A Quick Look at Hong Kong

Originally published in the Clear Lake Courier — 26 November 1997

My one day to spend sightseeing in Hong Kong was hindered by a heavy overcast and steady drizzle. Although I rode the tram up Victoria Peak, the zero visibility at the top permitted no photographs. I was supposed to be able to see a spectacular view of Victoria Harbor and the South China Sea. All I saw was fog.

USS Nimitz (CVN 68), one of the Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, brought me to Hong Kong. I walked aboard in Yokosuka, Japan, and stayed with the ship during its five-day transit past Okinawa and Taiwan. During that time I watched flight operations and discussed aircraft maintenance.

What seemed really strange was seeing so many women throughout the ship. They appeared fully integrated and filling critical positions. Although the ship’s eight aviation maintenance officers were men, half the maintenance officers in the squadrons–even fighter squadrons–were women. For my entire naval career I’ve wanted to be on an aircraft carrier or in a fighter squadron, but those jobs were never open to women. Now that they are, I’m too senior for them.

The Nimitz is on an around-the-world cruise, from Washington state to Virginia, via several months in the Persian Gulf. It will spend three years in the Newport News Shipyard for an overhaul. After twenty-two years, the reactor cores need to be replaced. I learned the keel of the Nimitz was laid when I graduated from high school and the ship was built during my college years and enlisted naval service. We were both commissioned the same month.

Hong Kong Harbor The Nimitz anchored two miles off Hong Kong Island, along with the other ships in its battle group. Sunday afternoon we rode a liberty boat across Victoria Harbor to the fleet landing at Fenwick Pier. Now I can say I’ve actually ridden a slow boat to China; our little liberty boat was not built for speed. Other boats passed us as we chugged along for forty minutes, with the Hong Kong skyline in view the entire time. Navy authorities were probably more concerned with safety than speed when they contracted for boats.

Hong Kong, which means “fragrant harbor,” covers four hundred square miles and is slightly smaller than New York City. (The name came from the fragrant sandalwood fishermen used to burn.)

In addition to Hong Kong Island, the region includes Kowloon and the New Territories on the mainland, as well as 235 little islands. One of the most densely populated areas in the world, Hong Kong has over fourteen thousand people per square mile. Twenty-two percent of its six million people live on seven-by-nine-mile Hong Kong Island. I have never seen so many skyscrapers as the tightly-packed collection along the Hong Kong Island shoreline.

Hong Kong’s population is 98 percent Chinese; the official languages are English and Cantonese. Thirteen U.S. dollars will buy one hundred Hong Kong dollars. The climate is similar to that of Hawaii and Cuba.

Few noticeable changes have occurred since Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China the first of July. (Since this was my first visit, I can only repeat what I read.) As a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, Hong Kong will keep its capitalist economy for the next fifty years. One country with two systems is a unique experiment–communism in China and capitalism in Hong Kong.

The Fleet Arcade at Fenwick Pier contains U.S. Navy offices and Navy-approved shops. A few blocks along Victoria Harbor is the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the pageantry of the British-to-Chinese transfer took place. In the other direction is the Prince of Wales Building, which now houses People’s Liberation Army members instead of British soldiers.

I came off the ship without a hotel reservation, but easily obtained a Navy-approved room from a list at the Fleet Arcade. My Nimitz escorts said farewell and put me in a taxi to the hotel.

My major concern, remembering that extra day earlier this year in Thailand, was to get my passport stamped so I could leave the country. Fortunately, a Navy office in the Fleet Arcade had the authority to stamp passports.

To get back to the hotel after my passport errand, I looked for a taxi. Although they’re advertised as being plentiful and cheap, they don’t stop where double yellow lines are painted. And double yellow lines were everywhere. Taxis whizzed by in clusters, but none would stop. I walked several blocks, looking for taxi stands and trying to avoid the rain.

Finally I caught a ride and told the driver I wanted to go to the Empire Hotel. Stopping at the first traffic light, he pointed across the street. I told him that couldn’t be my hotel and he insisted it was. Then I realized I had walked to within half a block of the hotel. (He didn’t charge me for the ride.)

Not in the mood to check out Hong Kong nightlife alone, I spent two evenings reading a book in my hotel room. Tuesday morning I went to the Kai Tak airport in Kowloon. The customs official there looked at my non-regulation passport stamp and called over his supervisor. When I showed my military ID card, he added an exit stamp to my passport and I was free to return to Japan.

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