Hong Kong Chronicles: Myriad Shades of Magnificence

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If you ever ask people what they know about Hong Kong, the most likely answer would be that it is one of the top financial centres in the world, offering an expensive skyline view for tourists. Indeed, they would be right. However, Hong Kong may offer you a little bit more than that.

Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.
Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. Dubbed Hong Kong’s number one tourist attraction and situated high above the sights of Hong Kong, The Peak attracts approximately six million visitors each year.

Hong Kong has been one of the top five financial centres in the world for a few years now, beaten by London and New York only. Composed of a land area of 1,104 square kilometres, Hong Kong hosts over seven million people and is one of the most heavily populated areas in the world.

Hong Kong became the first special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the 1st of July in 1997. In other words, this means that by becoming a special administrative region it follows a different legal basis than the administrative divisions of the Mainland China.

Currently there are two SARs: Hong Kong and Macau. While Hong Kong is best known as the financial centre, Macau is often being called Los Angeles in China as it offers a lot of casinos and other gambling entertainment for tourists. Hong Kong and Macau are the former colonies of the British Empire and Portugal respectively. Both of the regions are under ”One China – Two Systems” constitutional principle which has been formulated by Deng Xiaoping, the Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). He suggested that there should be only one China, but Chinese regions such as Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan could retain capitalist economic and political systems, with the rest of China being under the socialistic regime.

Hong Kong Urban density
Hong Kong’s massive urban density. The urban area of Hong Kong has the highest population and employment density in the world. Measured at block level, some areas may have population densities of more than 400,000 people per square kilometre.

Following the ‘One China – Two Systems’ principle, SARs possess their own legal systems and governments, police forces, monetary systems, national sports teams, official languages and competence in external relations which are different from  the PRC.

It is difficult to predict what would have happened if Hong Kong had not been made a SAR or, as it is commonly referred to, had not been ‘hand-overed.’ The modest changes in the Hong Kong’s political situation, following its SAR status have significantly influenced Hong Kong’s social and cultural identity.

According to the figures of the World Bank, Hong Kong has been ranked one of the top 10 countries according GDP per capital (over 50,000 USD per capital). It is as efficient in the business rankings too and what is more, has been crowned the FDI’s Asia-Pacific City of the Future.

The other interesting fact is the Human Development Index (HDI), which is composed of indices of the life expectancy, education and income and is being used to rank countries in terms of the human development. In these counts as well, Hong Kong again is ranked very high, while China is not even in the top fifty. This may be just a bunch of statistics quite subjective in nature. But they are also useful indicators for evaluating the region.

Hong Kong port
Hong Kong is one of several hub ports serving the South-East and East Asia region, and is an economic gateway to mainland China. Hong Kong set a record in its container throughput in 2007 by handling 23.9 million TEUs, maintaining its status as the largest container port serving southern China and one of the busiest ports in the world.

I am not going to lie. I have been always impressed by skyscrapers as I come from a small European city called Vilnius. It has only 89 skyscrapers, with the highest one being 129 metres tall and composed of 33 floors. In the meantime, the tallest skyscraper in the world called Burj Khalifa –in Dubai – is 829.8 metres tall.  Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper is the 118-storied International Commerce Centre, which is almost twice as small as the Burj Khalifa. However, Hong Kong is currently the number one city in the world, having 295 skyscrapers, followed by New York with 231. The main skyline, with the surrounding mountains and Victoria Harbour, is aptly called one of ‘the best skylines in the world.’

Even though these figures of skyscrapers make Hong Kong stand out in comparison to the other countries, all of those tall buildings obviously haven’t been built just for the eyes of tourists. Going back to the population density of Hong Kong, it is not hard to calculate that the figure of it is around 6,544 people per square kilometre. In comparison, the population density in Germany is just 225 people per square kilometre. And here is the answer for uniqueness of skyscrapers in Hong Kong. There is just simply no land for people to enjoy big rambling homes surrounded by a beautiful garden.

Having a 12-square metre room in London at one time seemed very small back two years ago. Meantime, But that small room would be considered as big in Hong Kong. One of the Hong Kong A Hong Kong native I met said: ‘I could not invite anyone to stay at mine my home as there is hardly enough space for me and my family.’  If you go to the hotel booking websites the most complaints you will get from westerners will be something like: “‘The room was hard to turn around”. I guess, simply, westernises just did not expected to get that little space for the price they are paying.   Small studio flat in the central area will cost you something around 10,000 HKD , whereas the average salary of Hong Kong citizens is the same amount.

Religion is quite an interesting topic in Hong Kong as well. The biggest religion in the region is Buddhism with over 20 percent followers. One of the biggest tourist attractions is a massive bronze sculpture of Buddha. It sits on the heel of the Lantau Island and can even be seen from Macau on the clear day. It symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature and people and religion.  Even though Hong Kong has the biggest bronze sculpture of Buddha, only just over twenty per cent people are Buddhists. The second biggest religion is Taoism with around fifteen per cent believers. Surprisingly more than half of the citizens are atheists or believe in other religions. Despite these differences, Hong Kong still remains one of the major Buddhism centre attracting many believers and tourists.

Those who decide to ‘get lost; in the city and expect to see architectural marvels will however be slightly disappointed. However, Hong Kong is amazing for shopping lovers who have one or two spare credit cards with a sufficient money fund on it. There are plenty luxurious and well known designers shops. All you need is money. One of the most attractive reasons to shop is that the buyer does not have to pay extra percentage on the shelf price as there are no taxes added to the shelf prices.

Alternatively, for those who cannot afford luxurious brands there’s a lot to look-out for as well. Just few streets from luxurious one , you can find well know  Ladies Market which offers same labels but just lower price. Those ones may not be leather , may not last long , but still have well copied logo and if you are successful haggler you may get it for a silly price. Let’s say 10 English Pounds for a fake Mulberry bag.  Market is full of ladies, checking official websites and excited how similar to the real ones fakes are. On my resent visit the Ladies Market was full of Mulberry and Michael Kors. You might be very lucky and get invited to the secret shops if you can prove to the seller that you will be paying more and you are interested in exceptional fakes. If you will be offered high quality of fakes, however these will cost much more than the ones on the street.

And here it is Hong Kong. Expensive yet reasonably cost-friendly and definitely worth seeing and experiencing.

Photo credits: Daniel Cheong (used with permission)

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