I landed in Hong Kong in August 1980, after studying Mandarin in Taipei. My unforgettable initial impression was the final 500 metres of the landing at the old Kai Tak airport, passing over Kowloon City.
Back then Jardine House (then called Connaught Centre) was the tallest building, the MTR was a fraction of what it is today and there was very little presence from the Chinese mainland except the old Bank of China and a few Yue Hwa Chinese department stores.
I lived in Hong Kong for nine years, but I still feel exhilarated the moment I step off the plane.
Why? The culture: it has all the ‘greatest hits’ of Chinese history, but it’s also a modern, international city.
I feel it when I stand at the corner of Pedder Street and Queen’s Road Central – I can imagine when this first road built in the British colony was the waterfront.
When I look down from the Peak to the northern reaches of Hong Kong Island, I imagine it like it once was – no tall buildings, but still full of possibilities.
Riding the ferry to Macau I look out of the window and picture the junk boats that have sailed these waters since the time of the Jesuits in the late 16th century.
Or in Sham Shui Po: I’ll go to Tonkin Street and look at the Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb, buried underground for 2,000 years since the time of the Eastern Han dynasty – showing everyone that Hong Kong’s history didn’t begin with the Opium Wars.