Origins: Hong Kong - #120

Every place in the world has a series of things that give that spot a special character... and make it different from every other place.  When you look at the ORIGINS of these things, you often end up with a better appreciation of the territory -- and that makes it a lot more interesting to visit.  And sometimes, these ORIGINS help us understand why we live the way we do.

For hundreds of years, Canton has been the capital city of southern China.  It sits on the banks of the Pearl River, which empties out into the South China Sea.  At the mouth of the river, about eighty miles from Canton, is the little island of Hong Kong.  People have been living on Hong Kong for over six thousand years, and until the middle of the 1800s it was a quiet place with a small population that made a living from the sea.

But that is no longer the case.  These days Hong Kong is one of the busiest and most modern cities in the world.  And perhaps because it is physically so small -- only seventeen square miles -- it loves the idea of being big in every other way.

It has the busiest container port in the world.  It is the world’s largest exporter of clothing, watches and fashion jewelry.  It is one of the world’s largest banking centers.  It is building the world’s largest airport.  It has the world’s largest Chinese restaurant, which you might expect, but it also has the world’s busiest McDonald’s.  It has constructed the world’s longest outdoor escalator.

Hong Kong is also one of the world’s top centers for trade.  Which is only fitting, since Hong Kong’s growth began as the result of a trade war between England and China in the middle of the 1800s.  And trade has been the source of Hong Kong’s growth ever since.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  During the 1700s and 1800s the English were buying teas, silks and porcelains from the Chinese and paying for them with silver... with so much silver that they began to run out of reserves.  They needed to find something to sell to the Chinese to get their silver back.  And what they found was opium.  They found it in India which was a British colony at the time and they forced it on the Chinese.  They centered their opium dealings in the Chinese city of Canton.  The Emperor of China hated the drug trade and declared it illegal.  He even tried to have it stopped by sending a letter to Queen Victoria.  Listen to this: “I am told that in your country opium smoking is forbidden under severe penalties.  This means you are aware of how harmful it long as you do not take it yourselves, but continue to make and tempt the people of China to buy it, you will be showing yourself careful of your own life, but careless of the lives of other people, indifferent in your greed for gain to the harm you do to others; such conduct is repugnant to human feelings and at variance with the Way of Heaven.”  And what did Queen Victoria do in response to this letter?  Zip.  Nothing at all.  Her drug trade continued as before.

So the Emperor ordered a blockade of the port of Canton.  He cut off their food and water and demanded that the English hand over their opium stores.  After six weeks, Captain Charles Elliot of the Royal Navy surrendered 20,283 chests, with 150 pounds of opium in each -- altogether over three million pounds of narcotics.  The British withdrew from Canton and took refuge at the mouth of the Pearl River on the island of Hong Kong.  The British government in London responded to the Chinese by sending in the marines.  The English attacked China in what has become known as the Opium Wars.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Chinese were no match for the English.  And they very soon agreed to give Hong Kong to the English and to open up their ports to the opium traders.  Nice little business for the British as long as you skip over the fact that they  were inventing the international drug trade.  Ah, but those were the bad old days, and now Hong Kong is living in the good old days.  Days in which Hong Kong is a global financial center, and the collective high comes from economic success.  Opium is out. Adrenaline is in.

But where does all this economic success come from?  What are the origins of Hong Kong’s wealth and power?

Hong Kong has no vast agricultural areas.  Hong Kong has no wealth of raw materials.  Hong Kong has no reserve of valuable minerals.  It would seem that Hong Kong has none of the things that traditionally make a community wealthy.  But Hong Kong does have two things that make up for everything that’s missing.  The first is a unique geographic position.  Hong Kong is at the crossroads of Asia and it is the commercial entrance gate to the Chinese mainland.  To take advantage of its geography, Hong Kong has built itself one of the most modern ports in the world.  It handles over ten million containers each year, which makes it the busiest container port in the world.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The second thing that Hong Kong has is a population with a cultural tradition that loves “efficiency.”  Efficiency is basic to the Chinese character and it comes out in everything that is a basic part of Chinese life.

For thousands of years the Chinese have cooked in woks.  A wok is easy to make. Easy to store.  Easy to use, and most important, it is very efficient in terms of fuel.  Most Chinese recipes are masterpieces of gastronomic efficiency.  Lots of well-balanced nutrients for the least cost.

The Chinese junk is an amazing example of efficient nautical design.  Easy to build, it carries a large amount of cargo space and makes almost perfect use of the local winds.  The Chinese also invented the magnetic compass, which was certainly a great step toward more efficient travel.

And with all due respect to Mr. Gutenberg and his bible, the Chinese had movable type centuries before the Europeans.  They also invented paper, which gave them the original prize for efficient information storage.  And next time you open up your wallet, please bear in mind that it was the Chinese who came up with the idea of paper money.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  So, Hong Kong has a harbor that’s ideally placed for trade and a population with a five thousand year old history of efficiency.  What do you make with those two ingredients?  Well, you end up with an economy based on bringing something into Hong Kong, efficiently changing it to make it more valuable and then shipping it out of Hong Kong at a price that makes money.

Made-to-measure clothing is an important part of Hong Kong’s tourist economy.  A shirt or suit made to your own precise measurements is at the top of the shopping list for many tourists.  And there are over four thousand tailors in Hong Kong ready to meet the demand.

The most famous tailor in Hong Kong is Sam’s.  He certainly has the most famous clientele.  Sam feels that a good tailor must never talk about his clients.  For Sam, inside leg length is a privileged communication and I agree.  But if you look around the walls of his shop you can get a pretty good idea of the people Sam keeps in stitches.

BURT WOLF:  Now, when I’m looking for a suit and I want to be able to tell a really good suit from a not so good suit, what do I look for?

MANU “SAM” MELWANI:  Well, you look at the first -- you look at the quality of the fabric you buy from.  After buying the quality of fabric, you look at then, the stitching.

BURT WOLF:  The stitching... how can I tell good stitching?

MANU “SAM” MELWANI:  Well, before you go for the quality, you look at it, right, if it doesn’t fit you, it’s not worth at all to look at it...


BURT WOLF:  Okay, it has to fit right when I first put it on...

MANU “SAM” MELWANI:  First look at it according to your shoulder, according to your neck, if the suit is away  from the collar it’s just not worth it at all.  Once the suit fits you...

BURT WOLF:  Right...

MANU “SAM” MELWANI:  ...then you go for the hand stitching, buttonholes, all these, like this...

BURT WOLF:  Real buttonholes...

MANU “SAM” MELWANI:  That’s right...

BURT WOLF:  Okay, hand stitching...

MANU “SAM” MELWANI:  All the way....

BURT WOLF:  Oh, stitching all the way down in here....

MANU “SAM” MELWANI:  To hold the shape of the lapels so it doesn’t go off...

BURT WOLF:  I never noticed that.  So there’s stitching in here to hold the shape of the lapel.

MANU “SAM” MELWANI:  So that it doesn’t wear out.

BURT WOLF:  Oh, that’s very nice...the jacket is perfect.  I will try on the pants now, but I’ll do that privately.

Perhaps most important these days in terms of Hong Kong’s economy are the financial services.  In most cases these are Western commercial concepts that the people of Hong Kong have adapted for the needs of an Asian population.  Information services, investment banking, insurance, accounting.  And they are constantly developing new and more efficient ways of doing business.

The Chinese words Hong Kong mean “Fragrant Harbor,” which is a perfect description of the place.  No matter what happens to it, it always comes up smelling like a rose.  Hong Kong has also been described as being like a rubber ball -- the harder you throw it, the higher it bounces.  And it appears that at the heart of Hong Kong’s ability to bounce back are two things: a population that can easily adapt to change and a government that supports business as the world changes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The government believes that if someone wants to start a business he’ll probably  know enough about that business to make the venture a modest success.  And it is their job to do everything they can to help that person become successful.  They also believe that everybody is going to pay their taxes and they believe that for two reasons.  First of all, they feel that people are basically honest.  And second, they feel that they’ve kept the taxes here in Hong Kong so low, that it costs more to cheat them than to pay them.

Because Hong Kong has been faced with an extraordinary level of change, it has mastered the techniques of transition.  The key word is flexibility.  They know when it’s time to make a shift.  If you have a small factory that is making typewriter keyboards and typewriters are no longer a growing business, but computers are, it’s time to shift to computer keyboards.  No problem.  No rigidity.  They’ll make the change tonight.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  During the 1970s when China introduced the series of economic reforms, Hong Kong money started moving into the mainland, and Hong Kong itself began to lose some of its manufacturing jobs.  Now, in most parts of the world that would have led to a recession.  But not here.  Hong Kong just shifted gears and went from an economy based primarily on manufacturing to an economy  based primarily on services.  Particularly services in banking and insurance.  Hong Kong also became a point of entry for foreign corporations who wanted to do business in China.

The whole town is constantly involved in finding a dynamic state of balance, literally from minute to minute.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Everyone has come to realize that change by itself is really nothing to fear, and that more often than not change just creates new opportunities for profit.

For over one hundred and fifty years Hong Kong was a commercial outpost of England.  A center for entrepreneurial operations.  A hotbed of capitalist activity.  And since the middle of the twentieth century, all this free enterprise has been going on right in front of the world’s largest communist government.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  On the surface, it would appear that mainland China and Hong Kong were in conflict -- capitalism versus communism.  But that is a western view, and Hong Kong and China are in the east.  The world of the Taoist.  The masters of flexibility and integration -- the combiners of opposites.

Hong Kong has become the commercial window on the world for the mainland, and Beijing likes to keep that window open with the money blowing in.  Hong Kong is Beijing’s banker.  The Hong Kong investment community is China’s main source of foreign currency, currency that is very much needed.  On the other side of the coin, the Bank of China in Hong Kong is the second largest bank in the city and one of the three banks that issue Hong Kong’s money.  A capitalist city bringing money to a communist country and a bank owned by the communist country issuing currency for the capitalists.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Inscrutable -- like so many marriages that work.  And Hong Kong works for the mainland in other ways.  Hong Kong is Beijing’s communications center, source of investor funds and technical know-how, gateway for tourism, and trade base from which the mainland deals with the rest of the world.  It is the school where Beijing is learning about free enterprise and putting those lessons to practice in the provinces that are nearest to Hong Kong.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The majority of the business community in Hong Kong believe that China and a number of other Asian countries are developing in ways that will transfer the economic centers of the world from Europe and America to Asia.  They also believe that Hong Kong will become the transfer agent.

In 1841, England took Hong Kong from the Chinese Emperor by force.  In 1982 British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went to Beijing to discuss transferring control of Hong Kong back to China.  Suddenly the residents of Hong Kong were confronted with a future in which Hong Kong would lose its status as a British colony and be handed over to a communist government.

And a lot of people got very nervous.  The stock market took a dive.  Highly inflated property values dropped.  Capital flew out of town.  Large corporations began thinking about moving their headquarters.  And thousands of people decided that they were going to immigrate to some other country.  At one point, Hong Kong was losing over 40,000 people a year.  But that has all changed.  Hong Kong, as it has done for decades, quickly lost interest in panic and settled down for a closer look at what was really happening.

The Buddhists believe that in every event there is a Teaching, and if you understand the Teaching, the event, no matter how negative it may look on the surface, will eventually produce something good for you.  So the question for Hong Kong became... what is the Teaching?

Guy Lam is a mechanical engineer.  But he is also one of the most respected attorneys in Hong Kong.  His specialty is international law.  Guy was born in China and raised in Hong Kong, but when he wanted an education, he left.

GUY LAM:  Well, I was eighteen, and I was at an age of going to university.  And going to school in the colonial system, any higher education is a very difficult task.  The British make sure there are only so few spaces at the university level.  So it is quite common for people between the age of eighteen after secondary school to go to university elsewhere, such as U.K., U.S., and Canada.  And I went in Canada.

BURT WOLF:  During the early ‘80s when it became apparent that Hong Kong was going to be given back to the Chinese Communists, lots of people left.  Why did they do that?

GUY LAM:  The fear of Communism.  It was a nightmare in China, I would say, in the last century or so.  So, with that as a background, it’s understandable many Hong Kong Chinese would not want to be part of nightmare; and therefore, they left.

BURT WOLF:  You came back.  Why?

GUY LAM:  We realized the nightmare was not so much of a nightmare after all.  It was actually an opportunity.  With China opening up -- which was never expected -- with Hong Kong prospering from the opening up of China, I would say Hong Kong is more like California during eighteenth century, nineteenth century when it first joined the U.S.  The “Wild West”?  Now this is the “Wild East.”  The land of opportunities.

BURT WOLF:  What role do you think Hong Kong is going to play in the future?

GUY LAM:  Well, I think Hong Kong will inevitably be the widow to the world for China, and in fact is has been, even though it’s not part of China yet, it has served as such purpose.  If you compare the industrialization of China in the last ten, twenty years to that of the U.S.S.R., China prospered, and U.S.S.R. -- the former U.S.S.R., now Russia -- went down the pipes.  The difference, one major difference, is Hong Kong.  China has Hong Kong to bring to it the finance expertise, legal expertise, the capital, whereas Russia has none.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Over ten percent of the people who left Hong Kong have returned, and each year there is a net inflow of over 100,000 people a year.  In the end it was a pretty traditional teaching for the people of Hong Kong -- in this case, change was merely a shifting of the earth that allowed people to find gold in a new place.

In spite of being part of China, Hong Kong looks very western, and in many ways it is.  But when you get up close it becomes quite clear... this is a Chinese culture, outside and in.  And everything that is traditionally Chinese is very important to the people of Hong Kong.

Take for example the practice of fung shui.  Fung shui is a Chinese Buddhist art that adjusts a building so it stands in proper relationship to the spirit force of life called the Ch’i.  The man in charge of making the adjustment is called a geomancer.  This is Raymond Lo, who’s one of the master geomancers of Hong Kong.

RAYMOND LO:  Geomancy is a study of how the environment is affecting the well-being of people.  So, basically, we talk about how the landscape will generate a kind of prosperous energy and then we have to measure directions and we also have to measure time.  So, in fact, it’s a science which talks about how you can prosper at a particular time and space dimension. 

BURT WOLF:  How do you do it?

RAYMOND LO:  Basically, you have to use a very important tool.  So this is the ancient Chinese compass.  So because we need to measure direction accurately we have to apply this instrument.  So it’s not much different from an ordinary compass.  You see that it’s a magnetic needle pointing north / south.  But it has got a lot of information which tells you the implication of different directions or you can say what kind of Ch’i, the word Ch’i is very fashionable, so all the information there tells us that if you measure a building facing this direction, what are the implications?  What is the implication of that tree in relation to that building, the implication of that road, in relation to that building.

The Bank of China Tower has been a controversial subject in the fung shui circles in Hong Kong mainly because it was built with a lot of sharp edges.  Pointing, one of the sharp edges is believed to be pointing to the back of the Hong Kong governor’s house.  So, in Chinese fung shui principles basically we prefer very harmonious kind of shape.  Like we prefer circles, we prefer regular rectangles, and sharp edge is usually considered as a source of hostility and horror.  So there are people who consider this to be responsible for the conflicting relationship between the British government and the Chinese government since the building was there in about 1985.

BURT WOLF:  I’m going to watch out for all the pointed buildings near my house, that’s for sure.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Hong Kong’s Regent Hotel has excellent fung shui. Very early in the planning stage a geomancer was consulted.  And he pointed out that the great dragons of Kowloon who lived just up the road from here, would pass through this spot each day on the way to their bath in the harbor.  The very spot where they entered the water was where the Regent was about to be built.  And that would have been bad fung shui.  Actually, very bad fung shui.

The solution: glass.  It appears that dragons don’t mind going through glass.  They come in straight through the front doors.  There’s one door for each dragon.  Then they cross the lobby and enter the bay through forty-foot-high windows.  The geomancer also pointed out that dragons often control the flow of wealth and it would be a good idea to place the check-in area and the cashier alongside the dragons’ path.  The owners of the hotel did just that and the hotel has been successful ever since.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And the geomancers do pretty well too.  They get paid about two dollars per square foot when they’re working on a private apartment and a major commercial building can bring in a fee of well over one-hundred thousand dollars.  The moral of the story is clear -- a clean dragon is a happy dragon.  And good fung shui can help you clean up.

And if you would like to clean up your plate, the Regent Hong Kong can help you with that, too.  Their Shanghai Club restaurant is one of the most well-respected and romantic spots in town.  Today, Chef Cheung Kam Chuen is going to prepare a dish of Fish with Eggplant.

The wok is heated; in go two cups’ worth of eggplant, cut into strips.  Thirty seconds of cooking and the eggplant is drained.  Fresh oil goes in, then a filet of grouper that has been cut into sticks that are an inch square and about three inches long.  They were dipped in beaten egg and then rolled in cornstarch prior to their arrival in the wok.  They stir-fry for a minute; the wok is cleaned and reheated.  Then in goes some garlic, ginger, red chili pepper and chili sauce.  Hot stuff!  The fish comes back, the eggplant returns, a half-tablespoon of sesame oil goes in, plus a half-tablespoon of soy sauce.  A little stirring, followed by a teaspoon of cornstarch that has been dissolved in water.  Then it’s into a serving bowl with a garnish of cilantro and scallions.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  That’s a brief look at some of the stories that make Hong Kong the unique place that it is.  But what happened to Captain Charles Elliot of the British Navy, where this story began?  The man who took Hong Kong from the Chinese emperor in 1841 and had the original vision of this place as a commercial center?  What happened to Captain Charles?  Well... the Lords in London didn’t think that he had made such a good deal with the Chinese.  They wanted more.  And so they banished him to the most insignificant political post they could think of.  They made him British Consul to Texas.  Yeah, I know, it’s hard to find people who appreciate your work.  And yet,  you have stood with me during this program and that makes me feel appreciated.  And I hope you will stand with me again during our next program as we travel around the world.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Origins: The Traditions of Hong Kong - #112

Every place in the world has a series of things that give that spot a special character... and make it different from every other place.  When you look at the ORIGINS of these things, you often end up with a better appreciation of the territory -- and that makes it a lot more interesting to visit.  And sometimes, these ORIGINS help us understand why we live the way we do.

Hong Kong is a small island just off the southern coast of the Chinese mainland.  It’s a model of free enterprise.  A bustling metropolis.  And one of the world’s most important financial centers.  But it is also a focal point for traditional Chinese history and culture. Chinese music. Chinese art. Chinese theater. And Chinese food. And that unusual blend of western high-tech with Chinese high-touch has made Hong Kong the most important tourist destination in Asia.  Over ten million visitors come to Hong Kong each year.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Hong Kong is made up of four distinct areas. First of all, there is the original island of Hong Kong that the British took away from the Chinese in 1841.  And right across the harbor is Kowloon, the tip of the mainland which the British took away from the Chinese in 1860 in order to fortify the harbor and protect the British navy.  And right behind Kowloon are the New Territories and surrounding the whole place are 235 out-islands.

The north side of the island of Hong Kong, facing the mainland, is the home of the central business district.  The best way to see the place is to hop on one of the double-decker trams, sit up top and up front and see the city.  But don’t take your tram ride during the morning or evening rush hours.  The traffic is unbearable.

Next -- a ride on the funicular railway to Victoria Peak, the highest spot on Hong Kong island, from both the geographic and social viewpoints.  This is the place to live in Hong Kong.  If you are at the top of your game, you live on the top of the peak.

Hong Kong is also the home of a district called Western.  It was the first place settled by the British in the 1840s, but they soon moved out and left it to the Chinese who were moving in to get work.  Today Western is a typical, colorful, urban Chinese community.  It’s the place to see the most traditional Chinese craftsmen at work. Mahjong set makers.  Chop carvers.  Jade workers.  Fan makers.  Potters.  And eggroll bakers.  It’s also the neighborhood of the Chinese herbalists.

Ladder Street is lined with some of the city’s oldest buildings.  It’s thought to have been constructed with these broad stones in order to make it easier for men carrying people in sedan chairs to make it up and down the hill from Hollywood Road.  The sedan chairs are gone, but Hollywood Road is still here and it’s a great spot for antiques, furniture, snuff bottles, and porcelain.

WINNIE CHAN:  The road is named Hollywood is because the second governor, Sir John Davids, named this road according to have a home in England called Hollywood Tower, so he named this road Hollywood Road. 

BURT WOLF:  So it’s not about movies at all.


BURT WOLF:  It’s about somebody’s garden in England.

WINNIE CHAN:  Yes, that’s right.  When you look at the jade carving, the carving itself is very important.  Even though I give you a piece of best jade, and if you mess up with the carving, it’s not worth much.  You know, the carving itself is very important.

BURT WOLF:  It’s like cutting a diamond.

WINNIE CHAN:  Like cutting a diamond.  Burt, look at this -- a headdress.  Ladies’ one.  The blue one is the enamel, and then the pearls, and then the green one is jade beads.

BURT WOLF:  That’s gotta be for a special occasion.

WINNIE CHAN:  Yeah...Wealthy, wealthy people.

BURT WOLF:  You don’t wear that when you’re shopping.

WINNIE CHAN:  No.  And snuff bottles here.  And different carving, and colors, and all that.

BURT WOLF:  More lions.

WINNIE CHAN:  Yes, that’s right.

BURT WOLF:  Keep out those evil spirits.

WINNIE CHAN:  Oh look!  Here, a huge basket.  In olden times, the groom... the bride’s family carried the dowry to the groom’s home and they put everything in it...

BURT WOLF:  Silks and...

WINNIE CHAN:, and money, and gold, and all that.  Lunch.

BURT WOLF:  Lunch?  Did someone say lunch?

The island of Hong Kong is also the site of Wanchai, known also as the “Wanch,” and it’s home to one of Hong Kong’s great markets.


WINNIE CHAN:  Right, Burt, this is one of the oldest Chinese bakeries.  And you can see, first of all you can see all of these colored ones on the top there.  Those are all the wedding cakes.

BURT WOLF:  You give those to someone who’s having a wedding...


BURT WOLF:  ...or you get served that at a wedding?

WINNIE CHAN:  Well, give it away, it’s a sort of announcement, especially, it’s given out by the bride’s family to say that my daughter is marrying out now...

BURT WOLF:  Do the colors mean anything special?

WINNIE CHAN:  Oh, yes, these are all the lucky colors, you know, yellow is represent wealth and power; pink, basically, red is happiness, you know.  And they have very different stuffing inside.

BURT WOLF:  So if I get one of those, it’s somebody telling me that their daughter is getting married?

WINNIE CHAN:  You don’t normally get one.  You normally have a set. 

BURT WOLF:  Oh, I get a whole set...

WINNIE CHAN: Yes, yes...

BURT WOLF:  Oh, that’s very nice...

WINNIE CHAN:  Yeah...that’s right.

BURT WOLF:  Beats those little cards.

WINNIE CHAN:  Yeah, that’s right.

Hong Kong’s commitment to its Chinese heritage is expressed throughout the society.  The population continues to take part in all of the traditional Chinese holidays and follows the customs associated with paying respect to ancient gods and ancestors. This is the Man Mo Temple.  It was built in the early 1840s.

WINNIE CHAN:  First of all, we come to this very beautiful door.  And years ago when very important people would go through the door...

BURT WOLF:  Ah, so the rich and famous go through the door, the rest of us go around it.

WINNIE CHAN:  That’s right, the rest of us go around it.

BURT WOLF:  Ah ha, okay.

WINNIE CHAN:  The temple is for Man and Mo, two gods.  And the civil god controls the destiny of the civil servant.  And Mo, it’s actually marshal and we also named him the god of the war.  First of all we’re going to get some incense and then we do bison [sic], that means worship the gods. 

BURT WOLF:  Let’s get some incense.

WINNIE CHAN:  Right.  The money in the donation box and I’ll just help myself to have a pack of incense.  That’s always come in three sets, three sticks in one set.


WINNIE CHAN:  It represent the heaven, the universe and the hell.  Once you offer, you offer to God, human being and evil spirit...

BURT WOLF:  Three levels...

WINNIE CHAN:  Three levels... so come around here...

BURT WOLF:  Is there different power for the different sizes?

WINNIE CHAN:  Well, of course, the biggest one is the better one...

BURT WOLF:  Well, looks like I’m in deep trouble already....

WINNIE CHAN:  Okay, now, communication with God is a private matter.  So, you have a question, doubt in your mind, you bow and you say your prayer.  You don’t have to sing out, you just say it to yourself, and then, whatever wishes you want.  And after you finish your prayer, you can put the incense on here...

BURT WOLF:  And I bow three times?

WINNIE CHAN:  Well, uh, any, any, it’s not necessary...

BURT WOLF:  Depending on how much I have to ask....

WINNIE CHAN:  That’s right...

BURT WOLF:  Okay...

WINNIE CHAN:  Okay, I just want to show to you there are different incense about us and if some of the family, people, worshippers want to have a blessing they normally burn a bigger one.  One of these big ones last for two weeks.

BURT WOLF:  So these circular ones are incense....


BURT WOLF:  And you light the end and it slowly burns around.  For two weeks? 

WINNIE CHAN:  The big one is for two weeks, all right, and the smaller one maybe ten days and you normally write your wish, happiness, successful business, write it on the red tag underneath it, yeah...

BURT WOLF:  So that will burn there for all of those days expressing that wish for the family.

WINNIE CHAN:  That’s right.

BURT WOLF:  I’ve never seen incense like that, that’s very interesting....

WINNIE CHAN:  Yes, yes, very different, very different.  Okay, well, the last, last not the least, last things we put a bit of donation in it, and you can drum, and the bell, and that will bring us good luck.

BURT WOLF:  I put the donation into here...

WINNIE CHAN:  Right...put the donation in...

BURT WOLF:  And then I take this three times...

WINNIE CHAN:  Yeah...And the bell...

BURT WOLF:  That ought to do it!

WINNIE CHAN:  Right, you will have a fortune year coming...and then...

BURT WOLF:  That’s it?

WINNIE CHAN:  That’s right.

Across the harbor from the island of Hong Kong is Kowloon, which is on the mainland of China.  The distance is only a mile and you can cover it by car in the harbor tunnel, but the most interesting way to make the passage is on the Star Ferry.  These ferries have been running up and back on Hong Kong harbor since 1898, and these days they run every few minutes.  And at 25 cents per ride it’s one of the best transportation deals in the world.

The word Kowloon means “nine dragons.”  The folklore that goes along with the name tells the story of a boy emperor in the Sung dynasty who was forced to this tip of land by the invading Mongols.  While he lived here, he noticed that the peninsula had eight hills.   He called them the eight dragons.  An adviser to the emperor pointed out that an emperor was also a dragon and so he included himself and called the place “nine dragons,” Kowloon.

Kowloon has a land surface of only three square miles, but it’s the center of Hong Kong’s “shoppers’ paradise.”  The place to start is at the Chinese Arts and Crafts Store in Star House.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In China, tea is very important, but the equipment that the tea is made in is just as important.  Particularly the pot. 

Now this is the jade department.  Jade is very important in Chinese culture because jade is thought to have the power to lengthen your life and to keep away evil spirits.  When you’re buying jade, if you’re lucky enough to be doing that someday, you want to look for jade that has a deep green color and the color should be very even.  Here are two pieces.  Here’s a really deep green color, looks great, even.  This one is bigger, but less expensive because it doesn’t have the depth of color and it’s not even.  I guess you’ve got to assume that the deeper the color the more expensive the jade, the more evil spirits it will keep away. 

This is the department of traditional Chinese clothing, it’s ready to wear, I mean, the clothing’s ready to wear.  I’m not sure that I’m ready to wear it.  Dresses look fine --certainly would fit in any western wardrobe.  Red’s a very important color.  It means good luck.  And I think all of the women’s clothing here is nice.  The men’s clothing, it’s a little trickier.  This is a traditional men’s garment, it looks very comfortable.  I’m not exactly sure where I would wear it.  And I’m afraid that if I wore it once, it’s so recognizable, they’d know it when I wore it a second time.  They have an area where they reproduce the clothing of the emperors.  Very nice.  Only emperors were allowed to wear gold, so they wore it as often as possible.  This is actually an ensemble, you have the whole outside garment, those are the boots and the belts that go with it and the hat.  Hat’s very important, it’s a big deal emperor’s hat.  You wear it like this.  The tail in the back spins you into the wind.  If you’re an emperor it’s important to know which way the wind is blowing.  I can also wear it this way, it’s a fabulous fly-swatter during the summer or in southern countries, and, as a triple threat it works as a wonderful salad bowl which you can then move around the table with this end.  I always like multi-function things you know.

And then there’s The Golden Mile on Nathan Road.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The third area making up greater Hong Kong  is known as The New Territories, and it’s just up the peninsula from Kowloon.  And though it isn’t visited very often by tourists, its worth the half hour trip just to take a look at the nightly fish market in the small town of Sam Tung.  And finally, there are the Outlying Islands, a good place to see what this area actually has looked like for the past six thousand years.

Observers of the Hong Kong scene are quick to describe the community as addicted to commerce.  But the real addiction for the people of Hong Kong is Mahjong. Mahjong is a board game played by Chinese all over the world.  It originated during the Sung Dynasty about a thousand years ago.  In the beginning it was played with cards but these days small tiles are used.  Chinese characters are engraved on the blocks and the game is similar to gin rummy.  Get your matching suits together and get out.  Each player also has a pack of one hundred betting chips which are assigned a value by the players. Millions of dollars change hands at Hong Kong mahjong games each year.  It’s a game that is noisy, fast and, to the eyes of a westerner, a bit aggressive.  It is sometimes used to test the strength and intelligence of a newcomer to a group, a new employee, a merger partner, or a prospective bridegroom.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  I learned about Mah-Jong when I was six years old.  I have no idea why, but every Thursday night my mother and three of her friends would play Mah-Jong.  The game wasn’t particularly important to me but on Mah-Jong nights she would serve a bowl of chocolate-covered raisins, a big bowl, and that made Mah-Jong special.  Now these ladies play a far superior game to anything that went on in my mother’s house, but they only serve tea.  It’s just not the same for me.

Hong Kong is a wealthy city.  It has the world’s third-highest per capita gross national product.  It has the largest gold reserves in Asia.  It has the largest per capita ownership of Rolls Royce cars.  It also has an appetite that goes along with its assets. Hong Kong is the world’s largest importer of cognac.  It is one of the world’s leading consumers of protein.  And it has the world’s highest per capita ratio of restaurants.  In Hong Kong, there is one restaurant for every eight hundred people.  Whatever it is that you want to eat or drink, this town will get it for you.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   But when all of the fads and fashions of international gastronomy have been pushed off to the back burner where they belong, and it’s time to settle down to some good eating and drinking, Hong Kong’s heart is Chinese and Hong Kong is home to some of the best Chinese cooking in the world.

The majority of the people who live in this city are of Cantonese heritage, and Canton is a part of China with an ancient reputation for good food.  The Cantonese kitchen is based on fresh foods of high quality that are prepared in ways that preserve their original appearance and natural flavors.

Barbecued meats... minced beef and egg flower soup... crabmeat and sweet corn soup... steamed shrimp... pan-fried boneless chicken with lemon sauce... baked salted chicken... sautéed diced chicken with chili... grouper filet with a sweet corn sauce... and broccoli with crabmeat.

These are the kitchens of Hong Kong’s Regent Hotel.  The executive chef is Cheung Kam Chuen, and today he’s going to prepare a couple of traditional Cantonese recipes.  The first is a dish of chicken with asparagus and macadamia nuts.

Vegetable oil goes into a wok, and as soon as it’s hot, a cup of macadamia nuts are added and sautéed for a minute... then drained.  Next a cup of sliced asparagus is sautéed for a minute and drained.  Then a cup of sliced carrots are blanched in water -- and drained!  The wok is cleaned... fresh oil goes in... and as soon as it’s hot, a cup’s worth of chicken is cooked and drained.  The chicken is skinless and boneless, and has been cut into bite-size pieces and marinated in an egg white for ten minutes before it arrived at the wok.  The chicken returns to the wok... a few slices of scallion... some minced garlic... a teaspoon of cornstarch that has been dissolved in a little water, and a little hoi-sin sauce goes in.  Then the rest of the ingredients return to the wok, heat up, and get plated.  The chef has a plating assistant who stands by to make sure that everything sits on the plate properly.  Ahhh, what luxury.

Next, the assistant will be plating the chef’s recipe for stir-fried beef with vegetables.  A cup of water and a little sesame oil are heated in a wok.  A cup of celery slices are added.  Then a cup of carrot slices.  Thirty seconds of blanching and both ingredients are drained.  Some oil goes into the wok, followed by a cup of sliced beef.  The beef is stir-fried for a minute and then drained from the oil.  This recipe is quite draining!  Some minced ginger goes into the wok.  The beef returns, a little chopped garlic, and the vegetables return.  As soon as everything is hot, the dish is ready to serve.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   But of all the gastronomic contributions of the Cantonese, perhaps the most significant is dim sum. Dim sum translates as “a point on the heart” or “touching the heart.”  And what does the touching is a collection of small foods designed to be taken with tea.

The best way to experience this tradition is to visit a restaurant that specializes in dim sum.  This the Ocean City restaurant in the New World Center, and it is one of the world’s great presenters of dim sum.  A dim sum restaurant should be huge, well lit, packed with eaters, noisy and somewhat chaotic.  Carts carrying steam baskets and dishes of food are wheeled around the tables by women.  Each basket or dish contains a particular food.  As they move through the restaurant, they describe the food on their trolley.  The diners yell for what they want, and the servers serve.  Each dish has a specific price, and each table has a card.  Your card is stamped for each dish that you take.  At the end of the meal, the waiter adds up the stamps and you find out what your meal cost.  You can eat as much or as little as you like.  But if you want to eat dim sum at its best, it’s important to get to the restaurant early.  If the place opens at noon, try and be there about fifteen minutes before.  The food will be at its point of perfection and you will get a table for the first round of service.  The later you come in, the more limited the selection.  Dim sum is at its most magnificent on Sunday morning, when it is a traditional family meal... a gastronomic bedlam, and lots of fun.

Sunday Morning in a Hong Kong family-style restaurant is the real stuff -- authentic Chinese food in a traditional setting, which is not always easy to find in a city that is continually modernizing itself.  There is, however, at least one more bit of genuine Chinese gastronomy that you might want to experience, and that is the night market on Temple Street.  Temple Street is just off the Golden Mile of international shops on Nathan Road, and the joint starts jumpin’ about 7 PM.  The street is free of automobile traffic and lined with food shops.  The authoritative technique for selecting a shop is to head towards the one that appears to be doing the most business.  I have used this system in a number of Asian street markets with considerable success.  My total inability to speak Cantonese has not been a barrier to good eating.  I point to what I want and it gets cooked for me.  Cooked is the operative word in this relationship.  These days, eating raw food, anywhere in the world, is like playing Russian roulette.  It’s just a question of time ‘til you get hit.  Properly cooked food is usually safe food.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The offerings on Temple Street may be a bit uneven, but the experience is always interesting.  And if you have found this experience interesting, I hope you will join us next time, as we travel around the world.  I’m Burt Wolf.