Hong Kong sizes up the Patten family: Raymond Whitaker finds that the new governor's face fits, but the colony isn't so sure about his daughter's skirts
Friday 10 July 1992
'Peng Dingkang' is allegedly how 'Chris Patten' sounds to Cantonese- speakers. The second part of the name happens to mean 'stability and health', while the family name, Peng, is a common one in China.
No Chinese names have yet been chosen for the younger Pengs, but perhaps the one for 17-year-old Laura should be 'rebellious teenager'. She bounced down the steps at Kai Tak airport in a T-shirt, trainers and a denim microskirt which looked as if it had been sprayed on, causing observers to wonder if that was how she intended to appear at the swearing-in ceremony.
All the Pattens had smartened up, however, by the time they stepped off the Lady Maurine, the yacht which Laura is said to consider the best thing about her father's new job. Mr Patten, eschewing the white ducks and feathered hat governors used to wear, had changed into a fresh suit, although the trousers still sagged a little.
His wife, Lavender, was dressed in flaming red which matched the carpet, and the robes of Hong Kong's Chief Justice, Sir T L Yang. No doubt she had been told that red symbolises good luck for Chinese people.
Laura was now more appropriately clad in a navy suit, and the skirt only appeared to have shrunk in the wash. Her straw hat, at least a size too big, was jammed down over her eyes. One could almost hear her wailing: 'Mummy, do I have to wear this?' Her younger sister Alice, 12, in a demure blue dress with a sailor collar, was the only one to catch sight of a banner held up by two politics students from Britain, welcoming the girls to Hong Kong. 'Sometimes girls are more important than politics,' said one. They must have regretted the absence of the eldest Patten daughter, 19- year-old Kate, who was 'reported to be somewhere between Uruguay and Paraguay', according to her father.
During the solemnities in City Hall, Lavender and Alice sat mainly with their hands in their laps, but Laura's posture could only be described as a slouch. Her legs were askew and one arm dangled over the side of her chair. Given the intense interest the Hong Kong media is likely to show in all the Pattens, it may be just as well that she will be returning to England after the summer holidays to continue her A-levels in theatre and religious studies.
Today Mr Patten will visit some of the less glamorous parts of Hong Kong, such as Mong Kok, where 71-year-old Yip Mun was putting up his clothing stall. Yes, he said, he knew of the new governor's arrival, and hoped he would do something about inflation, which has been in two figures for four years.
Contrary to claims by the territory's elite that the common people do not want conflict with China, Mr Yip said Mr Patten should be tougher on such questions as human rights. 'Britain is all words and no action. They should be more like the Americans.'
Mr Yip came to Hong Kong from China half a lifetime ago. Bobo Chen, 37, who manages the Fat Kee (Good Fortune) clothing shop, was born and bred in the colony. 'I have never thought about emigration - in any case, I don't have the money.' Although she put prosperity first, she wanted more democracy.
Tina Yung, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, was smuggled out of China by her parents when she was only three. 'I am frightened about 1997,' she said. 'I definitely want to leave.' What did she think of Britain? 'At least they are better than the Chinese.'
At Wong Tai Sin Buddhist-Taoist Temple, which honours Hong Kong's 'patron saint', worshippers were shaking bundles of burning incense sticks as they prayed for the future.
Liu Tin, one of hundreds of soothsayers in the precincts - he specialises in physiognomy - said many people asked him about emigration, but he thought Mr Patten's face boded well. 'His features are balanced. That means a good foundation for Hong Kong, especially when it comes to preserving our way of life for the next 50 years, and his chin curves upwards, which signifies good fortune.' Laura, presumably, would be elaborately unimpressed.
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