My Exeriences and Feelings of Hong Kong

My Experiences in Hong Kong, summer 1997

1998-     All I can say about Hong Kong is that it's extraordinary.  While I was born and lived in Hong Kong for seven years, I first returned back to the place of my birth during the summer of '94. 

     The airplane landing itself is one of the most unique experiences that I've had. The plane literally has to descend at a forty-five degree angle sideways so that we wouldn't bump into any of the thousands of high-rises in Hong Kong. When you look outside, you can literally see the cars on the roads, which seemed to look like toy cars. Once you're in Hong Kong, there are tons of stuff to do. Firstly, the food. Every street corner you go, you will see a food stall. Although not all the food outlets are fully sanitary, there is so many different varieties of food to eat in Hong Kong. The food stalls are one variety. There are probably hundreds and hundreds, many thousands of restaurants there. I'ave eaten Indian food, Chinese food, a mix of English and Chinese food, Chinese fast food, and such traditional Western fast food outlets like McDonald's, Burger King, Hardee's, KFC, and Pizza Hut.

     If you don't like food or shopping, there are a lot of tourist attractions. Ocean Park is THE amusement park in HK. It's just like Sea World, except it also has roller coasters and other rides you would find at places like Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland. It has water rides, water shows, dolphin shows, aquariums, and as I mentioned before, roller costers. The roller coaster at the park, called The Dragon, isn't particularly impressive compared to Six Flags Magic Mountain and other "roller coaster" parks in the US, but then, it was designed by the same guy who designed the Matterhorn at Disneyland, so it can't be that bad. 

     The high rises themselves can be an attraction. Hong Kong has the distinction of having in it the most expensive building to build in the world (the Shanghai and Hong Kong Bank headquarters, which is the brightly lighted builiding on the right in the photo), and the fourth tallest building in the world, the largest one outside of the US (Bank of China building, which is the building with triangles on the left in the photo), designed by I.M. Pei himself (a world-famous architect). Whether you go during the day or night, the view of Hong Kong Island from the waterfront across the harbor is absolutely spectacular, as you can kind of see in the first picture.  Or, you can take the Peak Tram to the Peak, where you can get a scenic view of Hong Kong from the top of the territory.

     Finally, the public transportation available in Hong Kong is amazing. You can always flag down a taxi from most places in Hong Kong, for starters. If you're the frugal kind, double-decker buses are abundant and serve Hong Kong with great efficiency. There are also mini-buses, which serve only the immediate area in which the bus is based. On Hong Kong Island, there are trams for the really frugal people who want to save a buck or two on transportation costs. There is a train route in the New Territories (Hong Kong has three sections: Hong Kong Island [where the financial center is], Kowloon [a peninsula right above the island], and the New Territories, a somwhat mountainous but big piece of land above Kowloon), which leads directly to China. 

     There's the metro system, which is the fastest mode of transportation in Hong Kong (though it's inadvisable for visitors to use it during rush hour, when the metro is packed, as you can see in the picture).

    I personally believe that Hong Kong's future is bright, with some reservations. I went to Hong Kong last summer after the takeover, and things seem pretty much unchanged there. The Hong Kong government's department heads remain pretty much the same as they were under the British Administration, and Hong Kong's second-in-command, Chief Secretary Anson Chan, served in the same capacity for former British Governor Chris Patten.  Until new elections recently held in 1998, the Provisional Legislature has basically been a rubber stamp, since about 2/3 of the seats are filled by pro-communists or pro-businessmen. 

     However, that doesn't mean that these pro-communists/pro-businessmen are all "yes" men. I mean, if the whole US Congress was made of Democrats, Clinton would get almost all his laws passed, but that doesn't mean there isn't dissention within his party. That's the situation in Hong Kong during  1997. People are still free to voice their concerns here, and protests against government policies occur all the time.  And as a result of the limited democratic elections in 1998 (20 of the 60 seats were directly elected), democracy will blossom further, as politicians who have railed against the Communist government for years are now members of the Legislative Council.   Newspapers have basically been allowed to write whatever they want after the takeover.  

     Hong Kong Chief Executive C. H. Tung has been more conservative than former British governor Chris Patten, though. Tung is a traditional businessman and is more interested in law and order than in civil liberties. He is less open (natural for a tycoon). But Tung is a successful businessman, and he seems to have the skills needed to succeed.  Mr. Tung is right in that HK people care more about the current problems of housing shortages and homelessness here. Tung has proposed building more apartment buildings to relieve the housing problem, and the Provisional Legislature has approved his proposals.  The real test now is whether Tung can guide Hong Kong through the current Asian financial crisis.  

     Despite my reservations on the new Hong Kong government, I feel very confident that it will succeed. It has a solid foundation to build on, and Hong Kong's problems aren't quite as bad as some big American cities like Washington DC, where crime is out of control. Hong Kong is still one of the world's safest cities, thanks to its large and efficient police force.  I believe that the enterprising nature of the people of Hong Kong will survive and thrive in this newer and better future.

July 2000 update:
     The big question now is, is Tung Chee-Hwa finished as Chief Executive of Hong Kong?  He's up for re-election, and while the Chinese government heavily influences the process, Tung has become very unpopular in Hong Kong.  It is true that Hong Kong has had a lot of minefields to pass through since the Handover.  Chris Patten, Tung's predecessor,  may not have been able to do a better job.  Give Tung credit.  Despite the row over the right of abode court decision, he has managed to uphold Hong Kong's integrity and credibility of having rule of law, maintaining a just and impartial judiciary, and Hong Kong is stepping out of the Asian financial crisis relatively unscathed compared to some of the other Asian economies.  Plus, Disneyland is coming to Hong Kong!

     However, the problems that remain are immense.  Property reform, education reform (increasing English education levels), tax reform, strong environmental concerns regarding air pollution, the still weak economy, the slow pace of democratic development, the current public housing scandal involving contractors who apparently have skirted building codes, and Tung's own personal inability to inspire the masses has made him the least popular governor/CE of Hong Kong in quite a long time.

     Perhaps Tung would have been a better governor in different times.  Just a mere ten years ago, British governors usually had a distinct lack of charisma, did not need to please the people, and acted on their own as though they were God himself.  But ever since Chris Patten, who brought in a new era of openness in government and accountability to the people, politics in Hong Kong have changed.  The Chief Executive, though still un-elected, now needs to campaign among the people, needs to be accountable and open, and act with due advice from Legco (Legislative Council).  Instead, Tung seems to not enjoy mingling with the masses, and has had a contentious relationship with the Democratic Party, the party which has consistently won the most votes in the directly elected seats in Legco in the last ten years.  

     Tung has not done a bad job.  He has preserved Hong Kong's reputation and has guided it past the Handover with skill and ability.  He has demonstrated to all of us that Hong Kong's political and economic prosperity did not end with the departure of the last British governor.  There's no doubt in my mind that he is doing his best and doing what he believes is best for Hong Kong.  But these are different times.  These times call for a politician in Hong Kong's new, more open, more democratic era.  Maybe Tung will be able to revamp his image and adapt.  We'll soon find out.  

Background info on Hong Kong
Pictures of Hong Kong in all its glory

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