Hong Kong

Hong Kong

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Good to know about Hong Kong

Located on the southeast coast of China, Hong Kong’s strategic location on the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea has made it one of the world’s most thriving and cosmopolitan cities.

Officially known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong is an autonomous territory with around 7,3 million citizens of various nationalities. It is the fourth-most densely populated region in the world and it has a parliamentary government modelled after the Westminster system, which was inherited from the British colonial administration. The head of government is Chief Executive Carrie Lam. The central government provides oversight for the regional government, with the final interpretative power of the Basic Law resting with the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. The city also has a very high Human Development Index ranking and the world’s longest life expectancy.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s leading international financial centres, holding the highest Financial Development Index score and consistently ranking as the world’s most competitive and freest economic entity. The city’s stature as an International Financial Centre, has been gradually developing since the 1950s to become a key component of the island’s economy. It is an important centre for international finance and trade, with one of the greatest concentrations of corporate headquarters in the Asia-Pacific region. Some of these headquarters include companies such as Esprit Holdings Ltd., Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Bank of China, Cathay Pacific, HSBC Bank, among many others. Its currency, the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), is the thirteenth most traded currency in the world as of 2016. The city is also known as one of the Four Asian Tigers for its high growth rates and rapid development from the 1960s to the 1990s.

 

History

Today’s Hong Kong was born when China’s Qing dynasty government was defeated in the First Opium War in 1842 and it ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain. Within 60 years, the British Empire expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula and acquired the New Territories and 235 Outlying Islands. Despite being occupied by Japan during the Second World War, British control soon resumed once the War was over. From its earliest days as a British colony, the city served as a centre of international trade. In the turbulent years of the early 20th century, refugees mostly from China bolstered the city’s population. The arrival of immigrants in large numbers helped launch a new role for Hong Kong as a major manufacturing hub as well as bringing economically stimulating energy and industry to the city’s character. In 1984, Britain returns the territory to China with both countries signing the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China on July 1st, 1997. This arrangement allows the city to maintain a separate political and economic system apart from China. Except in military defence and foreign affairs, Hong Kong retains independent executive, legislative, and judiciary powers. Nevertheless, the city does directly develop relations with foreign states and international organizations in a broad range of fields and is actively and independently involved in institutions such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the World Trade Organization. Under the framework of the Joint Declaration, the Basic Law of Hong Kong is the regional constitutional document, establishing the structure and responsibility of the government.

Due to its history, the two official languages of Hong Kong are Chinese and English. Cantonese, a variety of Chinese originating from the province of Guangdong to the north of Hong Kong, is spoken by the vast majority of the population. The Hong Kong Basic Law is written in both, Chinese and English, and legislation enacted since the handover to China has been drafted in both languages. Colonial era legislation and court proceedings predominantly used English, therefore both languages share a co-equal status in the common law system. 94,6% of the population in Hong Kong speak Cantonese, but only half of the population speak English. The spoken English follows British English spelling and is heavily influenced by Cantonese pronunciations. Mixing English and Cantonese in conversations is quite common among people in Hong Kong. Nowadays, due to the arrival of many immigrants from mainland China, Mandarin Chinese is as prevalent as English. However, Hong Kong uses traditional Chinese characters instead of the simplified characters that are used in mainland China.

 

Geography and Architecture

As one of the most popular destination for international tourists, Hong Kong has a lot to offer. The territory is split up into the following geographical regions: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the New Territories, and over 200 off-shore islands, of which the largest is Lantau Island. Over 70% of Hong Kong is mountains and sprawling country parks, with some of them being home to geological and historical gems. Escaping the city limits, the territory also offers the possibility to spend a day wandering in a Song-dynasty village, hiking on a deserted island, or kayaking among volcanic sea arches. With its humid subtropical climate, Hong Kong has four distinguishable seasons. Spring is warm and humid, Summer is hot and rainy with occasional showers or typhoons and warm air coming from the southwest, Autumn is pleasant and sunny, and Winter is mild and dry with the occasional cold front coming from the north. Temperatures range between 14ºC and 19ºC in Winter and 27ºC to 32ºC in Summer. The ideal travel season is late autumn, from October to around Christmas time when Hong Kong weather is relatively more pleasant.

The lack of available sprawl space has caused a demand for dense, high-rise offices and housing. The city features the most skyscrapers in the world, surrounding Victoria Harbour, which lies in the centre of the city’s dense urban region. More people in Hong Kong live or work above the 14th floor than anywhere else on Earth, making it the world’s most vertical city. Because of the lack of space and demand for construction, few older buildings remain, and the city is becoming a centre for modern architecture. The International Commerce Centre (ICC) is the tallest building in Hong Kong (484m) and the third tallest in the world. Other recognisable skyline features include the Two International Finance Centre, the HSBC Headquarters Building, the triangular-topped Central Plaza with its pyramid-shaped spire, among others. Very popular is the Symphony of Lights, a show visible from Kowloon in which every night at a certain time the skyscrapers located on Hong Kong Island offer an astonishing light show accompanied by music. On the other hand, most of the oldest remaining historic structures include the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, the Central Police Station, and the remains of Kowloon Walled City.

 

Culture

In between all these modern buildings and large amount of shopping malls there’s a dynamic cultural landscape where the influence from the Chinese and the British along with the contributions of its home-grown talent can be found. Hong Kong culture was born in a sophisticated fusion of “East meets West”. It not only kept many Chinese traditions, but also experienced a baptism of western culture. This situation led to the diversity of its culture and the acceptance of variety. Concepts like feng shui are taken very seriously, with expensive construction projects often hiring expert consultants, and are often believed to make or break a business. Other objects like Ba gua mirrors are still regularly used to deflect evil spirits, and buildings often lack any floor number that has a 4 in it, due to its similarity to the word for “die” in Cantonese.

In terms of entertainment, the city is a recognized global centre of trade and calls itself an “entertainment hub”. Several Hollywood actors like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, film-makers like John Woo and Stephen Chow, and films such as Chungking Express and Internal Affairs originated from Hong Kong and have gained international recognition. Graphic arts are modern and range widely in style and Cantopop concerts are the most popular type of performance. Many cultural institutions such as the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra are supported by the government. Festivals are also widely celebrated throughout the year in the city. Some of its most celebrated festivals include the Chinese New Year, the Ching Ming Festival (also known as the Remembrance of Ancestors Day) which honours relatives who have died, the Dragon Boat Festival which attracts racing teams from all over the world, and the Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Moon Festival).

 

Big Buddha

Located on Lantau Island, Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha, is a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong and a popular tourist attraction. The large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni was completed in 1993 and gets its name due to its base being a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. The statue is 34 metres tall and is reached after climbing 268 steps. As one of the five large Buddha statues in China, it is enthroned on a lotus on top of a three-platform altar and surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas”. These are posed offering diverse objects to represent the Six Perfections of generosity, mortality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom needed for enlightenment. Located next to the Buddha is the Po Lin Monastery. Both, the statue and the monastery, can be reached using the Ngong Ping 360, an aerial tramway connecting Ngong Ping with Tung Chung and offering great views of Hong Kong.

 

Hong Kong cuisine

Hong Kong is known as the “World’s Food Fair”. From roadside stalls to world-class restaurants, Hong Kong offers a wide variety of choices when it comes to dining out. Its cuisine is a fusion of both, eastern and western-style cuisine, giving you an unlimited variety of food to choose from. A traditional breakfast includes congee (rice porridge) and yau cha kwai (oil fried bread sticks); however, western breakfasts that include bread, sausage, pancakes, and eggs are becoming more popular. For mid-day and evening meals, most people serve Chinese food with rice and soup in their homes. Some of the most common ingredients used in Cantonese cuisine include shiitake mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, salted duck eggs, kailan, red beans, dried shrimp, hoisin sauce, dried scallops, and lotus seeds. A very typical Cantonese food is dim sum, also known as yam chah.

Some holidays and ceremonial occasions are associated with certain types of food. Lunar New Year’s Eve features chicken, roast pork, and fruit; at the Dragon Boat Festival people eat rice dumplings wrapped in lotus leaves; and the Mid-Autumn Festival is associated with moon cakes, pomelo, and persimmons. Meals when the family reunites, including New Year’s Eve, often include rice flour balls in sweet soup.

 

With its historical background, Hong Kong is a perfect example of a city which has been influenced by both, Eastern and Western culture. If you want to experience Chinese culture at its best, whilst also being able to get that daily or monthly dose of Eastern feeling, Hong Kong might definitely be the place for you. 

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