Hong Kong Revisited

The ‘Pearl of the Orient’ thrives under Chinese rule

By: Mark Edward Harris

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A young participant in the 10th
anniversary celebrations
It’s been 10 years since Hong Kong’s sovereignty was transferred to the People’s Republic of China, ending British rule that began in 1842.

In 1997, there were fears that the city known as the “Pearl of the Orient” would fade from the world scene both as a global financial center and a major travel destination. But a decade later, the former British colony has proven its viability on both accounts. The doom that many foretold has not materialized as the Mainland has honored its commitment to the status quo with a “one country, two systems” policy.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Growing pains have included the Avian Flu and SARS outbreaks, as well as the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Ironically, these were not the results of the hand over.

Despite these setbacks, the tourism market has been bolstered by numerous public and private sector ventures.

The new Hong Kong International Airport opened in 1998 and won numerous international awards, including the Skytrax “Best Airport” awards from 2001-2005. The airport, a primary hub for Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, operates 24/7 and is capable of handling 45 million passengers and 3 million tons of cargo per year.

The airport can be reached by the Airport Express, a dedicated high-speed rail link provided by the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). It takes 28 minutes to reach the airport from the central Hong Kong station, via Kowloon and Tsing Yi stations. Check-in counters are available at both the Hong Kong and Kowloon stations on the Airport Express Line. Bus service is also available.

For those like me with fond memories of the old Kai Tak airport breaking through the clouds and coming in just over the rooftops there are plans to redevelop the area into a new cruise terminal with construction set to begin in 2010. The terminal will provide berths for two mega-vessels and up to 17 hotels.

Another Hong Kong classic has already undergone a major facelift. The revitalized Peak Tower, with 360-degree views of the city, opened in November 2006 after a multi-million-dollar renovation and expansion.

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Guestrooms On July 1, Hong Kong
celebrated the hand over of the city
to the Chinese government with fireworks.
The marine-themed Ocean Park, which opened in 1977 and was recognized last year on Forbes.com’s list “Ten of the World’s Most Popular Amusement Parks,” welcomed Ying Ying and Le Le, 22-month-old baby pandas to their renovated Giant Panda Habitat, joining An An and Jia Jia, Hong Kong’s first pair of pandas. The Giant Panda cubs were given to the people of Hong Kong by the Central People’s Government in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Competing with the pandas for attention is a mouse named Mickey. Hong Kong Disneyland opened the doors to the Magic Kingdom here in September 2005 on Lantau Island. It is a 30-minute ride from the city center to Disneyland via the purpose-built MTR Disney Line. Lantau is also home to the largest bronze Buddha on earth at the Po Lin Monastery. A vegetarian restaurant on its grounds is famous for making meat-looking dishes out of tofu.

The culinary arts have always been a major selling point for Hong Kong. The fabled Yung Kee Restaurant, which began as a street stall in the 1940s, is now a multi-floor restaurant with traditional and exotic dishes, including roast goose (a departure from the omnipresent Peking duck), deep-fried mini sea cucumber, jellyfish and deep-fried prawn with mini crab roe. They also specialize in themed menus including one based on stories from Jin Young’s period novels. For example, “Twenty-Four Bridges on a Moonlit Night” is stuffed bean curd in whole Chinese ham.

The city is full of trendy eateries as well, ranging from Cine Citta in Kowloon, serving haute Italian cuisine, to the nouveau Tibetan dishes of Yun Fu in the central district. Celebrity chefs, including Nobu Matsuhisa, Alain

Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, are getting into the act recently opening Nobu Hong Kong, Spoon and L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon, respectively. For those in need of a good old-fashioned corned-beef sandwich, The Langham Hotel Hong Kong boasts the mouthwatering Main Street Deli.

From all appearances, the “one country, two systems” arrangement is working. Predictions of a political clampdown will hopefully never materialize. Evidently the Mainland knows a good thing when they see it. Hong Kong is not only alive and well, but many will find it’s better than ever.