Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Bright lights, big bangs, lasers and - babies?

The biggest, the bestest, the mostest. Hong Kongers have always adored that kind of thing. Now, for the handover to Peking and the associated events, Hong Kong might as well take out a block booking in the Guinness Book of Records, since it plans to achieve so many superlatives.

First, there are the politics. Extraordinary, historic, unique, all that kind of thing. But the celebrations will attempt to be even more momentous, in their way, than the goodbye-and-hello ceremonies of the handover.

After tonight's speech-making is over, the next Big Event will get underway with the wham-bang Hong Kong 97 Spectacular tomorrow night. Twenty tonnes of fireworks - 17,000 flashes - will be fired from barges in the harbour in 10 minutes. Then comes a giant laser display, which (surprise, surprise) will use more laser equipment than has ever before been used for a one- night show. At the climax of the laser show, all the lights and neon signs of the Hong Kong waterfront are supposed to be switched off at the same time.

And so the dramas go on. One should not forget the mass karaoke bid, where organisers hope that millions of local people will break out into song at the same time. Or the biggest-ever baby-crawling contest.

Providing facilities for the handover is also a mammoth endeavour on a unique scale. Eight thousand journalists have registered for the Big Night, many times more than would normally turn up for a mere mega-summit or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Journalists did not, after all, have 13 years to start preparing for the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Hong Kong press centre has been working 24 hours a day for the past week, providing daily briefings on any subject you might want to know about, and plenty more that you might not. Hong Kong Telecom has an advertising slogan: "Hong Kong: what can be imagined, can be achieved." In Hong Kong, you cannot help feeling that this is more than just chutzpah.

None the less, as the Big Night approaches, things begin to look more traumatic. The security problems - not least because of the sensitivity of Chinese government leaders - are leading to huge delays in getting access to the areas where the most important events are taking place. Journalists are asked to turn up two hours early for even the briefest encounters with visiting politicians.

Meanwhile, in an effort to please the mainland Chinese, the number of demonstrators allowed near the convention centre where the main ceremonies will take place is minimal. China's greatest fear is that ordinary Hong Kongers might be allowed to get within egg-throwing reach of the government leaders from Peking. The Hong Kong authorities have done everything possible to avoid such embarrassment: the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, and the hated Prime Minister, Li Peng, will be brought across by boat from the airport to the convention centre, avoiding the danger of having to drive past any hostile crowds.

The People's Liberation Army will not enjoy such a luxurious option. They will be forced to pass through real Hong Kong in their armoured personnel carriers in order to reach their barracks. Tomorrow's 6am drive-through could be the occasion for yet another first: Chinese people shaking fists at PLA troops, without any immediate danger of being arrested or shot.