This photo stinks! Well, at least its subject does.
Hong Kong literally means “Fragrant Harbour”.
I could think of lots of words to describe Hong Kong, but I’m not entirely sure “Fragrant” would come to mind.
Oh, it’s not as pungent as (say) Bangkok with its smelly khlongs – or Beijing with its overpowering diesel fumes – but it is a remarkable pageant of smells and sights.
As you wander the streets of Kowloon, for example, you get a cacophony of smells – food being prepared in tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries, fresh vegetables being carted by wizened old men and women on hand-trolleys between rickety, grimy old buildings, the miasma of drains where all sorts of detritus has been washed away.
It is, to a westerner, amazingly ‘exotic’ – and yet to seven million people in just 1000 square kilometres, it is simply.. home.
Hong Kong is a small island and a nearby mainland area excised from China in a bitter war with Britain in 1842.
The war was not one of Britain’s high-moral-ground points … it was fought by the British to force China into allowing drug traffickers to sell opium to its people.
You see, there was a trade imbalance – Britain wanted Chinese silks, and porcelain, and tea … but it didn’t produce anything the Chinese wanted in return.
Until Britain got the morally indefensible idea of selling opium from its Indian holdings to Chinese middlemen.
The Qing empire, quite reasonably, thought this was a bad idea but Britain used its military superiority to force China to accept the drug trade – and occupied first the island of Hong Kong, and then the mainland area of Kowloon, to set up a financial and military base and keep the Chinese in check.
In 1898, a 99 year lease was signed giving Britain continued domination over Hong Kong – and for nearly 100 years the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ was a little slice of Britain in Asia.
The 99 year lease expired in 1997, and Britain handed Hong Kong back to China – which named it a ‘special administrative region’ .. ostensibly allowing it self government, but under the aegis of Beijing.
Since then the control of the Communist Party has continued to tighten, but HK still enjoys much more freedom than most parts of the People’s Republic.
That’s in part because Hong Kong makes China an enormous amount of foreign capital, in trade.
It is the 11th largest trading entity in the world, with the seventh largest stock exchange and more high-rises per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world.
Many of those high-rise buildings are on the shores of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour and at night they make a spectacular backdrop as you sail around the harbour in the many ferries that carry locals from one side to the other during the day – but tourists by the thousands at night.
There’s even a musical lighting display each evening, where the buildings light up, and flash, and cascade in time to music which wafts across the harbour.