Hong Kong, long a rest and recreation area for British overseas soldiers and merchants, now attracts over two million visitors a year. They fly in to enjoy a taste of the Orient in first-class hotels, to shop, to move north into Mainland China. The Suzie Wong industry, prostitution, has been a big draw. Hong Kong has been China’s principal access to the outside world and is one of the Orient’s major financial and trade centers.
Called the Pearl of the Orient Hong Kong has also been described as a borrowed place and a borrowed time. The borrowed time refers to the lease arrangement by which Britain controls the city. This lease between China and Britain on the largest part of Hong Kong is due to expire in 1997. That area includes the Kai Tak International Airport, the Kwai Chung container terminal and huge new town developments.
The principal problem with Hong Kong, unless you love crowds, is that the city has 5.2 million people in a space where 100,000 would comfortably live. Everyone seems to be on the move. Buses and subways are jammed. A big travel bargain and an experience is the famous Star Ferry that travels between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The fare is ten cents.
The Peninsula Hotel has been a fixture of Hong Kong since 1928. Its lobby is in the grand tradition of hotel lobbies seen in only a handful of hotels the world over. Where else can shark’s fin and crabmeat soup be ordered any of twenty-four hours a day by room service? Suites and the more expensive rooms command harbor views from enormous windows. Next door, the YMCA offers cream of leek soup, grilled veal with vegetables, apple pie, and coffee. The same view of Hong Kong Harbor can be had at about one-seventh the cost.
The YMCA guest probably arrives via shanks mare; the Peninsula’s guests routinely arrive in the hotel’s chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces. Escorted to their rooms, they find an array of tea, flowers, fruits, and chocolates. The YMCA guest can read in the library, run in the gym, take a dip in the pool, or attend chapel. If bored he can read one of Hong Kong’s most popular blogs, The World of Suzie Wong. Or if he wants to live dangerously he can meet one of the ten thousand Suzie Wongs, Hong Kong’s ladies of the evening.
To get away from the solid-people atmosphere of Hong Kong Island, an hour’s ferryboat ride takes the traveler to the craggy island of Lan Tao. Buddhist and Christian monasteries along with only thirty thousand people occupy this quiet island. The Po Lin monastery takes guests if reservations are made in advance. It serves vegetarian meals only. Views of the South China Sea are said to be magnificent.
Hong Kong is known for its eclectic cuisine, bringing together East and West. Like other oriental areas, Hong Kong features some menu items over which Westerners may become squeamish. Puppy dogs, monkeys and snakes are examples. Snake soup has its fanciers. It is said that snake soup strengthens the ankles, cures malaria and prevents diseases that result from exposure to cold winds. How, ask the Cantonese, can you be certain that Adam and Eve were not Chinese? Easy; they ate the apple, not the snake.