Hong Kong Visit-Pt.1
We traveled to Hong Kong the first week of October for just a couple of days of our October break from school. It was our first time there.
Hong Kong is located on Hong Kong Island and was a British possession until 1997, when the Brits gave it back to China…but with the stipulation that it remain much as it is for the next 50 years. So, it still uses Hong Kong dollars, not RMB, like the rest of China. Hong Kong dollars are pretty much par value with RMB. It is referred to as a Special Administrative Region. When you enter, it is like entering another country…your passport is checked, you fill out an entrance and exit form…the whole process just to enter another part of China! Luckily the Chinese visa is good for Hong Kong! Because the Brits were in charge so long, it has many British amenities like cars with steering wheels on the right, driving on on the left, queues that work…things that the rest of China is learning.
Hong Kong became a British possession in 1841 after the end of the First Opium War. Prior to this, the Brits were bringing in opium from Bengal and trading the “foreign mud” for all matter of Chinese goods, and also creating drug problems in China. When China stepped in to try to stop the drug problem, by burning a major load of opium, this was enough provocation for the Brits to come in with two gunboats and sink the Chinese navy of 29 ships. This led to the Treaty of Nanjing which gave the Brits Hong Kong Island ‘in perpetuity.” The Second Opium War happened in 1860, with the Brits getting Kowloon, the peninsula leading to Hong Kong Island. On July 1, 1898, a 99-year lease for the New Territories (Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories) was signed between Great Britain and China. So this is why Hong Kong et al was returned to China on July 1, 1997.
Hong Kong, many experts say, has been the model for the rest of modern China. The Brits certainly laid the groundwork for Hong Kong in the over-100-years they ruled. In the 13 years since regaining Hong Kong, China has been building, in the rest of China, at a breakneck pace; adding subways, railways, airports, harbors, shipyards, etc., copying many of the things already in place in Hong Kong.
For example, Hong Kong has one of the best transportation systems in China. Its subway system is new, uses magnetic cards to enter/exit. These cards can also be used on buses, ferries, tram systems. Most buses are double-deckers, like those in England. Even the surface trams that run through the middle of Hong Kong are double-deckers.
When we arrived we took the new fast train from the airport to Central Station, the center of Hong Kong. From this station you can connect with buses, subway, ferries, taxis, etc. We waited in an orderly taxi queue; there were actually four queues…I calculated we would need to wait for 20 taxis before we got one…it took 17!
It was quite busy for some reason. Out taxi driver could speak English, which was a different experience for us in China. We normally get in, and give the driver a card with the destination written in Chinese. He told us it was so busy because of horse racing. Horse racing is very popular in Hong Kong. They have a track called Happy Valley which the Brits had started. Happy Valley was originally the burial grounds or cemetery for the British, but now serves a more “lively” crowd. When we got to our hotel, we went out to eat. There were a number of Off-Track Betting places called “The Jockey Club,” that were packed with bettors, or “punters,” as they are called here, who were following the races. We ate at a Chinese restaurant that had the races on big flat-screen tvs on the walls. More “punters” were eating there reading the racing programs and calling in their bets. The horse races here are similar to thoroughbred racing (jockeys on horses) in the West, with some differences. Here they run on “turf” or grass tracks. The horses here run in a clockwise direction, as opposed to counter-clockwise in the West. The betting is the same with Win, Place, Show.
Hong Kong reminded us much of New York City. It is on a small island that is well-organized, has a great public transportation system, and is a vertical city. It is a financial center, with its own stock exchange. It has a large number of expatriates, so it has a very diverse population. We wondered if there is a “Western Town,” like “China Town” in NYC. Hong Kong has wonderful food, Cantonese and Dim Sum.
We really enjoyed Hong Kong. It was lively, bustling, and an easy walking city. More on Hong Kong in Part 2.