Five years have passed since Hong Kong was reunified with China in 1997, but people are still asking whether the change in status has affected life here. The answer to this question depends on who you ask, of course, but administrative reforms and new legislation do not seem to have made any noticeable difference. Investors and large companies appear to have forgotten their anxieties at the time of the handover, and the black clouds have long since dispersed. The transition to Chinese rule was extremely gentle, and this ‘city-state’ enjoys a special status under the Chinese flag that means life goes on here much as before. Including the New Territories, Hong Kong covers only 300 square kilometers inhabited by 7 million. Despite this population density, Hong Kong has an extraordinary dynamism that is evident everywhere all the time. Astonishingly, traffic congestion is minimal.
Particularly on Hong Kong Island (formerly Victoria Island), numerous underpasses and overpasses for pedestrian and vehicle traffic, escalators, and covered pedestrian walkways linking the incredible skyscrapers mean that life in Hong Kong goes like clockwork.
If you ask the source of this energy and dynamism that motivates the people of Hong Kong, I can find only one answer: money! Most of the giants of the capitalist world have investments in Hong Kong. Everything is to be found here, and everything is possible! The world’s best economists, best architects, and best city planners are all in Hong Kong. The traditional diligence of the Chinese in general and the competitive instincts of the people of Hong Kong are further clues to the miracle. In Hong Kong, people are more enamored of towering skyscrapers, Rolls-Royces, and other expensive cars, luxury houses, exclusive clothes, and dazzling jewelry than perhaps anywhere else in the world.
It is interesting to see that despite more than a century of British rule, Hong Kong has preserved its Chinese culture and identity to the degree that makes it almost more Chinese than the Chinese mainland. Many of the traditions and customs swept away by Mao’s cultural revolution in the 1960s and 1970s are alive and well in Hong Kong. In workshops and small factories, artisans produce ornaments, mahjong sets, decorated chopsticks, and carved furniture; rows of shops sell the multitude of herbs and other ingredients of traditional Chinese medicine; and the temples are always thronged with worshippers, notably the Wong Tai Sin Temple on the Kowloon Peninsular. The city center consists of two parts, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Although skyscrapers of 40 and even 70 floors are to be seen in both these areas, the Central-Admiralty and Wanchai districts of Hong Kong Island are where the most towers congregate. Kowloon is famous for Nathan Road, named after a former British governor, that stretches from north to south.
After dark, the side streets here are transformed into a riot of color by the neon lights of the bustling shops and restaurants. The first stop for buses along this route is the Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei. In the square in front of the temple, you can watch worshippers coming and going, street barbers, gamblers, and mahjong players. The same area is the Jade Market, where there is a beautiful array of brooches, necklaces, and figurines made of this semiprecious stone. Shopping without bargaining is almost unknown in Hong Kong, by the way. If you are still not tired by the end of the day, you can visit the crowded night market on Temple Street. In short, Nathan Road is a colorful and animated world of its own by day and night. The southernmost area of Kowloon is Tsim Sha Tsui, renowned for its hotels, fascinating museums, exhibition center, and gigantic shopping malls. But of all the sights of Hong Kong, the most famous has got to be Victoria Peak, from which the view is so breathtaking you will never forget it for the rest of your life.
Until just a few years ago, Aberdeen on the southern shore of Hong Kong Island was the place to see thousands of sampans; traditional Chinese boats anchored side by side and home to thousands of families. But Aberdeen has changed and intermingled with the sampans; there are now thousands of luxury boats and yachts. Two gigantic floating restaurants on the Aberdeen Strait are thronged with tourists. To get to know Hong Kong Island better, I recommend taking a ride on one of the oldfashioned trams to ply backward and forwards across the island. A seat on the top deck gives you a marvelous view of the Hong Kong miracle as the tram trundles from Central to Wanchai, and from there across Hennessy road to Causeway Bay with its vast marina. There is something different to discover on every street in Hong Kong, and if you add excursions to the islands of Lantau, Lamma, and Cheung Chau to your itinerary, even a week’s stay will barely be enough. Then you need at least a day to visit the former Portuguese colony of Macau (not forgetting to take your passport with you).
After the dynamic pace of Hong Kong, Macau is a quiet backwater, but well worth seeing. As for Hong Kong, that is a pure extravaganza.