Greatest Cities of the World with Griff Rhys Jones

Thursday, 6 May 2010, 9:00PM – 10:00PM on ITV1

Hong Kong

In this programme we see Hong Kong through Griff’s eyes. A complex city that is a mix of the ancient and modern, East and West, and where consumerism and spiritualism live side by side.

Over a typical 24 hours in the life of Hong Kong, Griff finds the real heart of the city and the people who live there.

Griff’s curiosity leads him to an exotic fish shop that has opened in the middle of the night to cater for a wealthy businessman’s obsession, to helping out at a bird market and discovering that Britain’s influence continues in the shape of the Boy Scout Movement.

As the working day dawns and the money markets open, so do the more traditional markets. Griff is helping Mr Chan set up his stall at the Bird Market. Keeping birds has been a hobby in China for 3,000 years, but it’s not cheap. Bird fancier Kym tells Griff he feeds his birds up to 40 grasshoppers a day, and jokes that it’s more expensive than keeping a human.

The Chinese are a superstitious people and Becky Lee explains to Griff that the number four is seen as particularly unlucky. She says: “My mum is superstitious about everything. She would never have a phone number or address or live somewhere with the number four, because four in Chinese means death.”

Becky has recently returned from living in Canada and Griff asks her if, like Hong Kong, she feels herself poised between the West and the East. She explains that because of her time in Canada she is called a banana by the people in Hong Kong – yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

The majority of tourists in Hong Kong are from mainland China and Griff joins a group on their tour bus. He explains that he cannot speak Mandarin Chinese except for a song he learnt in school. Much to their initial bemusement he starts singing; however they soon start to sing along heartily, to Griff’s relief. He explains that the song is The East is Red, an old Maoist anthem from the days of China’s Cultural Revolution, so bit of a risky choice. But he says: “In the end it was like singing some old Beatles song, just a memory from a different era.”

In Hong Kong, schoolchildren are under immense pressure to do well and Griff joins a class of children who are being taught a unique method of mental arithmetic. These children are having fun while learning and are amused by Griff’s attempts to keep up with them. One young pupil tries to explain to Griff how he works out the sums. He tells him: “In your head you see your fingers and then you will have the answer in your heart.”

Griff reflects: “A bad bout of ‘Madonna �”itis’ nearly took hold. I had to repress an urge to take him home �” he’d fix my tax returns in a second.”
Hong Kong is a ‘can do’ city and no one ‘can do’ more than Hong Kong’s tailors. Griff needs a new suit so visits Raj’s shop, where he describes the sales patter as a bit more Mumbai via LA than he was expecting, but apparently it’s common for Hong Kong tailors to be run by Indians. With the material chosen, a price agreed on and a finished suit promised to be ready in a few hours, Griff heads off for a meeting with a very British institution.

The Boy Scout movement has over 100,000 members in Hong Kong. Griff joins a troop of scouts and takes part in a good old-fashioned water fight with them.

The Scout movement has its own hotel, which Griff visits. It is in the centre of Kowloon and he describes it as “the biggest, most luxurious marble clad scout hut in the world. I hope whoever built it got a special badge for business enterprise”.

Hong Kong is a consumer driven city, it has the highest percentage of millionaires per square mile in the world, the highest ownership of Rolls Royce’s per capita, and its residents are the greatest users of mobile phones on the planet.

It may be true that you can’t take your wealth with you when you die, but in Hong Kong riff visits a large store selling perfectly made paper replicas of hundreds of items, ranging from umbrellas, cakes, cognac and even Pot Noodles, that are burnt as offerings to departed loved ones.

Despite initially being amused by the concept, Griff says: “There’s something a lot deeper here, because it’s not just about consumerism. It’s about painting a picture of a character. The things they liked, their aspirations in life, and offering it to them, there’s a lot of affection and a lot of love.”

One aspect of Chinese life that is difficult to penetrate is the family, but Griff has had an invitation to join the Chans for dinner at their weekly family get together.

There are over thirty members of the family and when Griff explains that his own extended family only get together on special occasions they clearly feel sorry for him and sing him a Chinese version of Happy Birthday to You, even though it isn’t his birthday.

Griff feels privileged to be treated with such generosity by the family and comments: “I saw something that they all must have known since childhood, that this is the security that goes hand in hand with the intimacy and loyalty that is a Chinese family.”

Many of the people Griff has met have talked about the importance of fortune and luck, and nowhere do they matter more than at the horse races.

Griff, wearing his newly made suit, heads to the Happy Valley racetrack, where he meets Casper Fownes, one of Hong Kong’s champion trainers.
Gambling on the horses is a national passion and Fownes reveals that there are eight races that evening and over 100 million US dollars will be bet on each race.

Griff describes himself as a ‘lucky gambler’ as he always loses. However with a hot tip from Casper, Griff takes a chance and bets 200 dollars on the next race.

Hong Kong has brought Griff luck; his horse wins and he says: “I have changed from an unfortunate man to a fortunate one.”

Fortune is on Griff’s mind as he reflects on his 24 hours in Hong Kong.

“I’ve been fortunate to see so many sides and faces of this city. Fortune, that’s certainly been the overwhelming preoccupation of the hearts and minds of everyone I’ve encountered. Making certain they have good fortune so they make a fortune. But I’ve not met a selfish or inward looking people. I’ve met tolerance, hospitality and warmth in this glittering neon city of dreams.”

ENDS

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