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Farewell to British Hong Kong: Traditions

by Walter Glaser


Fortunately, the constant change in Hong Kong's skyline does not always extend to the Chinese traditions of her inhabitants. One of the other aspects that makes Hong Kong so fascinating is that a fifteen minute walk from all this Western style activity will take you into another world.

Here you will find a complete contrast to the tourist scene. Restaurants still serve dishes like snake which the Chinese look on as a delicious, health-giving aphrodisiac. In these streets modern pharmacies have traditional Chinese herbalists as their competitors. You will find such exotica as ground rhino horns, tiger penises and deers' antlers as well as every conceivable type of medicinal herb and root.

Rare and endangered species like tigers and rhinos have often become so because of the insatiable demand for such medical uses. Snakes are bred easily enough, but sea-horses, tigers and rhinos are being hunted to extinction for their medicinal magic. I, for one will not have anything to do with such things on principle.

Feeling poorly? The herbalist will probably prescribe Ginseng instead of Western Medicine. Or, if you should go to a Chinese doctor in this area, acupuncture or moxibustion (a traditional application of heat) will, in all likelihood, replace minor surgery.

But in Hong Kong one doesn't have to look for exotics to dine well. There is a host of restaurants to choose from, starting with the outstanding dining available in the hotels I mention here. Hotels are always a good bet for dining in Hong Kong, not only for their superb standards of cuisine and hygiene, but also because "face" is most important to these establishments. That means that the better hotels are prepared to heavily subsidize their restaurants for the top-of-the-line cuisine they offer. On the Island side, my favorites are the restaurants in the Grand Hyatt. All are top world standard. On the Kowloon side try Gaddi's at the Peninsula for a really special occasion and have breakfast at the Steakhouse Restaurant in The Regent for the breakfast that I consider the benchmark by which to judge all other breakfasts world-wide. Try the unbelievably lavish Sunday brunch at Hugo's in the Hyatt Nathan Road and for inexpensive, authentic and outstanding German cuisine, try the basement Caf» in the Nathan Road Holiday Inn.

Other restaurants in Hong Kong seem to come and go at a rate of knots, so the safest bet is to follow my example and buy the latest restaurant book put out by Hong Kong Tatler Magazine, and make your selection from that. Remember that Chinese food in Hong Kong will not necessarily be the same as you are accustomed to at home. Cantonese food is most familiar to Europeans and Americans, so check the restaurant book.

This time in Hong Kong there was an unmistakable feeling of change in the air. Most of my Chinese friends have made sure over the last two or three years that they had residency available in countries like Australia, England, Canada, USA or even South America. Yet all are making sure that they are also in Hong Kong at the handover date of July 1, 1997.

They and their expatriate counterparts keep saying that they do not expect much of a change once China takes over, but the anxious look in their eyes and the fact that they all arranged for "just in case" alternative residencies belies their verbal assurances. The biggest worry is the legal system and the rules the Chinese will bring in at or after takeover. I personally don't doubt that for the first five years or so, these changes will be coming through thick and fast, changing the character and style of Hong Kong in subtle but major ways.

Already the climate is changing. Notices in public places such as Ferry Terminals and subway noticeboards proclaim that British visitors will need foreign documentation. It appears that Non-Chinese will be able to get residency if they have lived in Hong Kong for more than seven years, but even if born in Hong Kong they will not ever be able to become local citizens. Anyone living or working in Hong Kong for less than seven years will have to apply for residency and Work Permits on a regular basis, to be accepted or refused on the rules and whims of the day.

Stamps and coins with the Queen's head are no longer being issued, and new ones carry the emblem flower of Hong Kong instead. Documentation is changing, and political oppositionists to the Mainland politics are starting to look over their shoulders. An English-born journalist friend of mine, phoning the offices of the China News Agency, the de facto Communist Government representative office, and requesting an interview with a person of influence from the Mainland, was asked if she could speak Mandarin. When she replied that she could not, she was harshly told that if she wanted the interview she'd better learn that language quickly.

Chinese clans, often with crime connections, are also seeming to gain in strength and power and people who never want to be named but are in high places, complain that corruption, endemic on the Mainland, is exploding in Hong Kong. An example of this is that reproduction fakes of everything from brand-name watches to computer software, vigorously policed and banned until now, are freely available. And car insurance premiums on Mercedes, BMW's and similar are practically unaffordable due to the recent spate of organized car thefts. The missing vehicles turn up in China's regional capitals with some of the Movers and Shakers of those areas behind their wheels.

Many I spoke to in the business community were not prepared to get too worried about what will happen after July 1, believing that China will not kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and in this they are probably right. It may well be that the transition will be a very slow and gentle one. Already China has announced that its people will not be able to move to Hong Kong, and that only officials and those being sent there by the Chinese Government will have that opportunity. But no-one really knows what is likely to happen, and those who know won't tell. There is an old Confucian curse that says "May you live in interesting times." And the residents of Hong Kong are certainly going to be living in just these. The world has its fingers crossed and wishes them well.

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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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