Friday, November 25, 2005

Hong Kong, September 2004

I wrote this on September 22, 2004 after I arrived from a conference there. This was posted in one of my discussion groups which I just noticed today.

Some notes here about HK...

My first and last trip to HK prior to last week's was in 1998, during the PDE (UPSE) study tour. We visited then various govt. agencies and private sector offices (chamber of commerce, trade council, among others). The current airport, the HK Intl airport (Chek Lap Kok?) at Lantau island, was still under construction, so we landed at the old airport right in the city.

6 years hence and after recovering from the Asian financial crisis, it seems that my recollection of HK then was a bit hazy. Seated on the left side of the plane from Manila*, i was amazed by those plenty of clusters of tall buildings on various parts of HK and Kowloon islands, even in Lantau island. I was trying to remember if I noticed those many-many bldgs 6 years ago...

The airport is so big and modern; maybe about 6x the size of manila airport terminal 1 (NAIA). From the many gates, you take an underground tram -- comes every 3 minutes, clean, modern and fast -- to go to the main bldg. where the immigration stations and baggage claim areas are. Makes you think, no wonder why this country of 7 million people is attracting 10-12 million tourists/year, whereas the Philippines, a big country of about 85 million people on 7,000+ islands is attracting only 2 million tourists/year. The airport, a foreigner or tourist's first encounter (aside from view from the air) of any country tells you the level of economic development and discipline a country has attained. Oh well...

The road infrastructure is impressive. Wide, clear expressways from the airport to Tsing Ma bridge to the city. Zero or very little danger of rock slides cascading down debris from nearby hills down the highways -- they constructed tall and sturdy cement terraces on those hills along the roads. In addition, there are rock catchment structures above some of those terraces.

Tsing Ma bridge -- at 2.2 kms. long, is reputed to be the world's longest road-rail suspension bridge. I'm wondering, the road-rail suspension bridge between Copenhagen/Denmark and Malmo/Sweden seems to be longer than Tsing Ma bridge, more than 4 kms. if I remember it right... Anyway, this HK bridge is quite impressive too. HK is really a 1st world economy/country.

The city's skyscrapers -- awww! We stayed at Gold Coast Hotel, Kowloon island, quite a distance from HK island. When we reached HK city, I remember I had a stiff neck looking up those tall bldgs. of Chicago and NY. Who's got more skyscrapers, HK or Chicago or NY? Must be HK. The Intl. Finance Center (IFC), HK's tallest bldg., is new to my eyes. It wasn't there in 1998, right?

There are still plenty of tall bldgs. being constructed all over the economy -- HK, Kowloon, Lantau, other islands. And when they make buildings, they don't build 1 or 2 structures: 5, 8, 10 buildings of same architectural design per project. So if the leftists and militants, the politicians and state bureaucrats in the Phils. think the Ayalas and Gokongweis and other local real estate developers are very rich for building high glass towers and hence must be heavily taxed and heavily regulated, they really got backward ideas. Me thinks that instead of heavily taxing and regulating those developers for building tall structures, government should cut taxes and encourage more investors in this field if only to expand the supply of residential and office condos, to spur competiton by attracting other firms, local and foreign, to slug it out with the Ayalas and other local builders. End result will be more affordable housing and office units for more households and entrepreneurs. No amount of rent-control, price-control, rich-control, remote-control (ehek) can beat competition in beating down prices and supply problem.

The bars and night life... ahh, one of my favorite topics, he he he.
After dinner at The Peak -- a cluster of buildings and restaurants on top of a mountain overlooking most of the tall skycrapers of the city -- a Canadian-Hong Konger friend, Andrew Work, asked the participants who would be interested to stay and survey the city's night life landscape. Of course, the not-yet-retired-party-animal Oplas is among those who raised their hands. We ended up with 9 persons from 9 countries (a Canadian-Hong Konger, an American, Pakistani, Filipino, Hong Konger, Russian, Georgian, Lithuanian, and British -- see, globalization is beautiful and colorful). A new Filipina friend, an editor for a local newspaper catering to OFWs in HK who interviewed us earlier re. economic issues in the Phils., also joined us. So, 10 souls walked down the bars of HK. Andrew by the way, is the head of the Lion Rock Institute, a new free-marketer think tank in HK.

We first went to a strip of bars populated by mostly white people, on D.Aguilar St. First stop was a bar with Canadian flags outside; the crowd was mostly white people, the owner/manager is a HKer, but the waiters were Filipinos, alright! We asked the Pinoy waiters if they can play "My Sharona", "Jump" (by Van Halen), "Dancing Queen" (requested by our female friends), etc. In short, it was dance time!

Got out after a few bottles of beer and several ounces of sweat whisked away, we hailed 3 cabs, moved to another place, forgot the name of the disrict. 2nd stop was a bar with live band and much thicker crowd. Lots of disco and pop-rock songs belted out by the band, the small dance floor was rocking with several souls squeezing their bodies closer to their dancing buddies so they wont bump the other groups/partners. Later, the band belted out AC/DC's (Australian band) hard rock song, "Highway to Hell". Wham! It was the Lithuanian-Filipino duo which attracted the lead singer's attention and gave us the microphone! Man, I tell you, it was one great performance by this frustrated rock singers duo, he he he. Alright! Yeebbaa! Our Lithuanian friend's name by the way is Ugnius Trumpa, president of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute.

Third and final stop was a bar equally full-packed as the previous one. But here, the band was all-Filipino, the waitresses were Filipinas. My companions were amazed how the band could play various types of music -- rap, disco, pop-rock, heavy rock, etc. -- and really singing them well. Of course I bragged, "Oh, many many good bands like them in Manila", he he he. Another proof that the Phils. got good comparative advantage in the services sector.

Comparative price of beer... for similar bars with good and lively music background or with live bands, price of beer in makati (greenbelt), libis (eastwood) and malate (adriatico strip) is around P80/bottle. In HK, it was around P350/bottle, mahal! But then again, HK is one of the most expensive cities in the world, kaya enjoy na lang sa sayaw, hinay-hinay sa beer :-)

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