I was in Hong Kong for one week in the month of September, 1997. That was a historic year for two countries; Great Britain and China. In July of that year, Britain’s 99 year lease of Honk Kong from China ended and the government of Great Britain transferred control of Hong Kong and surrounding territories to the People’s Republic of China.Why did China lease HK to Britain in the first place? Well, it had to do with the Opium Wars which of course is an entirely different subject, however; The short answer is that China lost the island of Hong Kong to Great Britain in those Wars. Britain, using force, later leased nearby territories from China.Their rule over HK dates all the way back to the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. That treaty saw the end of the First Opium War.
Nineteenth-century Britain at that time had a limitless appetite for Chinese tea, but the people of China wanted no part of British tea production.Queen Victoria’s government did not want to use up Britain’s reserves of gold or silver in buying tea. The powers in control decided to make China take, “Opium” for their marvelous tea commodity. Britain got the opium from India and, again the powers that be, forcibly made export from the Indian Subcontinent to China. Then the opium was traded with the Chinese, for tea.One should not be surprised that China’s government objected strongly to the amount of narcotics being brought into their country; especially by an outside power. Chinese officials in 1839, destroyed 20,000 bales of opium. This move provoked Britain to declare war. Wrong as it may be, this sordid behavior happens all too often.A personal observance here: That wrong move by the Brits reminded me of a personal situation in which I, like China at the time, was morally correct. I had my identity stolen and files deleted, damaged or moved and yet, it was I who was arrested.That first Opium War lasted from 1839 to 1842. Britain occupied the island of Hong Kong on January 25, 1841, and used it as a military staging point.China was defeated in the war, and relinquished Hong Kong to Britain in the Treaty of Nanking. Hong Kong became a territory of the British Empire.
Erlyn had worked in Hong Kong for eight years as a domestic helper, she was a Filipina. She had a Bachelor of Science degree but there was no work in her home country. I had asked her via letters and phone conversations to find a nice, clean hotel for us but of moderate cost. She had come to the airport to get me and on the bus ride to the hotel Erlyn broke the silence and admitted to me, “You’re more disabled than I thought.”Very childishly I made this comment, “Yeah well, what you told me were freckles are definitely more than that!”We should have continued our correspondence because neither one of us were ready to meet personally. I was astonished when I saw the hotel room in the high-rise building, as most buildings are tall in Hong Kong, and if I remember right the room was on the 19th floor. Erlyn opened the door and we fell into the bed, which was exquisitely enjoyable – There was no room for anything and looking out the large, warehouse type window facing us, we were looking into another nearby apartment. The ceilings were about 12 to 15 feet high with a ceiling fan hanging from a 6 ft. cord. Walls and ceiling were painted a bright, eye-popping blue. The bathroom door was closed and one step in there and I knew why.Erlyn said, “I don’t know what that smell is but I cleaned it many times and told the manager about it but he didn’t know what it was either.”I’ve been in outhouses in my younger day and modern-day porta-potties – and that stench was the same, but there was no smell unless that door was open. Sympathetically I told her, “I know you tried to get rid of the smell but I can’t stand it, let me take a little nap and then we’ll look for another place.” She lay with me.
When we awoke from our rest, I braved the smell long enough to take a quick shower shave and even brushed my teeth, but that awful smell was even worse than in the barracks bathroom while I was in Navy boot-camp.Are any of you familiar with what I’m saying? You know what I’m talking about – guys farting, shitting and doing other obnoxious things while others were brushing their teeth. I held my breath for intervals as long as possible and very quickly exited somebody’s idea of a bathroom.
Erlyn took me to some of the places spoken of in her beautiful letters. It was now evening but I asked her to show me some of the nighttime sights and sounds of that magnificent city.Erlyn obliged me and we went to a very busy area, the streets were filled with revelers and the sidewalks were not nearly wide enough to accommodate the throngs of people. My pen pal stayed close by my side and wrapped both arms around mine with her head resting just beneath my shoulder. She honored me with her actions. I felt blessed and important all at once. Erlyn was
patient with me, as my walking and balance were not good and I was no prize. Still she seemed to enjoy showing me the sites and listening to the exciting sounds and inhaling the various aromas of delicious foods that are Hong Kong.A restaurant that had naked ducks and chickens and geese hanging upside down in the window facing the street, garnered my attention. It was just like a quick scene from Rush Hour III starring Jackie Chan while he was in Hong Kong and in fact it may have been the same place. There were chefs plying their trade as the entire outside passed by not paying any mind.We ducked inside the busy, busy restaurant. The waiters had to flatten stomachs with arms raised to get close enough to take your order. That must have been a good place to eat because the people were standing all about and as fast as one got up from the table another would sit down. I was not used to that hurried atmosphere so I gave my chicken to Erlyn and we carefully made our way to the door and exited into the busier nightlife.
So many revelers. Was there a festival of some sort? No, but the people carried on as if there were. I had never seen anything like it and soon realized that it was no place for me to be because of my condition.
The first evening after getting settled in a different hotel, this time in the North Central District, we went to dinner at an Italian Restaurant in the Wan Chi District. I later learned that district was the “Red light district” of Hong Kong. However, Erlyn and I just
went to have a nice dinner. The restaurants were so different there because the Italian restaurant had the menu written in Italian. And as I only knew a few Italian words, I ordered the wrong thing. We had our dinner, (I think I mistakenly ordered an appetizer) because man, was I hungry even after the meal. But including the glass of Vino and dessert; we both had enough to eat.
The next evening we enjoyed a dinner at our new home the, Newton Hotel, rooftop where the hotel pool was also located. There was a fantastic view of Victoria Harbor from our rooftop vantage point. And the best part of the new hotel was that it actually felt luxurious compared to the other place and there was no smell!
Tai Chi’ in the park
The next day (she always had something new to show me) she took me to Victoria’s Park because I had mentioned to her that I took a Tai Chi’ course in college and felt it doing some good. That park was full of older people practicing that form of martial art in early morning from about 5 to 8 A.M. then the young people would take the area over and begin shooting hoops. When the kids began to fill the area we magically disappeared, like the others.
We rode the double-deck bus up the curvy mountain road to Victoria’s Peak with my decreased sense of equilibrium I felt as if the tall bus was going to tip, but that was nothing compared to what lay ahead of me, first a little more history…
Victoria Peak has been a favorite destination in Hong Kong since the early 19th century when affluent locals and the English colonials made their (large and expensive) homes atop the 1811-foot (552 m) mountain.
The view of the city is spectacular any time of day (except when the smog is heavy), and dusk makes for a truly enchanted view. Have a snack, lunch or a full blown meal at one of their restaurants because you will really want to stay until dark to get a
picture or two of this “City of Lights” (I’ve never been to Paris). The lit-up city is extraordinary from the “Peak.”
While waiting for the dark of night you can go to the small unique shops in Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, or even while away a few hours at Madame Tussaud’s on the peak. Victoria Peak garden was the Governor’s summer residence and makes for a peaceful and cool break from the city.