Growing up in the suburbs of London as I did in the 1970s, people referred to “The Far East” as some faraway place of mystery and wonder. My father used to travel to Hong Kong and Singapore to fight legal cases for large shipping firms and returned with exotic presents like batik shirts, silk pyjamas and ivory chess sets, conjuring up images of ancient civilisations and cultures, long before movies brought the adventures of Indiana Jones and Jackie Chan to our local cinema.
Living on a staple diet of shepherd’s pie and baked beans, and with my mother taking me to watch movies starring her favourite actors, Gregory Peck, Robert Redford and Sean Connery, my only window into Asian culture was James Bond in ‘You Only Live Twice’ which featured Wanchai girlie bars and junks floating across Hong Kong Harbour. Arriving in Hong Kong in my late teens in 1979, I was pleasantly surprised to find a highly sophisticated, modern and civilised society where you could also play cricket, watch Kung Fu movies and eat amazing Cantonese food. I’ve never been the same since.
Now living in Australia, located in the heart of the Asia Pacific region, I am extremely lucky to be living at the very centre of the new world order. It’s a shame that I’m not young anymore and am unlikely to witness the full transformation that will undoubtedly take place in the next 100 years. But I’m seeing the start of it now and, living in a multicultural society, with all of its diversity around language, culture, food, family and technological advances, I can already see what the future looks like.
Many of my Asian friends worry that Australia is not well equipped to take advantage of its unique position as the only “western” country located in the Asian region, for a combination of historical, cultural and political reasons. I share some of these short term concerns but the future has already been written. In a democracy, you end up getting the politicians you deserve. The Government is simply a mirror, reflecting the hopes, aspirations and desires of the population, and you only have to look around you to know that the future of Australia looks very different to its past. As I look back over my own journey to the Far East, I can see that change happens, only slower than you sometimes might hope. In the meantime, we all need to look for opportunities to make a difference.