People adjust to Hong Kong's daily ups and downs: Teresa Poole finds that people riding the hillside escalator are confused about the row with China

SOON AFTER 10am, Hong Kong's latest engineering feat, a line of covered escalators and walkways that snakes uphill from the Central business district to the high-rise forest of Mid-levels, makes its usual daily change of direction. Built for the commuter, the escalator service runs downwards from dawn, and then switches direction in the mid- morning. Those on their way up gladly step from the pavement on to the escalator; people on their way down start walking instead.

It is a simple metaphor for the Hong Kong people's approach to life during the three and a half years remaining before sovereignty reverts to China in 1997. People are still ambitious, but resigned to having little control over decisions that will shape their future. Building an outdoor escalator link several hundred feet up the side of an urban hill crowded with sky-high beanpole apartment blocks is typical of Hong Kong's confidence. But those travelling onthe escalator know the daily change in direction, like the reversion of sovereignty to China, has its appointed hour and that their plans must take this into consideration. They also feel they have little or no say in the matter.

Hong Kong public opinion is difficult to gauge. Most people want both more democracy and smooth relations with China. An opinion poll in last weekend's Sunday Morning Post found people divided between thinking that China should make concessions, that Britain should, or expressing no opinion. Most polls show that at least 40 per cent seem to back the Governor, Chris Patten, in his move to push ahead with partial reforms, despite Chinese threats to break off talks on the colony's future; about a third are still on the fence. But the colony has become inured to the months of verbal warfare; some 60 per cent still think China will really continue to talk.

In Hardee's fast-food restaurant at the bottom of the escalator, a former employee of China Travel Service, a mainland state company in Hong Kong, said over breakfast: 'The majority of people are so confused. I think Mr Patten is doing the right thing. Maybe it's the first step to letting people know more about what has been going on in the talks.' She said she was not worried about 1997 'because I am Chinese', but at the same time said she was a supporter of Martin Lee, head of the pro-democracy United Democrats of Hong Kong, a man deemed subversive by Peking.

Working for a mainland company for 10 years had been very different to start with. 'It was difficult to learn. They have their own rules. If you love the country, you have to do certain things, they say. But it created no harm for anyone. During the next few years we all have to learn.'

Riding the escalator up the hill, one passes street stalls and alley restaurants teeming with Christmas shoppers. At the Chan Chun Lan tea company, S W Ng said he did not usually pay much attention to politics. 'People over- dramatise it'. Business in Hong Kong did not seem to be affected. 'I'm more concerned about cultural damage to our society. I think the most disturbing thing is the phoney values - like brand names, people thinking they have a better status if they have the ability to consume. You will find dignities and civilities are a rare thing among people now. So 1997 is an excuse for anything.'

Last week's verbal hostilities seemed to leave the population unruffled. 'Probably it will settle down again,' said a surveyor busy taking readings at the escalator. 'At the moment I don't worry about it. Because for the past two years they always argue all the time.' Many people say they support Mr Patten but that little can now be done about what happens after 1997. 'When you see it from outside, it looks as if Mr Patten is OK for the Hong Kong people. But after 1997, anything can change.' He voiced a common mistrust of the British: 'All this will be very good for (Mr Patten) when he goes back to Britain.' In the Sunday opinion poll, about 46 per cent thought Mr Patten was putting Britain's and his own interests first, rather than those of the colony.

As the escalator passes Hollywood Road, the antiques centre of Hong Kong, the shop windows show exquisite and expensive carved wooden furniture from China. At the next junction, the crockery shops are stacked high with cheap Chinese china. Everywhere is evidence of the profitable economic relationship between China and Hong Kong.

Living near the top of the escalator is John Walden, a former senior Hong Kong civil servant. He said: 'When Mr Patten came to Hong Kong and began to stand up for (the Hong Kong people) against Peking, they were glad. But as it has become more and more clear that he is not going to get Peking to loosen its control, many are beginning to fear that he could be doing more harm to them than good.

'I think that, although he is going to lose the battle for democracy in Hong Kong, he is helping to win the war to give Hong Kong people a higher degree of autonomy that they might have expected if Mr Patten had not drawn world attention to the fact that Hong Kong's freedoms are being threatened by the Peking regime.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions