Friday, February 25, 2011


We stayed two days at this World Class city. Hong Kong is really over the top. Although this former British colony has been a part of China since 1997, it is one of the freest and business friendly cities in the world. As you walk from the port through the city on Nathan Road, the major commercial street, you can feel the excitement and vibrancy. For the past 200 years or so, Hong Kong has been described as an "entrepot", a warehouse and trading center without import and export duties. Singapore is another. The busy port of Hong Kong receives goods from all over Asia and ships them to the West.

This tiny "nation" of 5 million has limited land to expand, so every available piece of land is utilized. Businesses are crammed into tiny alcoves, maybe 5 feet wide, with merchandise on the walls up to the ceiling. Street vendors abound. Many of the people milling about on the street are hawkers attempting to entice the tourists into their stores to buy tailored suits and dresses, handbags and knockoff watches. Most of the tailors are from India. Hong Kong is truly a melting port, as one sees people of many nationalities mingling in the markets.

We visited vertical shopping malls where it was difficult to locate the exit. We got lost in several enormous shopping malls over the course of our trip, mainly because I couldn't understand the maps at the information centers. I don't read Chinese very well.

Signs for Rolex watches are all over the place. Some of these watches may even be real. Western restaurants like Outback, TGI Fridays, Starbucks, McDonalds and KFC are well represented. On a prominent street corner is a Shakey's Pizza--I haven't see one of those in a long time. I was window shopping and spotted a sale for designer silk ties. The Indian hawker grabbed me and brought me into the store where I purchased several high quality ties for about $5 apiece (American). Close to the port we visited a store selling carved Chinese jade--some pieces were for sale at 5 million HK ($700,000 U.S.). In Hong Kong, as well as most of the countries we visited, American money is accepted.

One thing I found unusual was that in Hong Kong they speak Cantonese, while in Shanghai they speak Mandarin. Cantonese and Mandarin speakers literally cannot understand one another--like an Englishman and Frenchman attempting to converse. However, the Chinese characters for both languages are the same, as they represent ideas rather than sounds. Thus, the Cantonese speaker can write a letter (or email) to the Mandarin speaker, and they will both understand.

At dusk, we rode a double decked bus ride through the financial district, teeming with people, as we observed the daily lives of the natives. I sat on top of the bus while Dianne rode inside on the lower level, because she was still nursing her leg injuries and had difficulty with stairs. Many of the largest buildings house banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions, not to mention hotels.

Each night, they put on a spectacular laser light show--the props are the high rise buildings overlooking the harbor with computerized lights operating in sync. After the show, we had dinner at the floating Peking Garden restaurant--guess what!--Chinese food. We dined on a delicious 11 course meal including Peking duck, bok choi, octopus, sweet and sour chicken, Singapore curry noodles, noodles with soy, fried rice with vegetables, egg foo yung, and dim sum dumplings. I enjoyed dinner very much.

After dinner we went to the Temple Street Night Market--the day market is located somewhere else. Haggling over prices is expected, and if you know quality, you can get some good buys. We purchased a cashmere Burberry scarf for Dianne for about $7. It was probably a knockoff, but it was of good quality. At the same stall, a bright orange Harley-Davidson windbreaker caught my eye, and I schlocked 'em down to about $30 (U.S.), but then decided to purchase a red and black Ferrari jacket for the same price.

The next day when we took a harbor cruise on a sampan, it was as cold as San Francisco harbor in July. I was very happy to wear that warm jacket. Many people live on the harbor on small houseboats--Chinese junks, presumably in junkyards, financing them with junk bonds.

We visited a jewelry factory where we listened to a lecture on jewelry. This is geared more for the women tourists. As in tours in other cities we have visited, after the lecture, the doors opened and we were greeted by an army of salespeople that descended on us like mosquitoes. Every price is negotiable, but we didn't buy anything there.


Going back to the 1700's, the British imported huge amounts of tea from China. In return England exported luxury manufactured goods to China. The English suffered a large trade imbalance for which the Chinese insisted they be paid in silver. Silver was expensive, and to correct the trade imbalance, the British decided to export less expensive opium to China. The opium was imported from India. Many Chinese became addicted, and for obvious reasons the Chinese emperor banned opium. The British continued to smuggle in opium, and when the Chinese resisted, the British source of income went away, and war broke out--the First Opium War (1839-42). The British won, and the prize was Hong Kong Island.

The British Parliament was upset. The loudest voice was that of the newly elected William Gladstone, a future prime minister, who believed that England should have gotten more. They demoted their chief negotiator, Captain Elliott. They effectively shipped him to Siberia--in this case the obscure Republic of Texas where he was appointed Charge d'Affaires.

Several years later, the British felt their merchants were mistreated by the Chinese, and the Second Opium War (1856-60) broke out. The British won that one also, the spoils being the Kowloon Peninsula.

In 1898, the British needed additional land for the defense of the colony, and they signed the Second Convention of Peking, giving the British a 99 year lease for the New Territories, 368 square miles of islands and mainland, adjacent to Kowloon. The lease expired in 1997. Although Hong Kong and Kowloon were given to the British in perpetuity, by the terms of the Sino British Joint Declaration of 1984, the British agreed to turn over the whole ball of wax to the Peoples Republic of China in 1997, which they ultimately did. China agreed to keep Hong Kong as a separate entity, and retain its separate and unique character as a trading center. Many feel the ultimate solution to reconcile China and Taiwan would be a similar arrangement. Hong Kong residents must obtain visas to travel to Mainland China.

Despite the changing of the guard, most of the streets have retained their British names. There is a Queen Elizabeth Hospital. There are 5 streets named after Queen Victoria plus Upper Albert Road and Lower Albert Road, named after her husband. There is a Prince Edward Road, a Gloucester Road (after the Duke of Gloucester), and Edinburgh Place (after Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh). There is even a Princess Margaret Road.

Victoria Peak is still Victoria Peak. We rode the funicular railway up to the 1800 foot peak at a 45 degree angle. At the top is a large shopping mall, public parks and expensive houses overlooking the world class skyline and Victoria harbor. Between 1904 and 1930, the British authorities did not allow Chinese to live on the Peak, although now it is essentially based on wealth.

Hong Kong is truly an Asian Tiger, a center of commerce and banking, with a high standard of living. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this dynamic city-state built on free trade.

NEXT: Ken Goes to Viet Nam but the U.S. Government Will Not Pay for the Trip.



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