Upon reflection, it is true. Our stomachs conspired to design another trip. Sometimes it seems that our gastrointestinal systems are perfectly capable of planning a trip on their own. We’re just along for the ride. Before long our stomachs may be applying for their own frequent flyer accounts.
This time, our stomachs took us to Hong Kong. There are many valid reasons to go to Hong Kong. Some go for the history. Others go for the urban intensity. And I imagine some might fly to Hong Kong for the culture shock. But for us, we’d pack ourselves into a humming box for 15 hours of flight time to simply to eat well.
Hong Kong is now formally part of the People’s Republic of China as a Special Administration Region or SAR. But it wasn’t always that way. Hong Kong was ceded to the British as a concession following the first Opium War in 1841.
The history of the war is particularly interesting. Effectively the British fought the war to protect their right to be an international distributor of narcotics. At the time the British controlled the trade in opium between their colony India and China. This was an essential leg of their trading scheme. In China, the ready availability of opium predictably resulted in alarming levels of addiction amongst the people. When the Chinese moved to a zero tolerance policy on opium usage, the British trade triangle collapsed. Soon the British initiated diplomatic efforts to restore the drug trade. Inevitably these efforts failed. The First Opium War followed shortly and the British navy quickly overwhelmed the Chinese. As part of the concessions to end the war, the Chinese ceded control of Hong Kong to the British in perpetuity. In modern times, imagine if the Columbian cocaine cartels had the military clout to force the United States to end drug prohibition and took Miami and a substantial chunk of South Florida in the process. This scenario would be similar the circumstances of the First Opium War.
In 1860, after the Second Opium War, the British acquired Kowloon, the peninsula north across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island. Kowloon was also acquired “in perpetuity.” Still more land north of Kowloon, the “New Territories,” was leased for 99 years from the Qing Dynasty in 1898 via the Second Convention of Peking. When 1997 and the end of the lease approached, it became apparent that the infrastructure of the New Territories was so completely entwined with Hong Kong and Kowloon that it would be impractical to separate them. Instead of carving off the New Territories and returning them to the Chinese, the British ceded the control of the entire region to People’s Republic of China. Now Hong Kong, as the combined territories are often collectively referred to, exists as a SAR. It’s in the murky pool between self-government and full control by the central Chinese government. The British legacy to the region has been relegated to the ineffective urban planning and the negligent dental work.
But our visit to Hong Kong had absolutely nothing to do with the distribution of opium. (At least that’s what we assured the border agent on arrival. Our stomachs were doing little more than growling to defend the visit to the agent.) Nor were we in town to search out the legacy of ill-conceived street plans and God-awful teeth. We were in Hong Kong to find good eats.