National Geographic : 1962 Jan
National Geographic, January, 1962 them to cooks in the water-borne kitchen. But even in "timeless" Aberdeen-here was the original Heung Kong, the "Fragrant Harbor" from which the colony took its name - change lies only a little way around the corner. Colonial planners, looking desper ately for space, plan to fill the crowded upper harbor to make room for a new industrial center. On summer nights Aberdeen will be a lot gentler on the nostrils, but I wonder how much of its nighttime magic will remain. Statistics Paint a Challenging Picture Change, in fact, lies just around the cor ner for nearly every aspect of swiftly marching Hong Kong. In his spacious office in Govern ment House, the Governor, Sir Robert Black, outlined some of the problems that the colony faces in the next decade. "Our most serious problem?" he echoed my question. "The press of population." He gave me some figures. For every death in the colony last year, six babies were born. The city can look forward to a natural in crease of another million in the next ten years - without counting a single new immigrant. Forty-seven percent of Hong Kong's resi dents are under 15 years old. To educate them, the colony completes a new school every two weeks. Resettlement schemes have already provid ed homes for more than a third of a million. "Our eventual goal," said Sir Robert, "is to build adequate housing for every family earn ing less than $150 U. S. a month. That means three out of four Hong Kong families." An adequate supply of water ranks high among the problems. When I was there, the taps functioned only from 6 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. But last year, the Governor told me, the water flowed for only four hours a day during the most stringent rationing period. "We are accomplishing a good deal," he went on. "My yardstick is not that a business man tells me what a good year he has had. I judge what we are accomplishing by how far down the ladder our prosperity trickles. Are the people at the bottom getting enough to eat? I think more and more of them are." I wondered if this rising prosperity did not contain the germ of its own destruction. Wages must rise as the standard of living goes up, and manufacturing costs inevitably rise with them. What will happen when Hong Kong no longer has a plentiful supply of cheap, skillful labor? "Our job is to see that the standard of liv ing does continue to go up," Sir Robert said emphatically. "But our skills must go up with it. We shall have to produce even more-at tractive, higher-quality goods, so that people will buy from us because our products are better instead of simply cheaper." I left one question unasked: What about Red China? How long can a tiny British Crown Colony continue to exist on the very doorstep of the Chinese Peoples Republic? I knew Sir Robert would not want to com ment. But every other old China hand I asked, whether he had been in Hong Kong ten days or ten years, had an answer -and the answer was always the same: as long as Hong Kong can be useful to Red China. The chief measure of that usefulness can be chalked up in dollars and cents. Last year Communist China earned the equivalent of $180,000,000 net in hard currency, princi pally from sales of food and textiles, through Hong Kong's busy markets. "No one would kick a customer off his doorstep," a visiting American commented wryly to me, "when he pays his way that handsomely." No Firecrackers for Red Chinese I left Hong Kong as the Chinese were cele brating the arrival of the Year of the Ox in the same way their ancestors have welcomed the New Year for centuries. Debts had been paid, new clothes bought, and the old house hold gods of paper had been consigned to tiny bonfires. Doorways had been repainted and new gods pasted up. Everywhere I heard cries of "Kung hei fat choy"-"Very humbly wish you every happiness and prosperity." Hong Kong's 670 million neighbors in Red China celebrated without firecrackers; their Communist bosses had forbidden this need less luxury. But the tolerant British, with a fine feeling for tradition, set aside two days when the colony could bang off fireworks to its heart's content. The city resounded with the noise of a pitched battle as millions of firecrackers exploded in an ear-cracking day and-night barrage. To me, on the way to the airport through the din, those machine-gun bursts, rocketing from the walls of packed resettlement estates and holiday-closed textile mills, said a great deal about the happy and successful blend of West and East, of old China's skills and new Asia's energy, that is Hong Kong today.