The Rough Guide to Hong Kong & Macau

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INTRODUCTION

Hong Kong is a beguiling place to visit: a land whose aggressive capitalist instinct is tempered by an oriental concern with order and harmony. It’s true that you can still take English high tea, and that there’s horse raci

Hong Kong is a beguiling place to visit: a land whose aggressive capitalist instinct is tempered by an oriental concern with order and harmony. It’s true that you can still take English high tea, and that there’s horse racing, pubs and cocktail lounges, but for most Chinese here, life still follows a pattern that many mainland Chinese would recognize as their own: teeming markets, cramped housing and exuberant festivals. Meanwhile, 60km west across the Pearl River estuary, Macau makes Hong Kong look like the gaudy arriviste it is. In 1557, almost three hundred years before the British arrived in southern China, the Portuguese set up base here – Macau absorbing its Portuguese associations and culture in a way that Hong Kong never did with Britain.

Recent years, however, have been far from easy for Hong Kong and Macau. The enormous political upheaval that accompanied the handing back of Hong Kong to China in 1997 was followed almost immediately by the Asian economic crisis, during which the stock market and property values collapsed and unemployment reached its highest levels for 25 years. And whilst the Chinese government’s covert interference in the running of Hong Kong and Macau does not seem to worry their residents unduly, there are concerns that the local leadership lacks the experience and skills necessary to steer the faltering economy through the predicted tough times ahead. Even so, visitors will find that little has changed – superficially at least. Many practical matters, such as entry requirements, have remained unaffected, and neither Hong Kong nor Macau has lost any of its appeal.

In Hong Kong, the architecture is an engaging mix of styles, from the stunning towers of Central to the ramshackle town housing and centuries-old Chinese temples; the markets and streetlife are compelling; while the shopping – if no longer the bargain it once was – is eclectic, ranging from open-air stalls to hi-tech malls. Hong Kong is also one of the best places in the world to eat Chinese food (and a good many other cuisines besides), while the territory’s Western influence has left it a plentiful selection of bars and nightspots. If there’s a downside, it’s that commercialism and consumption tend to dominate life. Cultural matters have been less well catered for, though a superb Cultural Centre, several new and improved museums and an increasing awareness of the arts – both Chinese and Western – are beginning to change that.

Smaller and more immediately attractive than its neighbour, Macau is one of Asia’s most enjoyable spots for a short visit. Chinese life here is tempered by an almost Mediterranean influence, manifest in the ageing Catholic churches, hilltop fortresses and a grand seafront promenade. Of course, like Hong Kong, Macau is Chinese – 95 percent of its population speak Cantonese. All the temples and festivals of southern China are reproduced here, but few come to Macau to pursue them, believing – perhaps rightly – that such things are done bigger and better in Hong Kong. Instead, Macau offers alternative attractions. Eating is one of the highlights of any trip to the region: Macanese food is an exciting combination of Portuguese colonial cooking, with dishes and ingredients taken from Portugal itself, Goa, Brazil, Africa and China, washed down with cheap, imported Portuguese wine, port and brandy. And with gambling illegal in Hong Kong, except for betting on horse races, the Hong Kong Chinese look to Macau’s various casinos to satisfy their almost obsessive desire to dice with fortune. ...Continua

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