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Hong Kong

I'm sitting in a room no bigger than any typical residential bedroom space, filled, floor to ceiling, with the most striking replicas of modern fashion. My mother and her friend since childhood, Auntie Wong, are haggling with the caretaker of this counterfeit haven over the price of a piece of luggage. It seems as if the matriarchs are winning, as the numbers the two are shouting at the young entrepreneur are coming closer and closer together. Beside me, a column of shelves hold just about every imaginable high-priced watch known to man-all fakes. We shopped like this on two other occasions on this, my fourth trip, to one of my favorite destinations in the world, Hong Kong.

Officially known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, Hong Kong had been ruled by the British for 150 years until the United Kingdom's lease expired in 1997, thus returning it to China. China had agreed to a "one nation, two systems agreement," leaving Hong Kong free to continue on as a capitalist democracy. But the agreement is hardly a sure thing. On my visit, citizens who fear policy changes may eventually destroy the two-systems rule were protesting on a weekly basis.

Hong Kong, whose name translates to "fragrant harbor," is a group of islands, the largest of which is Hong Kong island, and a section of mainland China which includes the Hong Kong districts of Kowloon and the New Territories. The primary language is Cantonese, with Mandarin and English heard occasionally in the busy streets.

Compared to life in the Midwest, where I grew up, Hong Kong and its culture truly came as a shock. The heat is similar to Honolulu's, but the humidity, close to 85 percent on days when the skies threaten rain, make the heat seem much worse. The people speak very quickly, in a language I have only a household grasp of, and, by our standards, could be considered pushy or rude. But that's measuring the Hong Kong citizens by our western standards. After my second visit, I came to realize there are nearly 7 million people living in Hong Kong (the 236 islands, Kowloon and the New Territories), in an area roughly 600 inhabitable square miles, compared to O'ahu's 400. I think we would be fighting for a bit more elbow room, too, if we all had to live in Waikïkï-a denser, taller, faster Waikïkï.

In a city of millions, public transportation is the most efficient I've seen in the world. You can take the subway, also known as the MTR, ride a bus, ride the ferry across the harbor or even ride the old-fashioned streetcars, all by using a pass called the Octopus card, available in the MTR stations or even 7-Eleven (where you can use the same card for food and drinks). After all this travel, you can go to McDonald's and have a Coke or a bite to eat using your Octopus card, as well.

Much of the sight-seeing in Hong Kong is within the city with a few destinations within an hour's travel. I recommend visiting the sights on most any day but Sunday, as most of Hong Kong's citizens are out enjoying their only day off. Sight-seeing is not as extensive as the shopping and dining, but does exist. You just have to look a little harder. Incidentally, my mother and aunty were able to help me bring home nice presents for my wife, her good friend and my niece. Just don't tell them where I got them.

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,April

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