Hong Kong . . . is it part of China, or a country of its own? Well, the answer is both. Kind of. When we arrived in Hong Kong on April 5, we had this same question, plus MANY more curiosities about this new, exciting city. And when we stepped off the bus from the airport near our hostel… WOW! The city was all bright lights and bustling with SOOOO MANY people! [See a video we took of the busy Hong Kong streets here.] In addition, we were surprised to find that most people at stores and restaurants spoke English pretty well. We were curious and instantly wanted to know more about this place.
Which leads me to a little history and basic information about Hong Kong, before I get into our 8-day adventure in the city.
First, it’s good to know a little about Hong Kong’s location and history. Hong Kong is situated on China’s south coast, surrounded by the South China Sea. It’s a very small area and mostly comprised of Islands, so China is the only country that shares a border.
Hong Kong is currently considered “A Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.” Britain went to war with China back in 1839, and as a result Hong Kong Island was taken over. The British ended up ruling the Island—and also took over several other surrounding regions—from 1842 to 1997, when China then assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong under what they call the “one country, two systems” principle. What this means is that Hong Kong has a different political system from mainland China, and that they have a “high degree of independence” in all matters except foreign relations and military defense. This declaration says that the region can maintain its capitalist economic system and guarantees the freedoms and rights of its people for at least 50 years beyond the 1997 handover.
Hong Kong’s independent judiciary functions under what is called “Hong Kong Basic Law.” It includes a head of government known as the “Chief Executive of Hong Kong” who is chosen by an Election Committee of 400 to 1,200 members.
Hong Kong is often referred to as a place where “East meets West,” reflecting the culture’s mix of Chinese roots with influences from the time as a British colony. This was very evident to James and I when we were in the city, as many people spoke English, and there were many Western food options at the grocery stores as well as Western-type restaurants throughout the city.
Here are some other main facts about Hong Kong:
Currency: Hong Kong Dollar
Language: Cantonese Chinese and English
Climate/Seasons: Hong Kong’s climate is humid subtropical. Summer is hot (usually over 85 degrees) and humid with occasional showers and thunderstorms, and monsoons that cause landslides and mudslides are common. Winters are mild with average temperatures around 62 degrees, however, occasional winter monsoons can cause the temperature to dip below 50 which is “freezing” for the area.
Population: 7 million people (2010). With a population of seven million people and a land mass of approximately 420 square miles (and no, that’s not 420 miles across, that’s like saying 20 miles wide x 20 miles long), Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The population density is 16,576 people PER SQUARE MILE!! Um… INSANE!?
Economy: GDP: $243.302 billion, GDP Per capita: $34,049. Hong Kong has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. It is one of the world’s leading international financial centers, with a major capitalist service economy characterized by free trade and low taxation. The Hong Kong dollar is the eighth most traded currency in the world
Religion: Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of religious freedom, guaranteed by the Basic Law, and a majority of residents of Hong Kong would claim no religious affiliation. The statistics vary, but the figure is around 57- 80% of the population do not believe in or follow any religion at all. Of those who DO believe in something, the main religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Christianity.
Literacy Rate: 93.5%
Foods: Although Hong Kong is considered a “World’s Fair of Food” with a variety of cultural influences and western restaurants, it is highly influenced by Cantonese cuisine. Some popular dishes include dim sum, roast duck, and wife cake. “Wife cake” is a traditional Cantonese pastry with flaky skin made with winter melon, almond paste, and sesame.
Work environment: The typical workweek in China is Monday through Friday with a half workday on Saturday. The average weekly working hours of full-time employees in Hong Kong is 49 hours. There are 12 mandatory holiday days throughout the year, and an additional 5 personal holiday days.
Unemployment Rate: 3.4% (2012)
Education: The medium of instruction is in Cantonese Chinese, with written Chinese and English. The education system features the following:
— 3 years kindergarten, non-compulsory
— 6 years primary education, mandatory
— 3 years junior secondary education, mandatory
— 2 years senior secondary education, non-compulsory, leading to the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examinations
–2 years matriculation course, non-compulsory, leading to the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations
Life expectancy: 82.9 years old
Drinking/Smoking age: The drinking age & allowed age to purchase alcohol is 18 years old. Selling cigarettes to persons under 18 is not permitted, but there is no legal age on smoking. Vending machines selling tobacco are not permitted.
Driving: Driving age is 18 years old in Hong Kong, as well as mainland China. Cars drive on the LEFT side of the road, with cars having the steering wheel on the RIGHT side of the car.
Random interesting Hong Kong facts:
- Hong Kong’s name means “fragrant harbor” in Chinese. The name is thought to come from Hong Kong’s incense trade and its lingering smells over the harbor.
- Hong Kong architects take Feng Shui into consideration when designing a building.
- Hong Kong boasts of more Rolls Royce cars per person than any other city in the world.
Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers in the world with 2,000 – almost double of second-place New York City.
- Lucky numbers in Hong Kong are 2, 3, 6, 8 and 9 – unlucky numbers are 1, 4 and 7 (4 and 7 sound like the Chinese word for death).
- At funerals, Hong Kong residents burn items that they think will help the deceased in the afterlife, such as money.
- 98% of Hong Kong’s income goes to the top 3% of society.
- Hong Kong has one of five Disneyland theme parks in the world.
- If you have a balcony or rooftop patio in your apartment or condo in Hong Kong, it’s considered very luxurious.
We will write more about our specific experiences in Hong Kong in the next post.