Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



August 1, 1992 -- A friend of mine recently observed that Hong Kong moves at a faster pace than even New York, that the British Crown Colony never seems to slow down or shut down. He added that Hong Kong is more friendly than New York and many other cities. He was also in complete accord with my comments last month that Hong Kong is one of the few places that seems to get better with each visit.

Much of Hong Kongís excitement is generated by simple proximity: Each square foot is subject to real estate speculation, and the city-state lives within 412 square miles, an area just half the size of Rhode Island. Nowhere, in fact, is land more prized than in Hong Kong. New York City for example, has 11,480 inhabitants per square mile. Hong Kong has 247,500 residents per square mile. (The worldís second-most densely packed city, Lagos, Nigeria, has just 143,000 people per square mile.)

Itís no wonder Hong Kong is packed with people around the clock. Places like the world-famous lobby at The Peninsula hotel seem to attract an endless flow of multinational customers. Not only is it a great place to people-watch, but The Peninsula, a landmark in its own right on the Kowloon side, is also about to observe a major milestone. This pioneering hotel, which has maintained its high standards with nary a hiccup, will celebrate its sixty-fifth anniversary in December 1993. The month before it will open a thirty-two story tower, which will expand the hotelís inventory to 300 rooms.

According to Felix Bieger, the Swiss general manager, the Peninsulaís tower will not only offer spectacular views of Hong Kong Harbour and Hong Kong Island, but also a swimming pool, health and business centers, additional function space and more restaurants. New shops will supplement the 110 existing boutiques that already house a whoís who of designer names and prominent local merchants. The new restaurants will supplement the hotelís world-renowned collection.

Over on Hong Kong Island, the spectacular Pacific Place Arcade connects with three fine new hotels: the Island Shangri-la, The Conrad, and the Marriott. Not far away, and part and parcel of the Hong Kong Convention Centre, are the Grand Hyatt and the New World Harbour View. The new properties offer lavish lobbies, comfortable rooms, warm service, an endless parade of shops, and superior dining. Despite the crunch on space here, it seems to be in generous supply for public rooms in the better hotels.

Hong Kongís favorite activity, especially for visitors, is shopping. There are still outstanding buys in custom-made clothing--for men and women. I was very pleased with the results from Veena Fashions (Shop 25, Ambassador Hotel Arcade, Kowloon). Menís suits ran from US$275 to $300, a blazer was US$190, slacks US$90 and Sea Island cotton shirts were US$35. Jewelry is also a good buy. At Matthew Jewelry Company (Shop 34), for example, pearls and rings seemed reasonably priced and of reliable quality. Elsewhere, porcelain, linens, and leather goods merit a look; frames for eyeglasses remain the best buy.

Of course, dealing with reputable merchants is important; stick with recommendations from people who live here. And keep in mind that the good shopping in Hong Kong is not confined to the hotels.

As part of a day of sightseeing, I also took a drive out to Stanley Market, about thirty minutes from the Convention Centre. The market, a cavernous, indoor bazaar, spills out onto the streets. Bargains abound in the marketís narrow lanes: Cashmere sweaters and cardigans, for example, sell for under $90. Also on the program was scenic Repulse Bay, which has a beach, restaurants, shops and condos and the floating seafood restaurants at Aberdeen. I even took a motorboat tour of a typhoon shelter, which houses permanently moored junks. The houseboats are an endangered species because authorities have been trying to lure the boat-dwellers to land.

I also made an unsuccessful effort to scale Victoria Peak by car, but was thwarted by fog and clouds. And there was an opportunity to ride the Star Ferry linking Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. For about thirteen cents, the ferry offers a great view while crossing Hong Kong Harbour.

Anyway, there she is, Hong Kong: the uneasy resident of an improbable wedge of real estate on the South China Coast, maybe the most scenic, city-state on this planet, home to more than 6 million residents, and host to 6 million visitors each year. Despite the nagging uncertainty of what will happen when China reclaims it after July 1, 1997, Hong Kong remains a densely packed, high-voltage beehive of optimism. Everyone still wants a piece of the action. I donít blame them.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2006 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.