For four days from today, Delhi and Mumbai will wake up to dim sum delights and showcase other cultural aspects of Hong Kong, as the chief executive of Hong Kong, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, arrives on an official visit to India. The former British colony may once have been derisively dismissed by China’s former leader Mao Zedong as “the colonial pimple on China’s backside”; but today the special administrative region of China is the world’s freest economy, a laissez faire distinction it has enjoyed for 16 years running.
Tsang’s visit, as he acknowledged with candour in an interview to me in Hong Kong late last week, is aimed at correcting Hong Kong’s historical neglect of India – and its excessive preoccupation with the economy of mainland China. Tsang said: “We have been busy and successful in the mainland China market, but now Hong Kong… must concentrate on our near neighbouring markets, and India is important in that respect. The emergence of India as an economic superpower is something that must not be overlooked by … Hong Kong.”
That sentiment – of wanting to reach out to a faraway land – was in perfect harmony with the message in the Chinese calligraphy poster (in slightly more detail here) in the stately Living Room of the Government House. It read: “Xiang niao teng qian li” (Loose translation: The bird that wants to fly can fly a thousand miles).
Tsang will meet neither the Indian President nor the Prime Minister – who are away – during this visit. I asked him if he was disappointed about this. He said, graciously, that he appreciated the fact that the two leaders needed to travel, but because he himself had only limited time, he had not been able to reschedule. In any case, he is meeting leading Indian businessmen, and “I think my mission will be achieved whether or not I see all the important politicians.”
That’s entirely in keeping with the formula that’s succeeded in Hong Kong, where politics takes back seat to the business of doing business. The economist Milton Friedman famously said: “If you want to see capitalism in action, go to Hong Kong”. And although Friedman subsequently, in 2006, criticised Tsang’s perceived abandonment of the policy of positive non-interventionism, Hong Kong works. (Even filmstar-parliamentarian Hema Malini testified to that statement, in this interaction with me when she was in Hong Kong in 2006.)
The bow-tied Tsang is a devout Catholic, and towards the end of my interview, he pulled out a photograph of Mother Teresa from his jacket, and read out a verse titled Anyway that’s attributed to the “saint of the gutters”. He confessed to a “lot of fascination” with India, and spoke glowingly about the Indian community in Hong Kong that had contributed so much to relations between them.
Over the past few years, I’ve profiled or written about some of these Indians in Hong Kong (or visitors to Hong Kong or those who are otherwise a bridge between India and Hong Kong). In the hope that they’ll hold interest, I’m sharing some of the fascinating stories from the archives.
An interaction with Hema Malini during her visit to Hong Kong.
An ‘Indian idol’ in Hong Kong: profile of QBoBo, an unlikely Indian-origin showbiz star in Hong Kong.
The cunning linguist: the best Cantonese-language stand-up comedian in Hong Kong is Vivek Mahbubani, an Indian! He’s also won the award for English-language stand-up.
All the world’s a stage for Evans Mendonca from Goa, who has taken a family tradition of entertaining to new heights in Hong Kong. Just recently, Mendonca, who works in United Airlines, also won the airlines president John Tague’s award for compassionate services beyond the call of duty.
The ‘Born-Again Indian’. A fascinating story of how Angela Wong, a Chinese woman in Hong Kong, peeped into her previous life to understand a spiritual bond with India…
Bringing tai chi to the land of yoga Cultural influences flow both ways: Swathi Iyengar, an Indian practitioner of both yoga and tai chi, straddles a wellness world that stretches from China to Chennai.
Guess who came for langar… A group of Chinese students visit a gurdwara in Hong Kong as part of a programme of social inclusion. Read about their experience.
Hare Krishna in a Chinese classroom! Prof Kenneth Valpey, an Oxford theologian, teaches Indian religious studies at a Hong Kong University and is a practising member of the Hare Krishna movement…
He ‘suits’ the world! ‘Sam Melwani’, an Indian-origin tailor in Hong Kong who trained in Savile Row, has wrapped his measuring tape around the most famous bodies on earth: from Bill Clinton to Anna Kournikova to Kylie Minogue… (Melwani is currently in India as part of the official delegation that is accompanying Donald Tsang.)
Why Mr Lee is learning Chinese in India: A Chinese-language school started up in Indian cities by N. Balakrishnan, a Hong Kong-based Indian businessman, is helping a Chinese-Indian in Mangalore reconnect with his extended family in China – one he didn’t know existed.
He’s got the power. Manohar Chugh, an Indian businessman in Hong Kong, was nominated to an exclusive electoral club that would vote Donald Tsang back to power.
The crime-busting NRI twins from Mumbai: The interesting story of Anoop and Sudhir Gidwani, two non-resident twin brothers who were once denied admissions to Mumbai schools but are now ace investigators of financial crimes in Hong Kong.
Brand India is their business Two first-generation women entrepreneurs, Jyoti Ramesh and Anita Garg, have found it pays to showcase Brand India.
Howzzat! Shurabhi Das, an Indian-origin young girl in Hong Kong, aspires to be the world’s first woman Test umpire.
The Mahatma and the masala dosa. Why a restaurant in Hong Kong pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi in a curious way: by rewarding gluttony among its patrons…
Sometimes, charity can be an eye-opener… D.K. Patel, a banker-philanthropist in Hong Kong, has elevated ‘giving’ to a fine art.