Hong Kong handover: Territory toes the party line with a big bash

For many residents, the point of the night wasn't politics - it was the chance to celebrate
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The Independent Online
As the sun rose at 5.42am over China's new Special Administrative Region, only the hardiest were left braving a torrential downpour, standing on the pavement outside the bars which had long since shut.

Clutching their beer bottles, most of them were stranded without a means to get home (as the taxi drivers in the area uniformly refused to pick up anyone who looked remotely tipsy) and had resigned themselves to watching the sun go up from their streetside vantage-point. The party was definitely over.

Several stragglers remained in the Wanchai district, which was made famous by Richard Mason's 1950s novel The World of Suzi Wong, about the kind hearted prostitute who worked on the streets around this area. The sailors of Suzi Wong's era had been replaced by expats wearing Union Jack shirts flaunting their inebriated condition to passers-by. The absence of any Hong Kongers of Chinese descent was very obvious - it would seem they had avoided the most popular areas in favour of private parties, or even watching events on TV.

Dale Chadwell, a 26-year-old British expat who has spent two years working in Hong Kong, however was still awake on the cusp of dawn. He'd spent the night dashing from one party to the next, beginning on the Peak which overlooks Victoria Harbour, then after a couple of hours on to a bar in Central before ending up at the "Reality" bar in Wanchai.

He said that it wasn't until 3 or 4 days ago that the he had fully taken on board what would be happening. "Many of the expats I was with this evening, particularly the older ones who had been here several decades, were shedding more than the odd tear as the British flag was lowered," he said. He contrasted this with the attitude taken by the Chinese community in Hong Kong, whom he said spent the evening "not quite sure whether to be happy or sad".

David, a 36-year-old from Australia however, saw the Handover purely in terms of the potential it offered for celebration. "People in Hong Kong work very hard, and now we have been presented with the opportunity to take 5 nights off. That's a heck of a lot of parties in Hong Kong terms". He had spent the evening touring the bars and clubs of the district, watching the ceremonies on whatever bar TV happened to be closest at the time. He did not see any particular relevance that the change of sovereignty had for him, so long as the new government did not interfere in any way with his life.

The only Chinese person on the streets of Wanchai was Paul, an off-duty policeman. He said he had avoided the heart of the celebrations, preferring instead to "watch and observe from the sides, and just generally soak up the atmosphere." He did not see last night as a celebration, and said the best thing would be "to wait and see what the new government decides."

The well to do however, were way above street level, with many of the better-off attending rooftop parties which gave them views of the Harbour fireworks. Midnight was celebrated in many different ways. Whilst supermodel Claudia Schiffer was finishing off her fifth and final course at midnight at a Champagne and Oysters Extravaganza, on the other side of town at the Regent Hotel a "governor" dressed in 1850s costume and a Chinese beauty were escorted across a ballroom by a pair of Sikh guards, accompanied by bagpipes.

At that point Britannia herself stepped in, adorned in a crystal studded fake fur gown and followed by flag-bearers. Then on the stroke of midnight the entire ballroom was transformed into a deft mock- up of Tiananmen Square.

Every spare inch of roof space was used for partying: on top of shopping centres, office blocks, in cafes and on junks. Revellers dressed in everything from colonial gowns of satin to Shantung silk suits. Private parties booked belly dancers, snake charmers and live bands. Caterers cashed in on the evening, and charged more than double for last night.

There were the odd few places, however, where celebrations were not quite as lively as they could have been.

Hong Kong's most famous hotel, the Peninsula, which overlooks the harbour, passed over the opportunity of a handover party, preferring instead to organise a series of dinner-dances in each of its restaurants.

Some places even refused to acknowledge the great event at all. The upmarket China Club claimed that its events were simply in celebration of the club's sixth birthday.