Grappling With Change and Cheesecake

Read all about it! Physical change is a constant in Hong Kong, yet 2018 was extraordinary even by the city's standards. Two new transportation projects were as overtly political as they were engineering marvels. A high-speed train linking Hong Kong to Shanghai and Beijing came with a Kowloon terminal under control of the mainland government. And a bridge physically connected the city to the mainland for the first time.

Cheesecake and Changes for the Birds in Hong Kong
Dim sum and other Cantonese classics may dominate Hong Kong's vibrant dining scene, but locals sure have embraced the Cheesecake Factory. They are having trouble managing those humungous portions, though. ... Of course, more than just food is changing in the kinetic city. The rapid pace of urban redevelopment has wiped out some of the city's most iconic streetscapes. The original Bird Market in Mong Kok is gone, replaced by the massive Langham Place mall (left). (The well-regarded Cordis Hotel is part of Langham Place and both are owned by the same company.) So is Wedding Card Street. And Holt's Wharf, which in the 1980s became the New World Centre along Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, is due for another transformation. The huge mixed-use development didn't even survive 30 years. After several years of furious demolition and redevelopment, the area is prepared to begin a new life as Victoria Dockside with a waterfront promenade, residences and a Rosewood hotel. ... Still, the pace of change does yield miraculous advancements. Like the cheap, clean and ever-expanding MTR subway network, which train fans and commuters say puts the New York, Paris and London systems to shame. (2/14/18)

Hong Kong Trains of Thought, All Bad
No nation is building its rail network faster than China. Its high-speed trains are literally the envy of the world. Business Insider rode some high-speed Chinese runs and you can't help but be impressed with the infrastructure (right) and the travel experience. Yet nothing is free of political controversy, especially if the repressive regime of China gets involved. The Communist Party has put its foot--and its metaphoric jackboot--down and will soon have a "security checkpoint" in the heart of Hong Kong, purportedly an independently run SAR (special administrative region). The Chinese government will also run parts of the terminus for the new high-speed train that will link Hong Kong to Shanghai, Beijing and dozens of intermediate mainland points. The West Kowloon station is due to open in the fall and join a new bridge across the Pearl River Delta that will physically link Hong Kong and the mainland. (6/28/18)

Hong Kong-Beijing High-Speed Rail Begins, Controversy Follows
We briefly discussed China's gigantic leap forward into high-speed trains above. Now the next link in the chain--connecting Hong Kong to the mainland network--has opened. A new train service linking the supposedly autonomous, free city-state with the Chinese capital of Beijing and many stops in between began last Sunday. And, boy, did the politics, economics and engineering stuff hit the fan. For background, perhaps it is wise to consult the South China Morning Post archive on the new project. If you want a one-off overview, read the Financial Times story on the launch or screen its video explainer (left). The eight-hour ride from Hong Kong to central Beijing failed to meet its passenger projections in the first few days. That's especially interesting because pre-launch sales seemed strong and outside observers promoted the new line as a serious competitor to China's airlines. Also controversial: the purpose-built West Kowloon Station. It opened years late and was 30 percent over budget. And because of the "co-location pre-clearance" of mainland customs, immigration and passport, the station is also the firmest physical foothold for China's government in Hong Kong. (9/28/18)

A Bridge As Umbilical Cord Tying Hong Kong to China
Major public works projects in Hong Kong these days are as much about the politics as the construction. Consider the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, an astonishing 34-mile structure that links the two island-based cities and the Chinese city on the mainland. The $20 billion project opened in October and "includes sections of bridge and artificial islands linked by a four-mile tunnel west of Hong Kong's airport." The problem? Private drivers cannot use it unless you have special permits. You'll also need a special license to drive on the mainland if you're from Hong Kong. The best overview of the bridge and the challenges of driving it come in a video (left) created by the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's English-language newspaper. Meanwhile, a shuttle company created to traverse the bridge says it has carried six million passengers since it opened. What is the point of a miraculous bridge that you can't really drive? Critics say it is all about creating a physical "umbilical cord" between the mainland and Hong Kong, which jealously guards its independence. (2/25/19) -- Joe Brancatelli

This column is Copyright © 2019 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2019 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.