Log on my Experiences in Hong Kong, 
Summer 1997

August 2, 1997, 3:54PM HK Time
Location: Shatin, Hong Kong

     You might be wondering why I would choose this place and time to update my homepage (maybe not, maybe you’re just browsing). The fact is, I have nothing else to do right now. Right now, Typhoon Victor (the equivalent of a Hurricane) is bearing down on Hong Kong from the south, 120 km from here, and it’s set to make landfall at about midnight. 

     Unfortunately, Hong Kong is right in the way of this huge storm. The HK Meteorological Society has hoisted a Level 8 Gale Warning, meaning that there could be winds of up to 60 km/hr. A level 9 or 10 warning is expected to be hoisted by tonight as Typhoon Victor comes in. 

     It’s actually pretty scary, since the last time that I’ve experienced being in a hurricane is from when I lived in Hong Kong as a little kid. I went to the supermarket last night, and the counters were totally clear of bread. People are storing up food and boarding up stores in preparation for this destructive storm, the first typhoon for Hong Kong in 1997. School’s been canceled for today (kids in Hong Kong actually have to go to school six days a week), all ships going from Hong Kong and China and Macau have been stopped, and air flights going to and from Hong Kong have been canceled. In addition, most bus routes have been canceled, meaning that I can’t go anywhere in Hong Kong, since I rely on public transportation to get around.

     Before this storm arrived, however, I did get to visit a lot of neat places in the last three weeks. Of course, the weather has never been pleasant while I’ve been here. If it’s not raining, then it’s really hot and humid on most days. And now, we’ve got this typhoon screwing my plans up for the week-end. Oh well. 

     When I first arrived in Hong Kong, the landing was a bit hairy. The airplane dropped suddenly for a few seconds at a time, making the landing a bunch of jolts rather than a smooth ride. And then, because of the lack of space in Hong Kong, the airplane has to make several tight turns in order to land. When the plane turns, it’s at about a forty-five degree angle. The wingtips dip almost to the level of the buildings of Hong Kong, before the plane finally lands on this little strip of landfill extending out into the harbor. 

     And guess what the weather was like during my landing? Yeah, it was raining as usual. During my visit, I got to visit the newly constructed Tsing Ma Bridge, the longest road and rail suspension bridge in the world. I also got to go to this Buddhist shrine where one of the largest Buddha statues in the world sits upon a hill. Last week-end, I got to go to Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s amusement park. It’s pretty much like Sea World, except much better. They’ve got this HUGE aquarium that stores all kinds of fish, and they have this dinosaur ride kinda like "Back to the Future" at Universal Studios Hollywood. There are roller coasters, and the newest one that’s set to open soon hangs about two hundred feet above the ocean off a cliff. 

     I also took a ride on the Peak Tram, which is one of the steepest tram rides in the world. The tram goes up this mountain, but the route is so difficult that the tram often is more than 45 degrees above horizontal. On the peak, I got to see the night view of Hong Kong, which is to say the least, breathtaking. The skyscrapers of Hong Kong are still decorated with Christmas-type lights because of the celebration of the return of Hong Kong to China from Britain, and they just light up the sky. 

     If the weather lets up tomorrow, I might go to the Jumbo Restaurant, which is probably one of the most famous restaurants in Hong Kong. It’s a huge restaurant that happens to sit upon a boat moored in Aberdeen Harbor in Hong Kong. 

     Of course, I’ll be using public transportation to get there. The public transportation system in HK is probably one of the best in the world. They have the LRT (light rail trams), the MTR (the Mass Transit Railway [in other words, the metro/subway system]), the KCR (the Kowloon Canton Railway [in other words, trains]), the Star Ferry, double-decker buses, double-decker trams, minibuses, and taxis. Get the idea? When I look at the streets on Hong Kong, I usually see more public transport vehicles than regular cars! The transports are cheap and efficient, and clean. My sister told me that the subway system is extremely bad compared to the one in Hong Kong. It’s hot and stuffy in NYC trains, and the seats are dirty. In Hong Kong, the subway train seats are clean, and there’s air conditioning in the traincars. 

     I can get to just about anywhere in Hong Kong with public transportation without experiencing any inconveniences at all. Of course, there are exceptions. I read last week that some guy died on a double decker bus of hypothermia because the air conditioning was too cold. I mean, it is pretty cold on those buses, but considering how steaming hot it is outside, I like cold buses.

     I also took the hydrofoil to get to Macau, another popular tourist attraction. It’s a small Portuguese possession located about fifty miles away from Hong Kong, and it is set to be returned to Chinese possession in two years. I went there not only as a tourist, but also to visit my two aunts and grandmother, who are residents there. The narrow streets and cobblestones remind me very much of Europe, even though I’ve never been to Europe. Macau is less modern than Hong Kong, and looks a lot more like a colonial city. 

     It’s a small, homely town, and seems pretty peaceful here. But then, if you don’t like "peaceful", there are casinos in Macau. Gambling is legal in Macau, and those aged above 21 can enter the casinos to gamble all they want. The only bad thing about Macau (and it’s a huge problem) is that there is a rather serious crime problem in Macau. It’s in the midst of a crime wave, because two gangs in Macau are fighting it out for territory in Macau. The Macau Mafia is very big, and they live off loan sharking in the casinos of Macau. There have been car bombings and fires during the last few months, and just this week, gang members fired shots into a casino with AK-47 semi-automatic rifles, injuring three innocent bystanders. 

     In defiance of civil authority, a firebomb was thrown into the Macau governor’s mansion’s garden that same day, though it didn’t cause any damage. The Macau police vow to take care of this problem, but unfortunately, the Macau police isn’t, and never has been, an effective force. Fortunately, this crime problem doesn’t exist in Hong Kong. Yeah, there are gangs in Hong Kong and there are murders in Hong Kong, but the six thousand strong Hong Kong Police (formerly the Royal Hong Kong Police) have managed to mold Hong Kong into one of the safest big cities in the world, after a 20+ year effort to clean up corruption here.

     I am currently residing on the 30th floor of an apartment building, which is typical for people in Hong Kong. There are many apartment buildings here that are that tall. That’s because land is scarce in Hong Kong. I’m staying in an apartment that has a grand total of 395 sq. feet, and if I were to buy this apartment today, it would cost me about US$300,000. Land in Hong Kong is not cheap for sure. As I look outside, it sprinkling, but otherwise, the weather seems calm. The calm before the storm always seems peaceful, but it’s hardly indicative of how bad the weather is going to become in a few hours. Hope the typhoon won’t cause much damage!

August 7, 1997, 2:00PM HK Time
Location: Shatin, Hong Kong

     Typhoon Victor made landfall at about 8:00 PM on August 2, about four hours ahead of schedule. The eye of the storm passed through Shatin for about ten minutes, which was a new experience for me. I couldn’t see if the sky was clear during those minutes, since it occurred at night, but the weather was extraordinarily calm when the eye passed through. 

     A Level 9 Gale Warning was hoisted about three hours before the storm made landfall, making Typhoon Victor the biggest storm Hong Kong had faced in fourteen years. However, since almost all of Hong Kong’s buildings are made of concrete and other sturdy materials made to withstand gale storms, there was little damage in the urban areas. 

     There was extensive flooding and landslides, and crops grown in the countryside of Hong Kong and SE China were ruined by the heavy winds and rain. However, the storm was less severe than expected, since Typhoon Victor immediately reverted to a tropical storm as soon as it made landfall. That night, the winds were very, very strong, and the rains heavy. The storm ended by the next morning, and there were only a few deaths and injuries, mostly due to the fact that certain unwise people chose to be OUTDOORS when the storm hit. 

     One bizarre incident involved a couple being blown into a swollen river while walking across a bridge. An English construction worker who saw it happen then went outside and dove into the river to try to save them, but he too, drowned. The English construction worker’s wife called the police, but for some reason, was hung up EIGHT times before a Chinese national came by, called the police speaking in Chinese, and got help. 

     Now the controversy is: did the police operators hang up on the English lady because she was speaking English, or was there some kind of technical problem with the phone system? All police operators are supposed to be proficient enough to handle calls in English, so why would they hang up? Even if they didn’t know English well enough, couldn’t they have transferred the call to someone who did? Or was there some kind of miscommunication between the two parties? 

     Nobody knows what really happened there. But one thing that is certain is that the delay in calling the police may have caused the death of the English construction worker, who was pronounced dead when his body was finally taken out of the water.

August 14, 1997, 10:37PM HK Time
Location: Shatin, Hong Kong

     There are parts of Hong Kong that make it unique. Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, said in his farewell address, "Hong Kong is a Chinese city with British characteristics." That is what has really made Hong Kong successful. 

     Chinese traditions of hard work and thrift have made it one of the most successful cities in the world. Hong Kong is a Chinese city, and it’s apparent everywhere you go. The local street market near where I live is filled with the yells of sellers peddling their goods, much like a bazaar. There are pig intestines, livers, severed feet, and kidneys hanging on hooks at one stall, demonstrating one of the basic tenets of Chinese culture: Chinese people don’t waste things. Chinese take the parts of an animal’s body, and they eat essentially everything. 

     Chinese people don’t waste their opportunities, nor squander what they are given. They take what there is, and they use it to their advantage. They fight against adversity. In Hong Kong, Chinese people have fought against oppression against the British, the Japanese, and against their own people on the mainland. And yet they have thrived in Hong Kong. 

     But, Hong Kong isn’t all Chinese. Its British characteristics are alive and well in Hong Kong, even after its return of sovereignty to China. Democracy was introduced by the British, and it will remain here, though in a reduced form. The British created the efficient police force and judiciary that has molded Hong Kong into one of the safest and fairest cities in the world. If you drive through Hong Kong, many street names and buildings are still here, like Prince of Wales Hospital and MacDonell Road. Most of Hong Kong’s buses are double-deckers, emulating those in England. People here drive on the left-hand side of the road, again emulating England. 

     Hong Kong’s culture is thoroughly Western, and it thrives on Western concepts. It’s a center of international trade, and is an important financial center. It is totally modern, and yet, Chinese traditions make Hong Kong thrive with a mix of old and new.

Pictures of Hong Kong in its Crowning Glory

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