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Two systems: one New Year

Hong Kong's stability and continued development as an international city since reunification in July 1997 have depended upon the successful implementation of the principle of 'One Country, Two Systems'. This framework has ensured that Hong Kong retains its distinct identity and strengths as an international business, financial, shipping and aviation centre.

Despite the ‘Two Systems’ principle, it never ceases to amaze me how very different Hong Kong (and indeed Macao) is from mainland China – perhaps never more so than during the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, holiday.

Last year, I spent the holiday in Beijing; this year I was in Hong Kong. And what a contrast there is between the two! In Beijing the streets suddenly become empty. In Hong Kong the streets are – as usual – heaving at the seams. In Hong Kong, there is a three day statutory holiday; in Beijing, seven. In Hong Kong everything works in its normal clockwork-style way. The MTR subway system runs normally, as do the buses and those famous trams…

In Beijing most things work – after a fashion – but everyone is trying to rip everyone else off at every available opportunity, while transportation – the trains and the taxis in particular – is a nightmare.

Take the taxis in Beijing, for instance. For some reason the Spring Holiday is taken as a green light by the taxi driving fraternity to try to cheat their passengers by doubling – or even tripling – fares. A request to switch on the taxi meter is greeted with derision. A journey to or from the airport that would normally cost ¥70 suddenly goes up to ¥200 or even ¥300. Try arguing the toss with the driver and you will soon find yourself left abandoned by the side of the road. Such illegal behaviour in Hong Kong would immediately get reported and the taxi driver fined heavily. So much for two systems!

But perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two territories is reflected in the love affair that the Chinese have with fireworks. In Beijing, practically from the moment dusk falls on New Year’s Eve, right through for the next few days and nights, it’s as if World War III has begun in earnest. In all directions as far as the eye can see there is a wall of fire and non stop explosions as the evil spirits are cowed into submission before being forced out of the city.

Obviously in Hong Kong they don’t have such a problem with the forces of evil as you get a 20 minute firework display in the harbour on the second night of New Year … and that’s it. Blink and you miss the display. Take too long over coffee at the end of your New Year’s celebratory meal and you could be forgiven for asking “Fireworks? What fireworks?”

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