Travel Tale No. 1 - Volume 3 - HONG KONG, Shoppers' Paradise
our plane descended on the long skinny runway and I saw water on both sides, I
was sure we were going to end up ditching in Victoria Harbour. While I held my
breath, I managed to see tall odd shaped business buildings and skyscrapers
all around Central. After much needed sleep, I put on my comfortable shoes to
wander off on an exploration tour. It was a hot, humid, rainy, spring day when
I meandered around the very crowded streets finding myself in a shoppers'
paradise. There was everything imaginable: windows full of European fashions
and Chinese wares. I entered a shop and bought a lovely silk Susie Wong dress.
Then I walked into another shop and bought two gorgeous strands of pearls.
Next, I wandered into a jewelry store full of jade and jadeite trinkets,
buying a pair of green jade earrings. At the following shop, I had my eye on
two huge Chinese vases and pondered how I was going to get them back home
without breakage. I decided not to burden myself. Control is the better word!
So I consoled myself with taking the ferry over to Kowloon for some
The city of Hong Kong with its seven million residents is quite beautiful all
lit up at night but can be a little dangerous. Earlier in the day, I had worn
out my feet walking miles everywhere, as I tend to do. I like to immerse
myself in local color to get a better feeling for the place. I detest tours of
any kind. I am too much of a free spirit to be told how to interpret what I
see. But I had gone for a long walk on the promenade along the Tsim Sha Tsui
waterfront, then up the hilly slopes stopping off at a bird aviary to admire
the ocean below, and take photos and rest. I took a wrong turn, losing my way
and ending up in a seedy side of town where hundreds of women were cooking on
their hibachis on the sidewalks. The smoky aromas invaded my hungry nostrils,
and as men were eyeing this blue-eyed blond, I started feeling quite
uncomfortable, especially since I couldn't find my hotel. When I asked, "where
is the Hilton?" the women would not even acknowledge me and kept on cooking
their vegetables. As it began to get dark I began to panic. Then I broke into
a run since I figured the hotel was near the ocean, I could get to the bottom
of the hill and hail a taxi.
After the first day's harrowing experience I decided to stay close to the
Hilton for the rest of my shopping, and reluctantly booked sightseeing tours
so as not to get sold into white slavery. Some places are not for women
traveling alone, and this is one of them.
Hong Kong, which means "fragrant harbor" after the fragrant trees which
abounded, was a British colony since 1843, and the first settlement was known
as Victoria City. Just about every shop owner speaks English, which was a
relief since I do not speak a word of Cantonese. It gained its sovereignty to
the People's Republic of China in 1997, and is governed as a special
administrative region under the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Under the terms of the
Sino-British Joint Declaration, it will have a high degree of autonomy until
2047, at which times it reverts to Communist China. It still retains its own
legal system, currency, immigration laws and international sports teams, but
it remains to be seen whether the Communist government will permit such
freedoms at a later date.
This area became an important trading region during the Tang and Song
dynasties. In the 19th century it began to attract attention to China and the
rest of the world when it was ceded to Britain after the Opium Wars. Tea,
silk, and Asian luxuries were introduced in Europe by the Portuguese sailors.
Hong Kong had been a trading port ever since the British occupation, but its
position declined greatly after the United Nations ordered a trade embargo
against the People's Republic of China as a result of the Korean War. A
textile industry was established taking advantage of the new pool of cheap
labor from China. During this time, the economy grew rapidly. In the 1970s, it
began to move away from this type of industry replacing it with a developing
banking economy. This led Hong Kong to quickly become one of the wealthiest
territories in the world, (not lost on the Communists) enjoying low rates of
personal and corporate taxation.
There are eight public universities in Hong Kong and a number of private
institutions based on British and American systems. It is definitely a city
with a cosmopolitan flavor where East meets West, and not for the faint of
Hong Kong currently enjoys a high degree of religious freedom, a right
protected by its constitutional document: the Basic Law. There is a strong
Confucian influence, a sizeable Christian community of about 500,000, divided
between Catholics and Protestants, and many followers of Buddhism and Taoism.
There is estimated to be 3,000 Jews and a scattering of Hindus, Sikhs and
Bahais. In some homes, it is not unusual to see a crucifix as well as a
statute of Buddha. But with the transfer of Hong Kong to the PRC, a communist
atheist country, there are now concerns over this religious freedom. The
Catholic Church is still free to appoint its own bishops, unlike mainland
China where bishops are appointed by Beijing; although an illegal part of the
Roman Catholic Church which still maintains its contact with the Vatican.
Few historical buildings remain in Hong Kong, instead the city is a centre for
modern architecture and its famous skyline. It has to be one of the most
impressive and exciting cities I have ever visited.