Hong Kong

Overview

Introduction

Hong Kong is a place of contrasts—geographically, socially and economically. Although many Asian cities claim to be where East meets West, the former British Crown Colony is probably the closest the world comes to the genuine article.

Travel to Hong Kong and scratch the cosmopolitan, high-tech surface and you'll discover vestiges of ancient China in its culture. Residents invariably live in two worlds: Skyscrapers and enormous shopping malls adjoin narrow alleys crowded with traditional vendors' stalls. Businesspeople use cell phones to consult fortune-tellers before making important decisions. Even as they are deeply into technology, they preserve ancient customs—particularly in regards to the correct feng shui of buildings. Only a few miles/kilometers away, farmers and gardeners in less frequented villages in the New Territories tend their crops much as they have for generations.

Perched precariously on the edge of the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong—with its strategic deepwater harbor and proximity to the rest of Asia's most populous nation—profited for decades as the capitalist gateway for the communist giant to the north. What was once a settlement of fishing villages became one of the world's busiest international ports and business centers.

Hong Kong is a city of levels. At the top is Victoria Peak, on Hong Kong Island, from which mansions of the super-rich look out over the high-rise apartments of the merely affluent. Farther down the mountain are alleys and tenements dotted with colorful balcony gardens. Living on the water itself are the remnants of Hong Kong's boat people—fishing families who traditionally spent most of their lives on their boats.

Across the harbor on the mainland are Kowloon and the suburban New Territories, which were once Hong Kong's vegetable garden and now also host Hong Kong Disneyland. Although the popular image of Hong Kong is a place where every square inch/centimeter of land is crammed with high-rise apartments and office buildings, in reality 38% of all land in Hong Kong is designated as national parks and special areas. There are wonderful scenic areas and hiking routes ranging from gentle family walks to challenging long-distance trails.

This is also a time of transition for Hong Kong. Tourists and businesses from neighboring China increasingly fuel Hong Kong's economy. Hong Kong has become a popular shopping destination for Chinese visitors on holidays, weekend jaunts or en route to or from Southeast Asia.

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