Hong Kong Today
Hong Kong Island Skyline
Opium. It’s a drug that has been around for centuries and even today it is a problem, in the form of “Opioids.” Opium comes from poppy seed latex and is used to manufacture drugs such as heroin and morphine, both known to cause epidemics in various parts of the world. Asia is one part of the world where opium had indeed become an epidemic in the 1800s. But how did it become an epidemic and what in the heck does it have to do with Hong Kong?
Well, I’m going to tell you.......
Recreational use of opium began in China in the 15th century. The British East India Company began trading with China in early 17th century. Opium, silver, tea, silk, and porcelain were the primary commodities that were exchanged between the Chinese Qing Dynasty and Britain. The British started selling opium (illegally) to the Chinese by the late 1700s and by the 1830s, it had flooded the Chinese black market. The Brits knew that the more they pushed it, the more people would become addicted to it and the more demand there would be for it. I guess that one could safely say that the British had some of the earliest organized drug cartels on the planet. Opium was grown and produced in India and traded via sea route by the British East India Company to China.
Flag of the British East India Company (1801)
Opium became a HOT product in China and it helped to reverse a trade deficit between the British and the Chinese to favor the Brits. In fact, opium gave the British a commanding trade influence in Asia as they ousted the Portuguese with a controlled monopoly. The result of the British opium trade turned out to be an epidemic in China, so much to the point where the Daoguang Emperor (8th Emperor of the Qing Dynasty) called for a ban on opium (it was already illegal). In 1839 the Chinese seized 20,000 chests of opium (1,210 tons) without payment to the British and ordered an embargo on trade in Canton (Guangzhou). This resulted in the First Opium War (1839-1842) which ended in a relatively easy British victory, given the superior British naval force at the time. In the end, the “Treaty of Nanking” was signed and the Chinese ceded Hong Kong Island and opened five treaty ports to the British.
Second Battle of Chuenpi, First Opium War, January 7th, 1841
The 1850s witnessed a rapid growing influence of Western Imperialism. The British, French, and Americans all had a growing influence in China. The British demanded a renegotiation of the “Treaty of Nanking,” which was signed in 1842, that stipulated that the Chinese open the entire country to Britain. It also called for legalization of the opium trade, making imports exempt from tariffs, among other amendments that favored the Brits. In October of 1856, a cargo ship called “Arrow” was seized by Chinese marines. The ship was suspected of piracy, even though it was flying the “Union Jack” and was part of a larger British fleet. The registration had expired and the boat was previously used by pirates. Twelve crew members were captured and only nine were released. Furthermore, the “Union Jack” was disrespected by being taken down. This triggered the start of the Second Opium War (1856-1860).
Battle of Palikao, Second Opium War, September 21st, 1860
On October 23rd, 1856 the British opened fire and destroyed four Chinese barrier forts. The French and the Americans aided the British in their victory over the Qing Dynasty. Though the United States was technically “neutral,” they aided the British in the “Battle of the Barrier Forts (1856)” and the “Battle of Token Forts (1859).” The Second Opium War ended on October 18th, 1860 with the commencement of the “Convention of Beijing.” The “Convention” gave Britain the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutter’s Island (both Hong Kong), legalized the opium trade in China, established a Sino-American slave trade, granted freedom of religion to Christians in China, among other rights to the British.
Convention of Beijing, October 18th, 1860
On July 1st, 1898 “The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory” gave the British a 99 year lease of the New Territories. On July 1st, 1997 sovereignty was transferred to the People’s Republic of China (you can watch a 10 minute clip from YouTube of the ceremony at the end of the article). As part of the agreement, China was to allow Hong Kong to continue to operate the same way for 50 years under the “one country, two system” philosophy. This was put in place to help maintain the thriving way of life in Hong Kong and to sustain its status as a major global financial hub.
"The Handover" July 1st, 1997 (transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty from the U.K. back to China)
2017, 20 years after the transfer, Hong Kong is feeling the squeeze of the ever-growing omnipresent Chinese influence. Many Hong Kongers say that after the first 15 years of Chinese rule, things began to change. New Chinese laws and a growing Chinese global influence have seemed to overshadow the “one country, two system” philosophy that was put in place after the transfer. Recent events such as the visit from President Xi Jinping, the protests and democracy movement led by 20 year old Joshua Wong, the severing of Hong Kong political leaders, and even kidnappings of journalists by Chinese government officials have drawn a worldwide spotlight on the state of Hong Kong and concern about its future. Hong Kongers feel threatened by China’s growing economy, military, and influence as a global powerhouse. China’s Belt and Road Initiative and South China Sea exploits are the latest examples of China flexing its muscles to the world.
Map of China's "Belt and Road Initiative"
Personally, I absolutely adore Hong Kong and I make it down there as much as possible. I think one of the reasons that I enjoy Hong Kong is its culture. It’s a combination of Asia, Europe, and North America. Most Hong Kongers speak Mandarin, Cantonese and English. It is a very developed, clean city. It’s like an alternative China. The weather is beautiful and the water, turquoise. Overlooking Victoria Harbour from a high altitude during the day or night, from Kowloon or Hong Kong Island is breathtaking. Hong Kong has a sub-tropical climate with palm trees and other exotic vegetation. In my opinion, Hong Kong Island is where it’s at. More specifically, Central District is a great place to mingle, especially if you’re a foreigner. The area has a lot of bars, restaurants, shopping venues, hotels, etc. There is:
is another district on Hong Kong Island that is a favorite among expats, but one should be careful there as prostitution is known to be pervasive.
MO Bar, Mandarin Oriental, Central District, Hong Kong Island
The MTR (subway) is the best way to get around Hong Kong. The MTR also connects to many light rail lines which makes travel more convenient. I’m not a big fan of taxis or buses. Uber is available in Hong Kong. You just download the app when you get to the airport and you’re good to go. I suggest purchasing an “Octopus card.” This allows for travel in the MTR and buses, as well as general purchases at most businesses. It really is a convenient way to spend money in Hong Kong. With that said, it doesn’t hurt to have some cash on you (in Hong Kong dollars, of course). Some places, like street vendors, won’t accept the “Octopus card.” Major foreign bank cards are accepted at most businesses, but make sure you contact your bank back home to let them know you’re traveling. My American banks charge me a 3% fee to use my cards in Hong Kong. One thing I do hate about Hong Kong (and Macau) is the fact that you wind up with a LOT of coins when you’re using cash. Here is a link to the MTR map that can be downloaded:
Though Hong Kong is very pricey, there are affordable hotels and restaurants for the budget traveler. There are hostels in Hong Kong, but I will not mention them because I’m just not a fan of them. My favorite place to stay in Hong Kong is, hands down, the Bishop Lei International House (https://www.bishopleihtl.com.hk/). This is both a premium and discount hotel that is owned and managed by the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong and is a member of the Hong Kong Hotels Association. It offers spectacular views of the skyline and Harbour. The “05” rooms are my favorite and they cost more. In general, the Bishop Lei” is economical in comparison to most Hong Kong hotels. The location is also great because it is located in Mid-Levels, near Central District and there is an affiliated Catholic cathedral next door. They do have a commuter bus that picks people up at Central Station, which can be reached via MTR from the airport. Lastly, the facilities are great! There is an excellent restaurant with an outdoor deck that overlooks the skyline and Harbour. The menu has a wide selection of eats and they do offer room service. There is also a conference room, swimming pool, mini-gym, and reading room.
Bishop Lei International House, Mid-Levels, Hong Kong Island
I’m a BIG fan of steakhouses and Hong Kong has its share. I was there a couple of weeks ago and dined at Wooloomooloo Steakhouse (Wan Chai) (https://wooloo-mooloo.com/) and enjoyed a medium cooked sirloin with a couple of sides along with a female companion from Indonesia. This particular restaurant is ranked #5 for steakhouses and #50 for restaurants in Hong Kong. The rooftop bar on the 32nd floor is spectacular with an aerial view of the skyline overlooking Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Island. Morton’s (http://www.mortons.com/hongkong/) is located on Nathan Road on the Kowloon Peninsula, which is opposite of Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour. Morton’s is ranked #3 for steakhouses and #40 for restaurants in Hong Kong. If you wanna go all out, then you should book a reservation at Tango Argentinian Steakhouse Elements (http://www.diningconcepts.com/restaurants/Tango-Elements) which is the #1 steakhouse (out of 101) and the #7 ranked restaurant (out of 7,398) in Hong Kong on Austin Road.
Rooftop of Wooloomooloo Steakhouse, Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong is one of my “get away” cities. It’s not too far from Wuhan and I get inspired every time I go there. I’ve considered living in Hong Kong in the future, but for many reasons, I feel that it’s a much better place to visit than to live. When I start traveling the world full time, I will visit Hong Kong at least once a year. I have become attached to it and it is a global city with many business opportunities. Everyone should see Hong Kong at least once in their life. Otherwise, they are truly missing out on the opportunity to experience the “Pearl of the Orient.”
Hong Kong Government Website on Tourism
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