Lus­trous Pearl

Hong Kong’s name means Fra­grant Har­bor, but it owes as much to his­tory as its fa­mous wa­ter­front

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Kathryn B. Creedy

Hong Kong owes as much to his­tory as to its fa­mous wa­ter­front

Nowhere in China is there a bet­ter ex­am­ple of east meets west than Hong Kong. This fa­bled city was founded on the in­ter­na­tional trade that ce­mented China’s place in the world nearly 200 years ago. The great fleets of Euro­pean sail­ing ves­sels and Chi­nese junks pep­per­ing the deep, nat­u­ral Vic­to­ria Har­bor have since been re­placed by soar­ing sky­scrapers ring­ing the wa­ter­front and cling­ing to the slopes of Vic­to­ria Peak. This mountain bursts out of the har­bor ris­ing some 1,800 feet and dwarf­ing the man­made ed­i­fices be­low. The gen­tle gi­ant looms over the is­land like some benev­o­lent god watch­ing and pro­tect­ing its 7.3 mil­lion-plus peo­ple who pop­u­late the 427 square miles of ter­ri­tory that make up the Hong Kong re­gion.

That re­gion in­cludes over 200 is­lands in ad­di­tion to Kowloon and the New Ter­ri­to­ries. These lat­ter two dis­tricts oc­cupy a penin­sula on the main­land side of the har­bor, jut­ting into the con­flu­ence of the Pearl River Delta and the South China Sea.

Hong Kong – some­times nick­named the Pearl of the Ori­ent – is the east­ern­most point in one of the most im­por­tant trad­ing tri­an­gles in the world which, along with Ma­cao and Guangzhou, have be­come the epi­cen­ter of man­u­fac­tur­ing in the post-1970s-era China Mir­a­cle. In fact, Hong Kong’s ge­o­graphic sit­u­a­tion made it ide­ally suited not only to ex­pand China’s his­toric trade in silk, sil­ver, spices and tea in the early days, but in a global econ­omy to be­come one of the world’s pre­em­i­nent fi­nan­cial cen­ters.

Within a two-hour ra­dius are the two other points of that tri­an­gle. A one-hour’s ferry ride away is the famed gam­bling cap­i­tal of Ma­cao, an­other city where east­ern and west­ern cul­tures are also woven to­gether in a unique mix­ture. Mean­while a two-hour train trip away is Guangzhou, once known as Canton and the cap­i­tal of the Pearl River Delta re­gion.

Spe­cial Treat­ment

Of course the mul­ti­tudi­nous is­lands and sur­round­ing main­land that to­day make up Hong Kong have been pop­u­lated by hu­mans for thou­sands of years. How­ever, Hong Kong’s role as a nexus of global trade re­ally be­gan less that two cen­turies ago when it be­came a strate­gic out­post of the Bri­tish Em­pire.

Prior to 1842 the ter­ri­tory had been lit­tle more than a for­got­ten back­wa­ter of the Qing Em­pire sprin­kled with only a few sleepy fish­ing vil­lages. But with the de­feat of the Qing Dy­nasty in the first Opium War, the area be­came a Bri­tish colony and that colo­nial heritage has been woven into the fab­ric of the re­gion ever since. Traf­fic pat­terns mir­ror the UK (that is to say, cars drive on the left­hand side of the road) and signs are printed in both English and Chi­nese. Its of­fi­cial cur­rency is the Hong Kong dol­lar, al­though the Chi­nese yuan is ac­cepted.

China may be one coun­try but it has two sys­tems, a car­ry­over from Bri­tish and Por­tuguese colo­nial days in Hong Kong and Ma­cao. In July 1997, when Hong Kong was turned back to the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China, it be­came the au­ton­o­mous Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion. As part of the his­toric hand-off, China agreed to al­low Hong Kong (and later Ma­cau as well) a high de­gree of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence, ef­fec­tively cre­at­ing a se­cond sys­tem which in­cludes re­tain­ing its suc­cess­ful cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary and rule of law, free trade and free­dom of speech.

As one of the four Asian Dragons along with South Korea, Taiwan and Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong may be one of the most in­dus­tri­al­ized and densely pop­u­lated land masses in the world, but it puts a great deal of em­pha­sis on re­tain­ing and main­tain­ing green space, with nu­mer­ous parks, nat­u­ral re­serves and rain­forests.

It lies on the same lat­i­tude as Cuba which makes for a hu­mid sub­trop­i­cal and over­all pretty mis­er­able sum­mer, which is also typhoon sea­son. The best time to visit is be­tween Septem­ber and April when the area en­joys its mild win­ters. The weather was cool when last I vis­ited and a light jacket is a must es­pe­cially when headed up to Vic­to­ria Peak.

Call­ing On Hong Kong

Served by most in­ter­na­tional car­ri­ers, Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Air­port is a rel­a­tively re­cent ad­di­tion to the global avi­a­tion net­work. Built on an is­land called Chek Lap Kok – much of which was re­claimed from the sea in or­der to make room for the air­port – the fa­cil­ity opened in 1998 much to the re­lief of fliers who had en­dured many a white-knuckle ap­proach to the old Kai Tak airstrip.

To­day Chek Lap Kok is the busiest cargo air­port in the world and one of the key gate­ways into Asia, host­ing 68.5 mil­lion pas­sen­gers in 2015. For those trav­el­ers whose itin­er­ary calls for a trip into the city, the air­port of­fers a free, 24-minute shut­tle bus to Hong Kong, the fastest route to the city bus sta­tion where vis­i­tors can pick up free shut­tle buses to ma­jor ho­tels. The sta­tions also have free, in­town check in ser­vices for the air­lines.

Rapid tran­sit around town is done via the MTR, which has 10 rail lines that run through­out the re­gion in­clud­ing to the Dis­ney­land

Im­ages: Vic­to­ria Har­bor; Re­pulse

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