When I was researching Shanghai for a manuscript that’s now been put on hold, I turned to guidebooks from the periods for which I was writing. As a guidebook author myself, I find them to be somewhat telling of the times in which they take place. In Good Chinese Wife, I didn’t write much about 1990 Hong Kong, my first year there, but recently found two guidebooks from back then to compare my memories with what was written about that time.
This Frommer’s Hong Kong guidebook was the first edition and it came out in 1990. I’m sure they they didn’t win any design awards for the cover, which is a shame since Hong Kong is so visually appealing, especially back then.
What caught my eye in the Introduction was of course the upcoming Handover that would happen seven years after the book came out. The section was short, and not terribly gloom and doom. The suggested reading including the standard James Clavell (Tai Pan and Noble House), Richard Mason (The World of Suzie Wong), and John LeCarre (The Honourable Schoolboy).
The population was only 5.5 million (it’s 7.2 million now) and many of the hotels listed in this guidebook were not very new. The Ambassdor, Imperial, and Empress in TST (along with the Peninsula, Sheraton, and Regent). And on Hong Kong Island, the Hilton, Furama, Mandarin, and Victoria are listed as top hotels. Of these four, only the Mandarin is still in business now.
I knew most of the restaurants even though I didn’t go out that much. Jimmy’s Kitchen, American Restaurant, Luk Yu Teahouse, Yung Kee, Wu Kong, Spaghetti House, City Hall, Jade Garden, and the list goes on.
Trips to China occupy only two paragraphs. It really shows how times have changed. “Most visitors to the mainland join organized tours that last anywhere between one day to several weeks.” It goes on to list a couple of travel agencies, including China Travel Service. So fascinating!
Other things of note include tourist attractions like the Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park and Tiger Balm Gardens. Both are long gone.
This Bantam Travel Guide is even more compact that the Frommer’s from above. And it’s so dated!
“Where are all those seductive characters and cultural sensations that grabbed your attention in the worlds of Suzie Wong and James Clavell? Well, the truth is, most of those attractions are gone, along with $5 Ralph Lauren Polo shirts and $100 rooms at the Peninsula Hotel. Hong Kong has sold its soul for the quick fix of cash.”
“It is not a place to get in touch with yourself.”
The book has an edgy voice and spends a lot of its word count on Kai Tak Airport, which is actually fun to relive. The hotels and tourist attractions are pretty much the same as in the Frommer’s book.
There’s always something new to learn, and in this book it’s a drink called the cheongsam. I’m not a big drinker, so never came across this in Hong Kong. According to the book, all the bartenders in the big hotels knew it. I wonder if that’s still true.
This is the recipe:
white creme de menthe
Shake it and voila–the cheongsam.
According to both of these books, Hong Kong is really only good for shopping and eating with a dash of sight-seeing with a Hong Kong Tourist Authority-sponsored tour. I barely shopped back then and didn’t eat in many restaurants off campus unless my parents visited.
This is what I was doing in 1990:
Where I lived:
China in the background: