treasure-house of East Asia'
This former imperial British enclave – Located at the mouth
of the Pearl River Delta, on China's southwestern
coast– has been rapidly transforming since the British colonial
to Chinese sovereignty hand-over in 1997. Or rather, the underlying
city bestows a new guise without the imperial overlay. Hong Kong’s
position as gateway to China is more in question than ever before,
with the Bamboo Curtain only a memory, WTO
accession opening up the whole of the mainland to foreign economic
penetration and China reaping the benefits of the surging growth
while Hong Kong suffers prolonged recession.
Hong Kong is now much more Chinese than ever, with many
ex-pats gone and an overwhelmingly Cantonese government
presiding over the Indians, Filipinos, Nepalese and other minorities
that make up the city’s ethnic patchwork. Still, the Hong
Kongers resist assimilation, unwillingly yielding to pressures for
economic integration all the while jealously protecting their separate
identity and freedoms.
With the political reasons for its creation rapidly fading into
history, Hong Kong’s geographical oddity comes into view.
The few square kilometres of territory conceded to the British is
now on the top of The UN's list for urban population
density. Hong Kong Island itself is the centre
of the old imperial possession, with Kowloon right
across the harbour forming the other half of the main conurbation.
Further to the north are the New Territories, leased
in 1898 from China, which form a more rural hinterland. And surrounding
this main focus are the large islands of Lamma
and Lantau and the smaller Outlying Islands
which complete the patchwork.
This array of pinnacles and paddies lies directly in the South
China Sea’s typhoon alley. During winter and early
spring, the climate tends to be mild and fresh but, in May the stifling
humidity skyrockets and summer is both hot and often wet. Typhoons
arrive during summer and early autumn and, even without them, heavy
rainstorms fall intermittently. Hong Kong is not
the best summer holiday destination.
The city’s economy has declined since the Asian economic
crisis of 1997, never gaining back the same vigour (and
insane property prices), however commerce remains its defining characteristic.
In the proverbial scale of Cantonese
values, money always comes first.
And Hong Kong still has lots of that. Hong Kong has a much more
determined feel of its separate identity than ever before, although
it still is a thrustingly commercial city, whose devotion to quick
money has never been stronger. But the city also enjoys its unsung
natural beauties, in the shape of looming mountains, tucked away
islets, white sandy beaches and island landscapes. The Special
Administrative Region government has recently dubbed the
entire city as ‘Asia’s World City’.
Visitors can judge for themselves how true that is but, but without
question, Hong Kong remains unique.