Being back in Hong Kong in 2017, it has made my husband, Tim, think about the Hong Kong, then and now. I asked him to share his memories and comparisons …
by Tim Hermolle
When I was growing up as a boy in the 1960s and ’70s Hong Kong was synonymous with cheap – both for price and for quality. If I got a toy that was made here, it did not have a long life-expectancy. Move on 50 years and manufacturing has all but disappeared. It is now a very modern and dynamic cosmopolitan country.
Hong Kong 1996
I first came to Hong Kong in 1996, when it was still an outpost of the British Empire… just, I flew into Kai Tak airport which was very dramatic. It felt as though the wings could catch the washing lines hanging from the skyscrapers as we made our descent. Upon landing, the brakes were applied severely and as the plane came under control it made a sharp left turn to avoid ending up in the sea. At this point most of the passengers (a mixture of Chinese and French) stood up to get their luggage from the overhead compartment. No waiting for seat belt signs to go out or the plane to stop – different times.
Hong Kong is one of those places in the world (like New York and Rio) where you just know where you are. Its landmarks are so familiar and unique from all the films and TV shows that have been filmed here.
My first venture was to Victoria Peak where i got a great view of the waterfronts of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island From the small cafe at the summit. You could also watch the drama of the jumbo jets landing at the airport. Each time it looked as though they were going to overshoot the runway and end up in the harbour.
Hong Kong Island was very hot, hectic and polluted but also had an excitement. Amongst the skyscrapers there were buildings that were a legacy of the British Empire. The signs were in English as well as Chinese. Although the tallest skyscraper was that of the Bank of China – a statement of intent. It was straightforward to get around. The sea was full of different vessels from container ships and modern catamarans to the traditional junks.
There was a lot of building work going on – which seemed strange given that the handover was to take place in a few months. One of the locals suggested that they were “emptying the coffers” before the Chinese took over.
Hong Kong Now 2017
Moving on another 20 years, what of Hong Kong now?
Well it didn’t get sucked into the Chinese communist state as feared. If I thought there was a lot of investment in infrastructure and building then, now it is investment on steroids! They seem to be building bridges and motorways everywhere – the most ambitious, a bridge across the sea to Macau. The airport has moved to Lantau, an island developing at huge speed with new towns popping up, including Hong Kong’s Disneyland. The old Kai Tek airport is being developed into new skyscrapers with big holes in them for dragons to fly through! (All about Feng Shui apparently).
A trip to Victoria Peak has been transformed. There are huge queues to get onto the old tramway. Once at the Peak, you are led through a gift shop full of tasteless tat into a very modern 360 degrees viewing platform complete with numerous restaurants and a Madam Tussauds. The views are the same – just with higher buildings and increase price tag this time.
The British influence has declined and been replaced by a far more cosmopolitan, international one. The City Hall stands alone– a final reminder of the old state, almost suffocated by the new buildings surrounding it. The businesses of banking and commerce have replaced the old manufacturing.
This time we are staying in the resort of Discovery Bay, Lantau Island instead of Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island. This is not a resort in the true sense of the word, but an expat town for the international community. There are familiar chains such as Subway and Pizza Express, and you can buy produce from all round the world in the local supermarket.
So, the old symbols of Britain may have almost gone, but they are replaced by new ones in the shape of products from Sainsbury’s and Waitrose on the shelves.