanced, assimilated from the society that I have lived in for 20 years.
Assuming that our minds’ capacities are finite, should certain beliefs be emphasized more than they warrant within society, they diminish the capacity that other facets of the human condition could occupy. This is deeply unfortunate, should these facets be crucial to the flourishing of human beings.
In particular, three of these stood out against the backdrop of my upbringing:
1. Artistic expression: When joining the locals at an art jamming café during Copenhagen’s “Culture Night”, I can’t help but recall how my peers throughout primary and secondary school enrolled in all sorts of music and art classes throughout their childhoods. Unfortunately, art was a tool for accumulating accolades during college admissions, rather than self-expression and appreciation of artistic beauty.
2. Integration with nature: Whether it be the blossoms in Frederiksberg Park, the vast plains of greenery on my way to Legoland, or the trees that are omnipresent even in the city centre, nature is integrated into Copenhagen’s urban planning. Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s country parks are often siloed off by layers of concrete from the skyscrapers of its bustling cities. With nature high on the agenda, the Danish also integrates sustainability in all corners of their life, ranging from extensive recycling to bike riding. Being accustomed to the roadside pollution of downtown Causeway Bay, I was astonished by the freshness of Danish air.
3. Space: During one of my internships, a Vice President confessed, “Hong Kong is not a place to raise a family, there’s simply no space for the kids”. While the quantity of space has been a perpetual issue in Hong Kong, with many devoting their lives to saving enough for a small flat, the Danes have been contemplating about the quality of space, treating space not as an “end”, but rather as a “means” to achieving quality of life. The Danish Architecture Centre beautifully illustrated how Nordic architects treated the figure of buildings, the orientation of rooms, the design of lighting with quality of life in mind. The fact that inmates in Storstrøm Prison enjoy better living conditions than middle-class Hong Kong citizens totally blew my mind. Karma, it appears, works in miraculous ways.
For sure, a perfectly balanced society with all the natural ingredients for human prosperity doesn’t exist. That being said, just as historians have their duty to challenge modern assumptions through uncovering wisdom across the ages, good travellers have their obligation to cross-pollinate novel sources of input.
Across various geographies and cultures, we might have all been living in our respective matrices, yet exposing ourselves to “The Real” enables us to all become Morpheus, guiding the path to those bounded by social constructs.
Bosco Luk, GLOBE-student