Teens of Hong Kong

hong kong map

Hong Kong, regarded as one of the safest cities in the world, sits at southern tip of China.  The 400–acre land area consists of Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and Hong Kong Island.  All three areas were part of China until 1842 when China under the Ch’ing Dynasty ceded Hong Kong Island to Great Britain.

In 1860, a second treaty ceded the Kowloon Island to Great Britain as well.  Then, in 1888, China leased the New Territories to Great Britain for 99 years.  Upon expiring of this lease on July 1, 1997, sovereignty of Hong Kong was reverted to China.

Kowloon is famous for its five-star hotels, shops, and restaurants. It rests on the side of the harbor facing Hong Kong Island.

Just beyond the ceaseless bustle of the city, and north of Kowloon is the New TerritoriesMost of Hong Kong’s manufacturing plants and farmlands are located in this area.  The Chinese university is also located here.

hong kong aerial view

An aerial view of Hong Kong with the Convention Center in the foreground


Hong Kong Island is the financial and commercial center core of Hong Kong. Two of its celebrated attractions are the 1,305 feet-high Victoria Peak and the Convention Center.  Atop the peak you get a breathtaking view of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon the New Territories and nearby islands (Aberdeen, Stanley).  On a clear day, you can see all the way to China.   The Convention Center is the epitome of Hong Kong’s technological sophistication.  The center portrays grandeur and state-of-the-art technology.  [This magnificent trade fair center comprising twin exhibition halls can hold 8,000 visitors.]



Of Hong Kong’s 7.2 million people, 96 percent is Chinese, mostly Cantonese.  The 4 percent non-Chinese include nationals from Great Britain, United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, India, and Vietnam.  About 95 percent of the population live in the urban area; the remaining 5 percent are mostly farmers and live in the rural area.



English is the predominant official language of Hong Kong, but Cantonese (Chinese) is widely spoken by the majority of the population.  With the increase in international business, other languages such as German and Japanese are finding their way into the main stream.



It is cooler and dry during the fall and winter months and can be very hot and humid in summer.  During the monsoon’s seasons, typhoons occasionally attack the area with severe winds.



Hong Kong has no President, or Prime Minister as in the United Kingdom or Chancellor as in Germany.  Instead, Hong Kong is administered by an appointed overseer by the Chinese Government.  The appointee is assisted by an executive Council and a 15 member Legislative Council.


My Visit to a High School

It was the first day of school after the holidays.  The time was 7:30 a.m. and wearing their yellow and blue uniforms, students of the Marymount Secondary School (M.S.S.) flocked into their classrooms.  The M.S.S. school, like nearly all others in Hong Kong is a day school so students get to school in buses, minibuses and private cars.


Marymount Secondary (High) School

Susan Chan was more eager than nervous.  She has come early to greet her two friends and maybe drop a gossip.  She wasn’t alone.  Many of the students had stories to tell or gossip to catch up on, but when the bell rang at 8:00 a.m. the students took to their seats and quietly waited for their teachers.  When Susan Chan’s teacher entered the room, the entire class of 42 students stood up and bowed (a standard form of greeting teachers in Hong Kong).  The students then sat down. The first lesson was Chinese Literature.  That was followed by Chinese History, Calculus, English, and Chemistry.  Each session lasted for 40 minutes and was mostly held in the same classroom, with the exception of the Chemistry class which was held at the laboratory.  In-between the five sessions was a recess (break) that lasted for twenty minutes.  Susan Chan went with her friends to the “luck shop” (snack shop) for some ice cream and cookies.  I was told that at the “luck shop” bagels and muffins are not served.  One could get ice cream, chicken wings, pastry and candies.  After the end of the fifth class, students get an hour lunch break.  Few of the students brought their own boxed lunch so most of the students visited nearby restaurants. Susan and her friends had a difficult time choosing between Japanese, American, and Chinese cuisine but they finally settled on Chinese food.  After lunch, classes went on till 3:40 p.m. That was not the end of the day for the students.  Everyday students are given homework from each class.  Often, students stayed in after school to work together on their homework.  Students who failed to finish the home work received a bad report on their report card.  Students who habitually did not finish their homework were punished harshly by asking them to repeat a whole year of school.  Susan, who was involved in the Drama Club, went to the club’s first meeting after classes.  In addition to the club activities, the school has a variety of sports teams, (swimming, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, tennis). The school also organizes picnics, concerts and field trips during the school year. Surprisingly, Hong Kong high school seniors do not have proms.

 Sample Marymount school subjects:

English Language

Chinese Language/Literature/History


Biology                    Visual Art


Economics              Music

Integrated Science

Physics                     Ethics


Information & Communications Technology

World History

Technology and Living


Government and Education

The government sees good education as the key to continuing growth of the economy.  Consequently, all children between the ages of 6 and 15 are required by law to go to school for a minimum of nine years.  Eighty-five percent of all children continue schooling for at least two more years leading to the first public examination, the Hong Kong Certificate of Education.  Students who do very well on their exam enter a university.  Most of the rest go on to vocational training schools.  Hong Kong has a total of nine universities to absorb the many keen secondary school students who see university education as a chance to becoming a future Hong Kong elite.  It is not uncommon to see the rich send their children to graduate programs in foreign universities.  In 2014, there were nearly 20,000 Hong Kong students in universities in the United States, England, Austria, and Canada. 

mss garden

At the Marymount Secondary School and other similar high schools, the government subsidizes students’ fees, leaving parents to pay US$50 per year and buy books for their wards.

UHH Med Sch

University of Hong Kong School of Medicine


During the week-days, teenagers in Hong Kong get busy with their home-work and sports practice.  They also find time to watch television and talk on the telephone. (Good for Hong Kong teenagers, telephone calls are free.  A public phone call costs one cent.)  Although Hong Kong teenagers watch less television than American teenagers, Hong Kong teenagers get a variety of programs from Great Britain, United States and of course, home-cooked Hong Kong.  On week-ends, teenagers either go to movies, visit free markets, parks and museums.  Going to a movie costs between US$3.50 and US$5.00, but admissions to the parks or museums are generally free.  Where a fee is charged, the amount is not more than ten cents.  During the summer evenings, some teenagers go to Stanley beach to barbecue with portable stereos blasting. Others go to discotheques located in the Lang Kwei Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui areas of Hong Kong because the admission fee at those two places costs less; but more importantly, the music is loud! Hong Kong teenagers love and play a lot of American music.  A survey I conducted showed their favorite musician is Michael Jackson.  Beyonce came in second; they think Beyonce is loaded with talent!



When it comes to sports, the Hong Kong teenager has a lot to choose from because the Urban Council makes recreational sports readily available to its citizens.  The most popular sports for teenagers are table tennis (commonly referred to as “ping pong”), soccer, basketball, badminton, volleyball, tennis, athletics, swimming, horse-back riding and water-skiing.  Older kids enjoy playing radio controlled cars, boat sailing and windsurfing.

mss sport



Some of the world’s wealthiest people travel to Hong Kong just to have a taste of Hong Kong food, because when it comes to Chinese cuisine, Hong Kong stands out.  There is even a ‘food street” where you see nothing but restaurants upon restaurants. There are estimated 30,000 restaurants in Hong Kong.  Of this astonishing number, one restaurant, the Ocean City Restaurant, is unique.  This huge nightclub can cater to more than 6,000 people at a time.

People in Hong Kong have traditional love for fresh vegetables, poultry, beef, pork and especially seafood.  According to a United Nations report, Hong Kong’s consumption of protein per capita is among the highest in the world. Most traditional dishes include soy beans, oyster sauce, spring onion, parsley and ginger as basic seasonings.  (The spring onion and fresh ginger are mainly used to tame the strong scent of seafood).  For you adventurers, you may try exotic Chinese food such as snake soup, shark fins, bird’s nest and frog’s legs.

In addition to the native cuisine, one could enjoy well prepared international cuisines – Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, Taiwanese, Malay, British, French, Italian, German, and Greek. Steak houses, seafood spots, pizza parlors, salad bars and even fish n’chips also abound.  But, if you do not care for any of the above, don’t worry; you can still get your Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King and of course McDonald’s.  In fact, Hong Kong has five of the ten busiest McDonald’s restaurants in the world (none in the U.S.).

When you’re invited to dinner in one of Hong Kong’s homes, try to be part of a 5,000 year-old culinary heritage.  Traditionally, the guest of honor sits facing the door directly opposite to the host.  The next most respected guest is seated to the left of the guest of honor.  The host sits near the kitchen, the most unwanted seat due to the noise from the kitchen.  (In restaurants, forget about tradition. Feel comfortable and act like you were in America).  The guest of honor naturally receives the choicest morsels and is expected to lead the way in eating.  With a fish course, considered the most auspicious, the fish head is left for the guest of honor (not as a practical joke, but the lips and eyes of the fish are considered the tastiest parts).  Chopsticks are the main cutlery of the Chinese cuisine.  There are a number of superstitions associated with chopsticks. If you find an uneven pair at your table setting, some tend to believe that you will miss a boat, plane or train when you decide to travel.  Dropping chopsticks or laying them down across each other will inevitably bring you bad luck. (Teenagers usually do not care much about these superstitions).  Other than using chopsticks, toothpicks are commonly used between courses.  The polite way to utilize a toothpick is to cover one’s mouth with one hand while using the toothpick with the other. (Try it at your leisure – you may find it fun).  Toothpicks are occasionally used for picking up dessert items such as the Chinese version of “petit fours.”

The Culture of Tea

In Hong Kong, tea is more than a drink to cure thirst.  Tea is part and parcel of the Hong Kong culture.  Tea is medicine.  Tea is history.  Tea is getting to know

one another.  Most business deals are done over tea.  According to Hong Kong folklore, the story of tea dates back more than a thousand years.  In those years,

special houses served different kinds of tea.  Today, most teahouses serve snack foods and desserts.  A common favorite snack food that goes well with tea is “dim sum.”  The “dim sum” consists of 60 or more different selections of small steamed or fried dumplings, burns and cakes.  Dim Sum is commonly offered in heated carts that are pushed around in the restaurant.  You can stop the cart at anytime to make your selection.  On Sundays, families get together for dim sum, much like a brunch on a Sunday in America.

city university hong kong



Medical Services are provided free or at only a nominal charge in certain cases. The Department of Health is the health authority and advisor to the government on all matters relating to health.  The Department offers a wide range of services that promote good health and prevention of diseases.  It’s no coincidence that Hong Kong has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, and one of the longest life expectancies anywhere: 80 for females (USA: 78) and 75 for males (USA: 72).



It has been a major objective for the Hong Kong government to house all those who need homes.  Presently, 53 per cent of households own their home and another 37 per cent live is subsidized public rental housing.  The housing estates for the lower income group are comfortable and well-designed in a pleasant landscaped environment.  They are also provided with a wide range of facilities, such as schools, shopping complexes, welfare centers, community halls, children’s playgrounds, sports facilities and transportation.

Of interest, the cost of an apartment from the private sector is about the same as in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago or Los Angeles.



In olden times, Hong Kong commanded “no respect” as far as business was concerned.  In fact, the Chinese thought of Hong Kong as a “barren rock”, an area of little significance.  Today, Hong Kong has transformed itself into a dazzling metropolis of gleaming high-rise commercial and residential buildings, fashionable shops and deluxe hotels that line the waterfront of the harbor.

Hong Kong is the world’s fourth most important financial center after New York, London, and Shanghai. It has 4 stock exchanges and more than 70 of the world’s top 100 banks.  Two of the banks are particularly impressive and worth mentioning – The Bank of China building which cost US$1 billion and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank headquarters which cost a cool US$6 billion.  What changed Hong Kong’s image and success is partially due to the famed Victoria harbor.  As a free port, the Government collects no import duties on goods brought into the country.  Because of this laisser-faire policy, many products are brought in and sold more cheaply, or are re-shipped to other parts of the world. The other reason behind the impressive change is the ingenuity, hard-work, determination and competitive spirit of the people.



One cannot fully talk about business in Hong Kong and not talk about the hotels because in Hong Kong the hotel industry is a very important cog in the wheel of business.  (All the international chains of hotels from Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Intercontinental, Hilton, Grand Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott, Mandarin to Shangri-La are represented).  Hong Kong boasts of the best five-star hotels in the world.  Not only that, two of the world’s three top hotels are in Hong Kong.  The question is, what makes a good hotel a great one?  An experienced hotel executive answered simply, “impeccable service.”  And that’s exactly what you get from hotels in Hong Kong.  There is serenity and comfort of the surroundings.  The rooms are luxurious and elegant.  The staff is trained to pamper you around the clock.  Some hotels even instruct their staff to iron the crease of the newspaper before they give it to their guests so that no word could be lost.  Yet, other hotels will send a staff to meet you at the airport with your name printed in a shining mahogany frame.  You’re then escorted into a Mercedes Benz or a Rolls Royce,

depending on how deep your pocket is, and whisked to your hotel.  If your pocket is deep enough, you’ll have your own private elevator and your check-in will be done in your suite after you’ve been presented with a bouquet of lovely flowers, not to mention a customized stationery done for you with the

hotel’s address.  (Cheer up, teens! If you study hard, go to a top college and create your own company or work hard and climb to a top position in a good corporation, you will also enjoy the same goodies.) 

peninsula hotel The Peninsula Hotel has 18 Rolls Royce cars to serve guests

Hong Kong also offers accommodation in 3-star hotels, hostels and guest houses such as Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A.  They are all kept very clean!



When it comes to shopping, this mad-shopping city stands out and Nathan Road on the Kowloon side is the place – call it a shopping paradise!  Here, electronic items flash, blare and compute faster than anything you can imagine.  Stroll past the many shops and you will get bargains in songbirds, electronics, shoes, cameras, cotton and silk fabrics, and fashions of every style and price.  Other bargain areas are the Ocean terminal, Causeway Bay and the bustling Stanley Market.  At Stanley, alleys lined with stalls are crammed with bargain factory overruns imaginable from jeans, leather to silk.  Then, there is Radio City, a popular “hang-out” for teenagers.  This high rise building sells reasonably priced electronic goods and musical instruments.

Hey, hold it!  Don’t think the rich are left out.  Hong Kong is host to high-end, luxury international boutiques and four fashionable Japanese department stores.  The Central, an enclave for deep pocketers shopping area, has 100 swankiest boutiques/emporiums ranging from Cartier, Armani, Ungaro, Chanel, Fendi, Gucci, Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Zara, Prada to Ferragamo.



In Hong Kong, you’ll notice two types of names – the traditional and the British influenced.  Naming a child in Hong Kong is not as simple as in the United States. The Cantonese must have a name outside of the family name.  That name has to be carefully thought out, analyzed, and if I may add, dissected by an older member of the family who is more aware of all the nuances in a name.  Yes, the HongKongners believe there is something in a name, so two young people with the same family name would not think of getting dating. It is a taboo!  One thing that is also different from the American way is that the given name is always written after the family name.



Birthdays are a complex thing in Hong Kong.  A HongKongner might tell you that he or she has three different birthdays (the Lunar Birthday, the Solar Birthday and the more conventional one) and two different ages.  By tradition, one’s age is reckoned not from the date of birth, but the assumed date of conception – and at birth everyone is officially one year old.  Again, all Chinese people theoretically celebrate their birthday on the same day.  The seventh day of the Chinese New Year is “Everyone’s Birthday”.  As you might compute, anyone born on Chinese New Year’s Eve is therefore 2 years old after eight days of Life!



Many superstitions ideas and traditions that date back into “long, long, long” time ago are still alive in all HongKongners lifestyle.  It is fascinating for a visitor to observe how the people have absorbed the customs and cultures of the past and present without any headache.

Every society has lucky numbers, but the Cantonese almost live by them. Virtually every number has a special meaning, derived from the word association its sound creates.  To the HongKongners, the number 3 sounds like “life”, the much-loved number 8 represents “prosperity”, and 9 is “eternity”.  The least favored number is 4, because it sounds like the word for “death”.  The Government exploits the superstition about numbers for a good cause when it auctions lucky-numbered car registration plates every year to raise millions of dollars for charity.  One rich person paid US$641,000 for the number 8.  Even telephone and fax numbers are “lucky” and subscribers are delighted if set given number includes at least one auspicious 8.

Even the international hotel groups adjust their pricing policy to suit Hong Kong belief.  Don’t be surprised when you visit Hong Kong to see the number 8 in the room rate or the menu charge.  Can you guess why the Bank of China building was formally opened on August 8, 1988?



Despite its state of the art metropolis and hi-tech sophistication, Hong Kong takes great pride and joy in its observance and celebration of the many Chinese festivals held throughout the year.  Asked why the people celebrate so many festivals, a business executive replied, “They serve a purpose.  The festivals bring us together as one people with a common past and a common future.” Some festivals are so widely observed that everyone is granted a public holiday. Most of the festivals are colorful, and sometimes involve elaborate processions, with lion and dragon dances and Chinese opera performances.  The Lunar New Year is by far the most important of all Chinese celebrations and marks the beginning of the new lunar circle and the arrival of spring.  The eve of the Lunar New Year is the busiest and most festive day of the year.  Before the New Year arrives, each home conducts a major clean up.  (This important function symbolizes “getting rid of all unluckiness from the house.”  Another subtle reason is because during the first three days of the New Year, clean-up work is forbidden.)  At night, the entire family gets together for a re-union dinner.  Like Christmas for Westerners, the re-union dinner brings family members from all over the world back to Hong Kong.  That signifies harmony, unity and togetherness.

Even the food served has its symbolic meaning.  Abalone signifies (abundance), bean sprouts (prosperity), oysters (good business), fish (surplus).

After the dinner, many homes play games to “make noise.”  An old Chinese myth tells of a monster which attacks villages on New Year’s Eve.  To scare the

monster away, the people should make as much noise as possible.  Though fireworks are banned in Hong Kong, on this special day, the Government puts up fireworks display partly to create the needed noise and partly to entertain the people.  Lion dances are also performed to scare the monster.  After the performances, many young people visit flower markets whilst the older people visit traditional temples.  On New Year’s Day, families visit relatives.  The standard greeting on this special day is, “Kung He Fat Choy,” (Wishing You Fortune and Luck).  On the second day, families gather again to “open the year”.  It is mandatory that on the third day families stay home to avoid getting into an argument outside.  (A superstition!)  The rest of the holiday is given over to visiting families and relatives.  Some people may return to work on the fourth day. Others go back on the fifth day.


Getting to Hong Kong from the United States 

Going to one of the most beautiful cities in the world?  Well, you can fly from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago to Hong Kong on Delta, American, Thai Airways, Japan Airlines, or Korean Airlines making a stop in Tokyo, Seoul or Bangkok.  If you want a direct flight, however, you’ll have to choose

between United Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong’s home airline).

A flight originating from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Hong Kong, a distance of 6,900 miles may take between 14 to 16 hours (non-stop) depending on the wind speed.  When you choose New York as your gateway to Hong Kong, a distance of approximately 8,000 miles, your flight will take no less than 18 hours with one stop in London, United Kingdom; Frankfurt, Germany; Seoul, South Korea; or Tokyo, Japan depending on which airline you choose.

I left New York Saturday on a Singapore Airlines flight.  It was a long flight, but Singapore Airlines made the flight lovely by presenting us with three good movies and plenty of meals.  I also helped myself by doing a light exercise in the aisle to lessen the fatigue.  Finally, after 17 hours in the air, the pilot brought the huge Airbus A-380 to the ground and to the applause of the 500 passengers.  It was Monday in Hong Kong, but Sunday in the United States. (The time difference between New York and Hong Kong is 13 hours.  In simple terms, when American teenagers are getting ready to go to school in the morning, Hong Kong teenagers are back from school and eating dinner or doing their homework.)



Well, teens, I returned from Hong Kong with an enhanced vision.

Hong Kong is exotic, ancient and ultra-modern.

The customary lifestyle and the contemporary co-exist in harmony.

The landscape is beautiful; the scenery is awesome!

The excitement and camaraderie of the people outshine the sun.

Hong Kong’s ambiance places visitors under hypnotic trances of beauty, excitement and lots of fun.

The fun of having to pay very little for public transportation.

The fun of having been pampered by top hotel staff.

The fun offered by the open-air markets and side-walk vendors.

The thrill of gliding up Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram.

The thrill of watching teenagers take education very seriously.

The thrill of watching teenagers play radio-controlled boats sailing.

Or the thrill of watching teenagers play pin-pong with alacrity.

The thrill of watching the elderly do “tai chi” (the routine of bending and stretching) every morning.  The food was delicious!

But, what impressed me the most was the hard-work , efficiency and entrepreneur spirit of the people.  A common Hong Kong joke is that, “If you can’t find what you want or need, somebody can get it for you the next business day.”  Indeed, capitalism may have been conceived in the United States, born in Japan, but there is no doubt it is in Hong Kong that Capitalism learned to walk and run!

Hong Kong Fact Sheet


7.2 Million

Ethnic Groups

Chinese (94%); Others (6%)

Official Languages


Currency (Hong Kong Dollar) HK$7.7


Number of Universities


University Enrollment


Public Hospitals


Public Libraries


Basketball Courts


Volleyball Courts


Jogging Tracks




Children’s Playground


Gardens (Large)


Hong Kong has largest number of Mercedes Benz outside of Germany.

Hong Kong has world’s highest per capita usership of cellular phones.

Hong Kong has 5 of the world’s 10 busiest McDonald’s.

Hong Kong women are the longest living demographic group in the world.

Chinese Language/Literature/History

Gardens (Large)