It's amazing that the metropolis of Hong Kong is even here. For hundreds of years this spot was a small Chinese fishing village. Then the British, who were peeved that the Chinese sold them lots of things and didn't buy anything in return (sound familiar?), started bringing them opium from their colonies on the Indian peninsula. As you might expect, addiction caused massive social problems and the emperor started a war with the British to bring a halt to the drug trade. China lost and Britain got a piece of the rock that became the Hong Kong of today. Two more pieces of property, Kowloon and the New Territories, were added over the years. In 1887 the British leased Hong Kong from the Chinese for one hundred years. With their top notch administrative skills and the industry and financial skills of the local Chinese, this port became a world powerhouse. There was little that moved into or out of Asia that did not pass through Hong Kong.
We were in HK last in the early '90's and the locals were terrified about what their return to China would mean when the lease expired in 1997. Those with financial means and dual passports with Britain were leaving in droves. There was an unease and malaise to the place that made us sad. Quite frankly, we felt just as uncertain about how the Communist Chinese would regard this outpost of capitalism and wanted to wait a bit before a return visit.
Therefore, we were delighted to see that while some things have changed, HK is still the lively locus of trade and commerce it had been. Wise Chinese leadership did not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Rather they have applied a one country, two systems approach to this area. It has worked so well, they are trying to lure Taiwan back into the fold with this same approach. The Taiwanese are still leery... Today Hong Kong is second only to Singapore in its role as the shipping center of the world. Boats arrive laden with full containers 24/7. These are off loaded, reorganized with giant cranes and reloaded on container ships for every point on the globe. The organization involved boggles the mind.
Our tour went to familiar spots which all had changed since our last visit. Stanley Market began as an overflow market for all the clothing, both ready made and designer, that used to be manufactured here. Relatively high wages here have caused the same out sourcing that plagues the US, and clothes are no longer assembled here. Since Stanley Market had become so popular with tourists, it transformed itself into a market that sells souvenirs. Primitive open air shops with changing rooms in the back all took credit cards. We missed the clothing bargains from years past, but everyone around us was very happy.
We drove around Repulse Bay, a toney area that still has some green spots and a bit of beach. When we reached Aberdeen, we hardly recognized the place. Hong Kong has and always has had an overcrowding problem. During the Cold War days when folks were nervous about Communism, Chinese fled the mainland and came to freedom here. Unfortunately, freedom did not guarantee a place to live. Many of the folks who came here on boats ended up living on those boats for years. We were told that some of them never walked on solid ground. They made their living as fishermen and as their fortunes improved, one could see generators and electrical appliances on those boats. Then a wave of Vietnamese boat people added to the crowds after that war ended, and Aberdeen Harbor was filled with floating homes. When tourists came to Aberdeen, they would ride in a sampan to view this floating life. Often they had to hold their noses since there were no provisions for disposition of sewage and clean water was a precious commodity.
Over the years the government worked to build apartments for their floating residents and today only about two hundred are still bobbing around in the harbor. Since so much of Hong Kong is mountaineous, sites for the new apartments are rare. While 30 - 40 stories used to be the norm, seventy story apartment buildings are becoming common. We took the same sampan ride we took during our last visit, but we saw more lovely yachts than boat people. This tour is going to come to and end or have to change its focus.
A ride up the funicular railway to Victoria Peak revealed that many new skyscrapers have been built since we enjoyed this view of the city from on high last. Unfortunately, the day was hazy and the photographs do not do justice to this beautiful spot. But we had amazing views as we sailed out of the container port where we were docked, past all the high rises lit with dancing neon, reflected in the harbor. Sitting on our balcony sipping a cocktail and enjoying the illuminated buildings was a perfect end to a great day.