**** Photoalbum (Family) ****


On August 2 to 5, my family (my wife, two daughters and one son) visited Hong Kong for vacation. This is my first visit and I have no experience of Hong Kong in the days of the British colony before 1997. This is a roving report of my reconnaissance platoon, which I hope is of some help to you when you visit there.

(1) Civil Freedom and Security:
According to two native guides of JTB (Japan Travel Bureau), there has been no change in its market economy since Hong Kong's return to China, however, when I asked if civil liberties have been compromised, they did not answer clearly, looking rather cautious, maybe they took care of the possibility of eavesdropping by Big Brothers, maybe not. On the other hand, there are many relaxed police in moss-green-uniform on the street, and there seems almost no possibility of hold-ups, but they say there are pickpockets.

(2) Currency and Exchange:
The currency is Hong Kong Dollar, and exchange rate is circa 17.8 Yen for HK$1 at the Chiba Bank in Tokyo Narita Airport, and 10K Yen for HK$615 at the exchange at the Cameron Road of MTR Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon (P.J.Global Ltd.; 16.3 YEN for HK$1). I would rather recommend foreign exchange of cash on the street. Credit card is also available in the major restaurants and shops excluding papas and mamas souvenir shops (Eventually revealed in the advance bill notice on the Sumitomo-VISA web site; 15.6 YEN! for HK$1).

(3) Public Transport System:
Hong Kong is severely crowded and has no extra space, so privately owned cars seem scarce and I did not identify subcompact cars, e.g. TOYOTA Corolla, Honda Civic, Volkswagen, etc. on the streets. On the contrary, over-600-class Mercedes are frequently seen on the parking lots of excellent hotels and malls, which are probably owned by corporate Tycoons. But, why so numerous?

MTR (To enlarge, click here. To return to this page, click *return* on your web browser)
scanned from color print, NIKON FM-2, Tamron 35-70 mm, 1/60 sec with flash

Commoners use public transportation. The subway, which they call Mass Transit Railway (MTR), is well organized and punctually operated with short intervals, trains being clean and solidly built. Overall impression is it is a very similar system to that of Singapore. The fare is cheap, e.g. HK$4 between neighbor stations, and HK$10 from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, and we purchased HK$70 tourist MTR 1-day pass. We never felt any danger in terms of facing crime. The electric ticket card seems reusable, so if you lost the ticket in the train, the penalty money must be paid, they warned. Let your kids take care of this. The label inside the train shows the name of Australian company, which I don't know if is a manufacturere's name or contractor's name. It's a very well-organized system, I would say once again.
The bus service is also networked extensively. The fare is also cheap, e.g., HK$8 from Admiralty at the north of Hong Kong Island to Stanley market at the south of the same island for a 40 minutes ride. Double decker is interesting to us non-Londoners, off course. (Because it remains unclear if taxicab drivers can understand English conversation, we refrained from its use)

(4) Landscape on the Street and Places to Visit:

MTR Tsim Sha Tsui (To enlarge, click here)
cool-scanned from Ektachrome 100 slide, Minolta X-700 with auto winder G, 50 mm MD, program-AE, cloudy midday, natural light

Crowded and noisy. Colorful and scrambled. Jewelry shops are numerous, and mainly Asian women are seriously engaging and hungrily purchasing at the floor. It looks rather odd to me with some surprise because in Japan we do rarely see clients in the fancy jewelry shops lately. Of course Hong Kong too faces recession but in my perspective the people of upper middle class are hungry and vigorous and still have a dream.

Bird Garden (To enlarge, click here)
cool-scanned from Ektachrome slide, Minolta X-700, 50 mm MD, P-AE, rainy morning, natural light

Flower market and bird shops are clustered locally at Bird Garden on Yuen Po Street in Kowloon (MTR Prince Edward), which suggests decent taste of the native people in spite of the urban noise.

Wong Tai Sin Temple (To enlarge, click here)
cool-scanned from Ektachrome slide, Minolta X-700 on a tripod, 50 mm MD, P-AE, self-timer, cloudy morning, natural light

Wong Tai Sin Temple is located in the residential area in Kowloon (MTR Wong Tai Sin), and appears very traditional and photogenic, but I regret the possibility that I might have insulted the people by focusing my SLR on the faithful.

Hong Kong Island viewed from pier at Central District (To enlarge, click here)
cool-scanned from Ektachrome slide, Minolta X-700, 50 mm MD, over 1 sec exposure, night, blurred without tripod ;)

Hong Kong Island viewed from Victoria Peak to Central, Harbour, and Kowloon (To enlarge, click here)
cool-scanned from Ektachrome slide, Minolta X-700 on a mini-tripod, 50 mm MD, over 1 sec exposure, night without haze

I recommend to visit Victoria Peak on Peak Tram after taking dinner at MTR Central or Admiralty district. The night view of Hong Kong is breathtaking and photogenic. Tripod is useful for longer exposure. The key is weather, non-rainy night is preferable. We also visited Stanley by double decker bus (Line No.6) from the station near MTR Central, which is in fact a souvenir shop market on the shorefront. You can see the Repulse Bay during the ride.

HK Convention and Exhibition Center (To enlarge, click here)
cool-scanned from Ektachrome slide, Minolta X-700, 50 mm MD, P-AE, cloudy morning, natural light

The HK Convention and Exhibition Center on the shorefront in the Wan Chai district is also very photogenic (MTR Wan Chai). Wide lenses are needed. Hand over ceremony was held here in 1997, which I watched on TV.

(5) Where to Dine:
We enjoyed decent chinese dinners (a delicacy!) at about HK$350-400 per person (we tried Chuk Yuen Seafood Restaurant, 3 minutes walk from MTR Tsim Sha Tsui, at HK$1,900/5 person, and Hunan Garden, at HK$1,650/5 person, 5 minutes walk from MTR Central), and lunch at about HK$100 per person (Jade Garden, 2 minutes walk from MTR Tsim Sha Tsui, at HK$430/5 person, and Peking Garden at Pacific Place, at HK$420/5 person), including HK beer. At the last night, we took Italian dinner, for a change, at La Trattoria in the Landmark at MTR Central (HK$1,400 including a Chianti red bottle/5 person). Probably fitness-conscious white people will not eat this much. In short, Chinese meals at restaurants which clear satisfactory sanitary conditions are not necessarily cheap also in Hong Kong, but anyhow McDonald's did not appeal charming to us there. No GI pathology happened to us, of course.

(6) Construction Boom:
Not to mention the new HK international airport and related express way and bridges, high rise buildings and new infrastructures are continuously under construction. Comparing with suppressed national public spending in Japan, which in fact is a nature-friendly trend, the landscape is still being changed radically here. The construction companies contracted are half of Hong Kong conglomerates and half Japanese, the guide explained. Anyway, in the age of environmental protection, the construction companies struggle to survive in every niche on this planet. Invasion into mainland China seems imminent.
There is a large container port Kwai Chung, which is actually third largest hub port in the world and has been an important portal to main land China. Lately China is doing commerce directly from their own ports, and as a result the cargo is decreasing in this terminal too this year just like ports in Yokohama and Kobe in Japan. Incorporation of China into the world trade put Japan and Hong Kong in distress in some respect. Ross Perot was right, when he objected to NAFTA on TV ad, presenting the landscape of ramshackle timber huts and semi-naked people in Mexico and asking the American people "Will you really compete with these poor people on labour costs?" President Jiang Zemin, don't you have the intention to return China from greedy and flexible market economy to the old-fashioned barefoot communism and isolated hardliner's paradice once again? ;)
(Addendum: Just after returning to Japan, I came across an article dealing with the mainland China's unstoppable low-cost clothing and textile manufacturing base that appeared in Newsweek magazine. See Brook Larmer. From rags to riches. Newsweek August 12, 2002, pages 10-13, Asian edition)

(7) Escape-and-Return Tactics:
I hear that the people who escaped from Hong Kong just before the hand over to China on July 1 1997 are now returning to Hong Kong again after successfully obtaining the nationality of Canada, Australia, etc. One reason is certainly that they could not adjust to the weather and feeling overseas, but on the other hand they noticed the supremacy of Hong Kong, where tax is very low. Holding the nationality of, say Canada, and staying in Hong Kong as a foreigner is the best strategy in the new reality of Special Administrative Region of China. Ummm, sure cool.

(8) Health Care and Social Insurance:
In Hong Kong, some people buy the social insurance and others not. Poor people cannot afford the insurance. As some segment of people in main land China are getting rich and the principle of self responsibility is prevailing, they become concerned with the insurance as a next step, so overseas insurance companies, say A.I.U. and CIGNA, are now aggressively infiltrating into China for the market. Under the control of "Invisible Hand"?

(9) Hotel:

Window view from our room at J.W.Marriott through Admiralty to Harbour and Kowloon (To enlarge, click here)
cool-scanned from Ektachrome slide, Minolta X-700, 50 mm MD, P-AE, morning of a small typhoon, natural light

In the lobby (To enlarge, click here)
scanned from color print, NIKON FM-2, Tamron 35-70 mm, available light

We stayed at J.W.Marriott near MTR Admiralty, which was a decent hotel, indeed.

Your off-list comments and corrections on this post are greatly appreciated.

Competing interests statement: The author declares that he has no competing financial interests.

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