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Farewell to British Hong Kong: Revolution

by Walter Glaser


Then came the era of China's student revolution, Red Guards and Mao's Little Red Book. The unrest spread to Hong Kong, and I vividly remember both the Peninsula and the then-newly-built Mandarin Hotel installing heavy metal roller shutters that would, in an emergency, keep out the revolutionaries and turn each hotel into an inaccessible fortress. Radio announcers espousing free speech and criticism of Mainland China were hunted down and murdered. One of my most vivid memories of the time was walking past the Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station in Salisbury Road and seeing pictures of dozens of unidentified corpses, hands tied behind their backs and a bullet hole in the back of their necks. The bodies had been washed down the Pearl River and fished out by the Hong Kong Water Police.

Then the madness (so aptly described in the book White Swans) passed, Chairman Mao died, and China's leadership was taken over by Deng, a pragmatist who had the courage to take China out of the Stalinist mould and, while keeping to political socialism, allow free enterprise to at least partially take hold on China's economic scene. Hong Kong entrepreneurs were invited to invest in China, and while jumbo jets brought tourists into the Crown Colony by the thousands each day, the businessmen of Hong Kong were also building their empires, not only in Hong Kong but also in China and the West. Hong Kong suddenly became a place where very big money was being made by very many people, both Chinese and expatriate. 1997, the year when the New Territories leases were to expire, was looming on the horizon and Britain decided that without the New Territories, continuing to rule Hong Kong was no longer viable. So after much negotiating, an agreement with China was struck. China promised to take over Hong Kong but to allow capitalism to thrive under the slogan "One Country, Two Systems."

Every well-to-do Hong Kong family applied for residency abroad. But unification with China was still some years away, and there was still time to make a fast buck.

Always unique in Asia, Hong Kong became even more of a "Glitter City" -- a hustling, bustling, livewire powerhouse of a metropolis where Business was the primary religion, the Dollar was king, and "Caveat Emptor" (let the buyer beware) had become the unofficial motto.

To this day there is an excess of everything here. Look at the shelves of any shop and you'll find them overloaded, crammed with every conceivable variety of merchandise to tempt the hordes of cash-laden tourists descending on Hong Kong from every corner of the world day after day.

Whether I walk down a street in Victoria Island's Central Business District or along Tsim Sha Tsui's alleys or major roads in Kowloon, I cannot help noticing a greater concentration of opportunities for retail therapy. And it's not only the tourists that are buying.

Jewelers offer more opportunities to spend a year -- or a lifetime's -- savings than in any city I can think of. And whether the purchaser is a Hong Kong yuppie, one of the Mainland Nouveau Riche on a shopping spree, a Taiwanese, Japanese or European "big spender", the shops of Hong Kong will snare him or her with their dazzling selection. But no longer is the shopping in Hong Kong based on price. Americans, Canadians and Australians find shopping in Hong Kong generally dearer than can prudently and carefully be done at home. But don't give up too quickly! Shopping in Stanley Market can be fun, and the selection of merchandise in the endless line of superb retail establishments at the Ocean Terminal, Ocean Center and Pacific Place are a legend among dedicated international shopaholics.

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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