My Favorite city (and International meeting)

My Favorite city (and International meeting)

I am fortunate that my career has taken me to more than 50 countries. I am often asked for my favorite city, which one I would most like to revisit. Leaving aside my home now in USA, and my roots in England, my choices are much influenced by where I have friends (especially those with warm weather in February, beach houses and wine cellars). But, to go purely for the pleasure of being there, I would choose Hong Kong. It has the 24hour buzz of major cities like New York, but is also scenic, nestling around a beautiful bustling harbor, busy day and night, full of cheerful people, with efficient services and special food.

If you are not already familiar, here is some background. Rather than relying on my senior memory or plagiarizing Wikipedia, I offer you this edited excerpt

Hong Kong is now a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China on the eastern Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea. With over 7.5 million residents of various nationalities in a 426 sq mile territory, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the Qing Empire ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. The whole territory was transferred to China in 1997 when the lease ended. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from that of mainland China under the principle of “one country, two systems“.

Originally a sparsely populated area of farming and fishing villages, the territory has become one of the world’s most significant financial centers and commercial ports. It has a major capitalist service economy characterized by low taxation and free trade, and is home to the largest concentration of ultra high-net-worth individuals of any city in the world. But, severe income inequality exists, as well as a major housing challenge.

The map shows the original city and the New territories. Hong Kong island is one big mountain with every flat(ish) area fully built, and with several blocks of reclaimed land. Most tourists stay across the water on the “Kowloon” side in Tsim Sha Sui.

The two parts are connected by tunnels, but it is more fun to cross on the iconic Star ferries, and mandatory to then take the Peak tram to the peak of the mountain.

The view from the peak is stunning. Here it is on my first visit 50 years ago. There were some high rises on the Kowloon side, but their height was constrained by being in the flight path to the nearby airport.

The photo is not of an impending accident. It was said that those living in nearby apartments would put their washing out on bamboo poles to dry as the planes came by.  Now there is a terrific new airport by Lantau island. Relieved of the flight path, the Tsim Sha Sui buildings can happily scrape the sky, as can now be seen from the peak across the harbour. And our view from the 103rd floor of the high rise on the Kowloon side.

How did a 31-year-old Brit come to be in Hong Kong 50 years ago? I am glad you asked.

Those who glimpsed at my blog in June will know that I was on my way to Japan, to check out a new medical procedure that would later be called ERCP, and which was to become a focus for my future career. I went to Japan from London via Teheran/Shiraz, Delhi, Bangkok and Hong Kong. There I was welcomed by a representative of the Olympus Company (the maker of most of the endoscopes we use). He was a Chaplin-like figure, with baggy trousers, and carried an umbrella and a brown paper bag containing a bottle of whisky which he revealed at all meals. He introduced me to a surgeon, Frank Cheng. We dined at the famous floating Jumbo restaurant, a meeting that planted a seed that was to grow into a dynasty. Some years later Frank recommended that a young doctor, Joseph Leung, should study with me in London.

Joseph was with me at The Middlesex Hospital from 1981-83 and impressed us by his industry in clinical work and research. On returning to Hong Kong, he initiated the GI section at the Prince of Wales Hospital, associated with the Chinese University in Shatin, in the New Territories. He teamed up with a remarkable young surgeon (Sydney Chung) to form an icinic med-surg endoscopy unit. I drew the floor plan for them on a napkin on one of my early flights.

To broadcast their skills we decided to organize a teaching workshop at the Prince of Wales hospital in 1985, assisted by Dr Willy Chao, a prominent gastroenterologist and eminence grise of Hong Kong Society.

The meeting, featuring live demonstrations of old and new procedures, became very popular in the region and has continued to be so for more than 30 years (most of which I attended). The banquets were always memorable. This was at the first International workshop in 1985

The world’s foremost endoscopists have strutted their stuff at these meetings. Here is the rogues gallery that I put together for the 25th meeting. Note just one woman, my long time esteemed nursing partner, Marilyn Schaffner.

Shatin, not long ago a fishing village, is now a thriving metropolis.

The Endoscopy unit grew quickly, under a series of great leaders. Joseph trained Sydney Chung (trumpeter, windsurfer, marathoner and Papua teacher) who passed the baton to Joseph Sung (who became President of the whole University, no less), thence to James Lau (now Chairman of Surgery) and now Philip Chiu.

Their energy, entrepreneurship and competence (which they have passed on to their countless disciples around the world) was and is extraordinary and inspiring. As well as providing amazing care, they showed us how to do high quality relevant clinical research, which continues to this day.  And the commitment to teaching is exemplary. The unit is now one of 21 Centers of Excellence recognized by the World Endoscopy Organization. It has welcomed and trained many gastroenterologists from mainland China, and helped them to develop similar training centers, now among the best in the world.

Demonstrating complex procedures live and beamed to audiences of hundreds, is not without its anxious moments, but I always enjoyed working with the super-efficient nurses and staff. They had awesome teams.

Joseph Leung and his team early on

Much has happened in the last 50 years. Hong Kong initially stood out as a lonely bright star in the region. It has continued to expand its activities and influence but has also shown the way for the development of the now galaxy of “tiger nations”. Some worried that mainland China would somehow depress Hong Kong, but in many ways the reverse happened. China is now Hong Kong on steroids. Of course, there are storm clouds on the horizon of that relationship. The 50year pledge of “one country, two systems” is looking rocky as it nears the halfway point.

Hong Kong is a wonderful place, still my favorite. Visit if you have not, and go again if you have.

Thanks in particular to Joseph Leung and James Lau for providing some of the memorabilia.

All part of life’s rich tapestry.

2 Responses

  1. Carol Stevens says:

    Interesting how ERCP began and with my dear friend Marilyn, so exciting! As I near a close to my 35 plus year GI career I enjoyed every lecture you presented at SGNA and always appreciated your respect and for your Nursing Team at MUSC. Thanks Dr Cotton
    Sincerely,
    Carol Stevens BSN, RN, CGRN
    (SGNA Past President )

  2. Wen Li (Gentlemen, Beijing) says:

    Between the words and lines, your love for Hong Kong and your nostalgia for friends can be seen.

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