LIFESTYLE

(7 Reasons to love Hong Kong

BEST MIDNIGHT SHOPPING
It's a city that never sleeps. It's also a city that never stops shopping. So why not combine the concepts? That's what the owner of Italy France Japan Fashion Square in Tsimshatsui has done. The boutique stays open until 2 a.m., primarily for the shopping needs of hostesses and customers from the Chinese Palace Nightclub, which is on the same floor--and has the same owner.

RUDEST SERVICE
If you like gruff, abrupt service, you'll love Luk Yu Tea House on Stanley Street in Central (2523-5464). Don't even try to book between noon and 2 p.m. You'd have more luck getting China to recognize Taiwan than getting a waiter to acknowledge your reservation. This is one of those quaint institutions--it opened in 1925--that success has turned into a monster, with just-OK food, high prices and a factory-like atmosphere.

COOLEST BRIDGE
Our very own Golden Gate, the 2.2 km-long Tsing Ma Bridge--all 55,000 tons of it--will link Hong Kong to the new airport at Chek Lap Kok. With appropriate qualifiers, it becomes yet another Hong Kong landmark: the heaviest and longest road and rail suspension bridge in the world.

THE THREE BEST HOLE-IN-THE-WALL RESTAURANTS
First try Mak's Noodle (77 Wellington Street, Central, 2854-3871), a bright and spacious little spot with a helpful staff. A bowl of shrimp wontons and noodles will set you back $2.70. For Vietnamese, you can't beat Saigon Beach (66 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, 2529-7823) for their crispy spring rolls, spicy shrimp noodle soup and crab specialties--expect to pay about $13 a head. The priciest hole-in-the-wall we've ducked into lately is the Pavilion (5 Tun Wo Lane, Central, 2869-7768) tucked back in a tiny alley off the Midlevels Escalator, just past the garbage heaps and stray dogs. There you can dine on duck breast and sip champagne under French chandeliers for a mere $100 or so a person.

Note: All prices quoted are in U.S. dollars

DEFTEST DOORMAN
In brain-drained Hong Kong, it's not unheard of for an applicant to accept two jobs, then decide at the last minute which one he'll show up for. One trade that seems to attract lifers, however, is hotel doormen: Robert Chan has been welcoming guests deftly at the Mandarin Oriental in Central for the last 23 years.

BIGGEST NEON SIGN
It's sponsored by Nanfang Pharmaceutical Factory's 999 brand of traditional Chinese medicines. Key stats:

Height: 6 stories; Width: 111 meters Weight: 80 tons; Location: next to Shun Tak Center, Central Neon: More than 13 km of tubing Number of pigeons it could fry: 541,696 (est.)

ZESTIEST CURRY
Who can keep up with the dozens of curries on offer at the International Curry House in Wanchai (2529-0088)? We can't, and we doubt the cooks can either--many of the entries taste suspiciously similar. Still, this functional joint offers some of the best cheap curries in town: spicy, damn spicy and incredibly damn spicy. If you don't want your teeth scorched, try the milder vindaloo fish or Pakistan chicken.

BEST AFTERNOON TEA
The colony may be going, but the colonial is still well represented by afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel Lobby in Tsimshatsui. Complete with decrusted bread, cucumber sandwiches and scones with jam and cream, this teaset has starched stiff upper lips since 1928. The Japanese, who occupied the Peninsula during World War II, are back again, this time armed with cameras.

MOST ROMANTIC SPOT
With 6.4 million people living on the head of a pin, Hong Kong is short on good places to make out. Try the Cultural Center Promenade, which has a magnificent view of the Hong Kong harborside. When the sun goes down and the tourists go away, it becomes a nightly backdrop to enthusiastic, befuddled and occasionally illegal romantic carryings-on.

FUNKIEST TATTOO
If you're not a sailor or a member of a secret society, you might feel out of place here. But Ricky serves all with equal nonchalance and artistic skill at his shop on Lockhart Road, Wanchai (2527-8908). Famous in the trade, Ricky's work can be identified by tattoo artists from here to London. A small heart costs $38.50. A full-torso triadesque dragon is $256 and up.

MOST FAMOUS DOGS
When Chris and Lavender Patten came to town in 1992, their bookend Norfolk terriers Whisky and Soda--named after components of the Governor's favorite cocktail--served as endearing accessories. Then they reportedly started biting the hired help, sending their popularity plunging. Whisky, however, won the sympathy vote after he ate a poisoned chicken wing on a recent morning walk and nearly died. Under Britain's stiff quarantine laws, the poor pups face six months' incarceration when they accompany their master home. Plenty of time to write their memoirs.

MOST SPECTACULAR CLOCK
When it was built, Central Plaza was the world's tallest poured-concrete structure (a building technique perfected in Hong Kong because it's quick and cheap). The 78-story Wanchai tower's lit-up spire is a cunning time device, with each hour represented by a different color. Every 15 minutes, one of the four horizontal neon bands, beginning at the top, changes into the color represented by the next hour. As all four become the same color, a new hour begins (trust us, it's not as complicated as it sounds). The order: red (6 p.m), white (7 p.m.), purple (8 p.m.), yellow (9 p.m.), pink (10 p.m.) and green (11 p.m.). At midnight it reverts to red. But since everyone in Hong Kong owns at least two designer watches, this may be a moot point, er, spire.

BIGGEST GIRLIE-BAR STRIP
The stretch of Lockhart Road from Fenwick Street to Fleming Road is the heart of the large but rather tired Wanchai girlie bar district. Seen-it-all mama-sans crouch in front, offering a line to entice pedestrians inside for a drink and entertainment that can quickly turn expensive (tabs of $200 for a couple of beers and some chat are not unheard of). The Panda Bar claims to be the only remaining club on Suzie Wong turf with a real topless license, evidence of which is provided the moment a man walks through the door (though quickly recalled if he seems uninterested in buying a round of drinks).

MOST REWARDING ANTIQUES SHOPPING
Hollywood Road, Central, is home to dozens of shops housing legions of headless Buddhas, armless Ming dynasty horsemen and sundry other dirt-caked artifacts. The sheer weight of Chinese plunder leaves you wondering what could possibly be left back on the mainland. China may be wondering as well: dealers expect the supply of precious artifacts to dry up after the handover, and collectors are shipping their best pieces to Singapore and the U.S.

BIGGEST RESTAURANT
Hong Kong has a number of Chinese eateries so large the staff use walkie-talkies to communicate with each other. The biggest--the 7,900-sq.m. Ocean City Restaurant & Nightclub in Tsimshatsui (2369-9688)--can serve more than 6,000 hungry eaters at one time. Annual stats: shark's fin consumed, 5,239 kg; abalone ingested, 1,590 kg; number of chicken feet swallowed, 216,000; number of dim sum dishes eaten, 2 million.

MOST BREATHTAKING BATHROOM VIEW
You can continue sightseeing while taking care of other business at Felix restaurant atop the Peninsula Hotel. The glass wall in the 28th-floor men's room commands one of the best views in Tsimshatsui. Of course that works both ways, as the urinals lining the wall are made of glass, too. Designed by Philippe Starck, Felix was the talk of the town when it opened two and a half years ago, though form was slightly favored over function: lights under the glass bar made customers' drinks boil. Innovative East-meets-West cuisine and the arresting interior make it the city's most dramatic dining experience.

STRANGEST DINING ROOM
Truly one of the more bizarre settings for dinner, the main room of Bamboo Village Fisherman's Wharf on Jaffe Road, Wanchai (2827-1188), goes for the nautical motif in a big way. You eat in booths shaped like Chinese junks; they jut from the restaurant's perimeter, complete with high-pitched bows and rigging. Part of the room is flooded by a moat, which has a few grim fish swimming around, and part is piled with sand. You're expecting seafood specials, and the stuffed crab claws and baked jumbo shrimp do not disappoint. The English menu is fairly limited, so scout neighboring vessels for tempting dishes if you don't speak Cantonese.

CLASSIEST CEMETERY
If you think it's expensive to live in Hong Kong, try dying. You'll pay up to $80,000 for a permanent resting place at the private Chinese Christian Cemetery in Pokfulam. Public cemeteries let corpses reside for only seven years. After that, remains are dug up and must be either cremated or reburied in an urn.

BEST TEMPLE
Ten years of double-digit inflation have taken their toll on the city's reputation as a bargain center. One place that still offers true value-for-money is the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas. In fact, there are now close to 13,000 statues of Buddha lining the walls, all of similar height but in varying poses. Perched on a hillside overlooking Sha Tin, the temple and surrounding grounds offer a peaceful break from the hubbub below. And you'll need a break once you climb to the temple. It feels like 10,000 steps, though there are really just over 400.

LONGEST ESCALATOR
Snaking through some of the world's most expensive real estate, the Midlevels Escalator (officially, the Central District Hillside Escalator Link) can move as many as 200,000 young professionals to and from work each day. Starting at Connaught Road near the harborfront, the escalator stretches 800 m. to Conduit Road, about halfway up Victoria Peak. Completed in 1993 at a cost of $32 million, it has spawned its own "escalator culture": a row of trendy restaurants and bars, a featured role in director Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express and, reportedly, a healthy pick-up scene for the city's very upwardly mobile.

MOST ENDANGERED SPECIES
For just $50, a group called Hong Kong Dolphinwatch will take you on a seven-hour cruise to the home of Sousa chinensis, the rare and endangered Chinese white dolphins (which actually range in color from dark gray to pink). Or you can wait a year and simply fly over, since the dolphins' natural habitat is the waters north of Lantau Island where Chek Lap Kok Airport is finishing construction. The good news for the 80-odd remaining mammals: the government has designated the area a dolphin sanctuary. The bad news: as many as 38 planes an hour will be roaring overhead.

BEST (AND ONLY) GAMBLING
On racing days the territory's punters come in force to the tracks at Happy Valley and Sha tin, and this season the smart money was on Oriental Express--the top-earning horse has won nearly $1 million since September. Annual turnover for the Jockey Club, which passes much of its earnings on to charity and public works, is more than $10 billion. If you'd had the foresight to bet $10 on the highest-ever stakes, the Triple Trio on May 31, 1995, it would have returned a cool $920,000. Average investment per Hong Konger over a season works out to a staggering $1,690.

BEST EGG TART
Even Chris Patten sings the praises of the custard desserts at Tai Cheong Bakery in Central. Their daan taat, or egg tart (40[cents]), is a favorite at Government House. Nice to know there's something about Hong Kong that has left a good taste in the governor's mouth.

FANCIEST DIM SUM
With its imperial red setting and huge chandeliers, the Summer Palace restaurant in the Island Shangri-La Hotel, Central (2877-3838), offers a regal setting for dim sum lunch. The menu is limited (only 10 to 12 items) but exquisite, and definitely headed in the nouvelle direction. The traditional har gau shrimp dumpling, for instance, is wrapped in a spinach-flour coating. And there are some unusual (but delicious) choices, like deep fried mashed taro with seafood and baked vegetable pie.

DRYEST MARTINI
Anyone worrying about the survival of colonial traditions after the handover will be reassured at Cafe Deco Bar & Grill on the Peak (2849-5111). Even James Bond would approve of Hong Kong's perfect martini (though it's stirred, not shaken). Extra dry, with only a drop of vermouth. And it's hard to find a more authentic location to enjoy it. Cafe Deco takes its name from the vast array of early-20th century period pieces imported from New York, Paris and Miami. A wonderful collection of original cocktail shakers lines the walls, the ten-meter bar is from a '30s New York restaurant, and the table tops are made of antique elevator dials.

BIGGEST CONSTRUCTION SITE
Hong Kong never met a pneumatic device it didn't like, and more of them than ever before have been employed in building the new airport at Chek Lap Kok--the world's largest construction site. The airport rests on 1,250 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea (at a cost of $1.1 billion). At one point during construction, 70% of the deep-water dredging equipment on the planet was churning away in our waters.

TASTIEST PIGEON JOINT
For an urban jungle, Hong Kong has blessedly few pigeons. One place they studiously avoid is Han Lok Yuen on Lamma Island, better known as the Pigeon Restaurant. Though the plebian fowl is common in Cantonese cuisine (and much yummier than it sounds), it's raised to an art form at Han Lok Yuen. Phone first to book tables and birds (2982-0608, outside seating is recommended).

MOST THRILLING BUS RIDE
For an afternoon's fun you can ride The Dragon roller-coaster at Ocean Park, or, alternately, hop on the upper deck of the No. 6 bus heading from Central to Stanley Village. Lurching up the twists and turns of Stubbs Road, over Wong Nai Chung Gap, and then careening back down the south side of Hong Kong island, the white-knuckled ride offers great views, plus a few chills and some literal spills if you don't hold on. Excellent value at only $1.

BEST COBBLERS
Who said Hong Kong is a disposable society? Some craftsmen still earn a living preserving items of everyday use--there are knife sharpeners, umbrella fixers and a whole battalion of cobblers. The area around Theatre Lane and the Pedder Building is Shoe Central, with a row of cobblers stitching, gluing and pounding right on the street. It costs around $6.50 to reheel a ladies' shoe, and $45 to resole a man's.

CLOSEST THING TO VLADIVOSTOK
With menu items like shashlik and zakuska, this is not your standard Hong Kong eatery. But the Queen's Cafe on Hysan Avenue in Causeway Bay (2576-2659) is a local classic. Founded in 1952 by White Russian immigrants (who are responsible for making borscht an odd staple of Hong Kong diners), Queen's Cafe is one of the city's oldest western restaurants, though it recently relocated to new premises, and turns out the best raisin bread in town. The handover makes the territory's White Russians third time un-lucky: historically supporters of the czar, they fled first to Shanghai, then to Hong Kong in a double escape from communist regimes.

CLASSIEST JOGGING
Tycoons, socialites and the Governor's wife get their exercise on Bowen path, the trail that stretches 4 km from Stubbs Road on the east to Magazine Gap Road on the west. Walking or jogging, you'll be treated to bird's eye views of the city's most impressive skyscrapers.

BEST HIKING
It's surprisingly easy to escape from the urban jungle to a version that actually has trees. Hong Kong has set aside 40% of its land as protected country parks, and they are embroidered with hiking trails that range in difficulty from Sunday stroll to Himalayan ordeal. The Dragon's Back is one of the best. This 6.5-km trek along a southern peninsula of Hong Kong island is what the word "panoramic" was invented for. Spectacular mountain views and seascapes line the trail, which starts behind the Chai Wan MTR station and ends just above Shek O Village.

GAMIEST MENU
If you tire of Cantonese delicacies like chicken feet, duck tongue and fish heads, there is an alternative. Mr. Rhino restaurant on D'Aguilar Street in Central (2522-2290) serves African delicacies like ostrich salad, crocodile kebabs and stewed wildebeest tail. Of course, there's also Pizza Hut.

SMARTEST STORE
Hong Kong people admire Shanghai Tang because they like anything that makes money this fast. Entrepreneur David Tang gave old-China clothing a modern aspect--cheong sams in acid pink and neon chartreuse, for instance--and spawned a renaissance in Chinese design. The old-Cathay look can now be seen in various restaurants around town and in his members-only China Club. Starting life as a small boutique in 1994, Shanghai Tang is now a 1,400-sq.m. department store in Central's Pedder Building. Tang now plans to spread the store's brand of mainland-chic to New York, London and--how about that--Shanghai.

MOST SATISFYING RIDE
The Star Ferry has plied the waters between the Kowloon peninsula and Hong Kong island for 99 years. Today's fleet of 12 boats makes 420 trips each day, though with the rate of reclamation in the harbor, walking across may soon be an option.

FASTEST SUIT IN THE EAST
Bel Homme Custom Tailors on Nathan Road in Tsimshatsui (2368-7574) makes a "high quality" men's suit in just eight hours. They've been speed-sewing for three decades, serving mostly a tourist clientele. A suit can be ordered in the morning, fitted at noon and delivered by evening. Prices range from $195 to $450, which includes two free shirts!

MOST ACROBATIC FOUNTAIN
While Renaissance Italians pioneered the use of hydraulics to power fountains, it's computer-controlled wizardry that mesmerizes locals and tourists alike at the fountain outside the Peak Galleria. You'll stand agog as 10-m. tufts of water shoot straight up from a piece of flat concrete in syncopated rhythm, accompanied by assorted squelching and glooping sounds and the gurgling delight of children.

BEST STREET SINGERS
It's not so much the night market that makes a trip to Yaumatei worthwhile as the sideshows that spring up around the northern end of Temple Street. Here you can have your face read and your fortune told, all to the accompaniment of amateur Chinese opera enthusiasts who sing and play the ancient melodies in makeshift stalls.

MOST COLONIAL FLAG-MAKERS
Want the perfect handover souvenir? How about an authentic Hong Kong colonial flag like the one that will be lowered at midnight on July 1? Nam Keung flag makers on Mercer Street in Sheung Wan (2544-8764) will sew a four-by-six-foot flag for $350. It takes only a day to complete.

FILTH-IEST
Carnegie's bar in Wanchai is Ground Zero for the explosion of FILTH (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) that turned the territory into a '90s mecca for Eurotrash. Though historically Hong Kong did not discriminate against the untalented expat, new visa rules for Brits and the increasing skill of the homegrown work force have turned the tables. By day, expats are often relegated to delivering sandwiches or handing out leaflets on the street. By night you'll find them here dancing on the bar.

WHITEST-KNUCKLED AIR APPROACH
The notorious landing at Kai Tak Airport combines an approach directly over (and alongside) Kowloon highrises, a sharp right turn to avoid a mountain (watch for the giant checkerboard painted on a hill) and, on blustery days, an unpleasant phenomenon known in control towers as "significant sinking windsheer." Back in cattle class, there's merely a vague awareness of the wing tips bopping to and fro as passengers are otherwise occupied staring into the windows of nearby flats. But from the cockpit, the downward-leading sidewind from Lion Rock often tosses jumbo jets clear across the center line of the runway just as they make that final turn, leaving only 30 seconds to correct their position before touchdown. The airport has a near-spotless safety record, but leaves many pilots with rather damp armpits.

BUSIEST BIRD MARKET
Songbirds are prized as pets in Hong Kong (some get taken for daily walks), as well as for their vocal prowess. Hundreds are on sale on Hong Lok Street, Mongkok, with prices often based on their warbling talents.

CHEAPEST WOMEN'S CLOTHES
The shops and stalls that spill onto Tung Choi Street in Mongkok sell non-designer clothes, shoes, jeans and accessories for women at prices that are rock-bottom. A well-worn stop on any serious shopper's map.

MOST FRAGRANT MARKET
Hundreds of small stalls line the streets around Flower Market Road, near the Prince Edward MTR station, selling every kind of blossom under the sun. This is where many local florists and hotels buy their flowers, and the price and variety make it worth the trip.

MOST TOURISTY MARKET
You can find just about anything at Stanley Market, in Stanley Village on Hong Kong island's south side. A great all-in-one place to buy gifts for friends and family, there's a wide range of T-shirts, porcelain, silk, leather goods and souvenirs. Stanley was one of the largest fishing villages and home to 2,000 people when the British first acquired Hong Kong, but now the biggest catch are the schools of bargain-hunters that keep biting.

MOST IMPRESSIVE ATHLETE
Lee Lai-san brought home Hong Kong's first-ever gold medal last year at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. "San San," as she's known locally, is all the more remarkable when you consider that she actually had to put her body into Hong Kong's toxic waters to practice her sport of boardsailing. For that she deserves another medal--for bravery.

BEST SARTORIAL NIGHTCLUB
By day it's a hair salon. But on Saturday nights the Visage One on Stanley Street, Central (2522-8773), lets its hair down and becomes Hong Kong's hippest music club, where the best local musicians gather informally to jam. Go late (it's open only after 9 p.m.). And for heaven's sake, wear black.

LUCKIEST LICENSE PLATES
You can say one thing about Hong Kongers' fixation on luck: they put their money where their superstitions are. At a government auction in 1994, tycoon Albert Yeung paid $1.7 million for a license plate bearing the single digit 9. Why so valuable? The Cantonese word for "nine" sounds like the word for "longevity." Say no more.

SPICIEST SOUP
Thai soups are known to be spicy, but the hottest tom yum kung we've ever had is the one at Lotus Thai on Lockhart Road in Wanchai (2866-0228). This will set alarm bells ringing all over town, and we suspect the soup stock has a lot in common with the waste from nearby Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant. Folks, it's hot!

BEST DESSERT
Consistently chosen by local sweet-tooths as the top choice in town for dessert, the aptly named American Pie on Lan Kwai Fong (2877-9779) is the place to indulge. Our favorite is the banana cream pie, which, enjoyed on their balcony on a sunny day, is about as divine as decadence can get.

LIVELIEST WATERS
Of all the daily indignities Hong Kongers have to put up with--crowds, noise, pollution--you'd think one thing we wouldn't have to worry about in this urban metropolis is shark attacks. Not so. Silverstrand Beach near Sai Kung, New Territories, is a favorite feeding spot for sharks returning to northern waters in the spring. Since 1990, two deaths and numerous shark sightings have been reported there.

MOST ENDANGERED SPECIES, PT. 2
At one time our fragrant harbor was filled with the angular red sails of traditional Chinese fishing junks. Today only one remains, the Duk Ling, though it's trotted out shamelessly for promotional films and commercials about the territory. The 60-ft. vessel is now outfitted for private parties. As many as 35 guests can take a two-and-a-half-hour cruise for $710.

MOST BALLETIC PENSIONERS?
Late-night revelers are still dancing to techno-pop in Wanchai clubs when the tai-chi brigade starts its day, moving to a very different beat. Though pockets of tai-chi practitioners can be found throughout Hong Kong (even on rooftops), Victoria Park is ground zero for geriatric gyrators. But another type of exercise is becoming popular among the early-morning set: would you believe, ballroom dancing?

CLOSEST SHAVE
For an old-fashioned straight-razor treatment (complete with hot towel and mini-massage), try the barber shop on the second floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Central (2522-4858). It's $23 for the works (and you're advised to book ahead), but the shave is so close you can probably skip your normal razor for a day or two.

MOST STATELY MANSIONS
More than half of Hong Kong people live in public housing, which may in fact be the most profound and lasting legacy of British rule. The largest single subsidized housing development is Yau Oi Estate in Tuen Mun, with 9,153 units and a population of more than 35,000.

LEAST SEAWORTHY SHIP
There's a ship moored permanently near the ferry pier in Hung Hom. The only thing unusual about that is the vessel is made of concrete and sits on the corner of Tak On and Shung King streets. The centerpiece of residential area Whampoa Gardens is the hulking concrete replica of a cruise liner. Inside are movie theaters, restaurants, and an arcade for kids including bumper cars and a mini roller-rink.

BUSIEST MCDONALD'S
About 25 of the 50 busiest McDonald's restaurants in the world are located in Hong Kong, but is it McLuck or McThrift that keeps us heading back for more? Local geomancers give the chain high marks for feng shui, saying its golden arches and red colors are pleasing to the spirits that determine fortunes. Others attribute the chain's amazing success to its prices, which are among the lowest in the world for the chain. Whatever the reason, the Star House location in Tsimshatsui is designated the second-busiest McDonald's on the planet (trailing Moscow's Pushkin Square outlet). It goes through 2.5 million packs of ketchup a year.

FOUR PEOPLE YOU'D MOST WANT TO INVITE ON YOUR YACHT
David Tang: cigar-chomping, Chinese robe-wearing entrepreneur and founder of both the exclusive China Club and department store Shanghai Tang. He's usually to be found at a party, often surrounded by jet-setters like Kevin Costner, Linda Evangelista and Fergie.

John Woo: film director whose celebrated (and violent) buddy films include The Killer and A Better Tomorrow. Woo's work is an inspiration to many, including American director Quentin Tarrantino.

Anson Chan: head of Hong Kong's civil service, the first woman and the first Chinese person ever to hold the town's No. 2 post. Long touted as a possible post-handover chief executive, she'll have to settle--for now--with remaining in her current job.

Stanley Ho: Hong Kong's most interesting billionaire and the godfather of Macau. Ho has interests in shipping, property, casinos, hotels, airlines and restaurants. He's also one heck of a ballroom dancer.

WILDEST BIRDING
Though threatened by encroaching development, the wetlands at the Mai Po Nature Reserve, New Territories, still attract birdwatchers from around the world--and 325 species of the feathered folks themselves. You can see everything from a red-necked stint to an Asiatic golden plover to a black-tailed godwit as the migrating fowl stop over to munch at the reserve's shrimp ponds.

BEST MUSEUM
The Tsui Museum of Art is also one of Hong Kong's least known museum's. Established in 1991 by paint magnate and FOB (Friend of Beijing) T.T. Tsui, the museum displays a selection of exquisite Chinese antiques, especially porcelain. Tsui has filled museums from London to Singapore with his good taste, and this is no exception. It's housed in Central's handsome old Bank of China building, an architectural gem in a city where anything more than 10 years old is considered ripe for redevelopment.

MOST PLEASING POINTLESS MACHINE
What keeps Hong Kong going at such a frenetic pace? The Energy Machine at the Science Museum in Tsimshatsui. OK, maybe that's not the full explanation, but the four-story, Rube Goldberg-esque contraption does manage to keep dozens of 2-kg. balls in continuous motion along 1.6 km. of track, thanks to the wonders of kinetic energy. Spirals, elevators, zig-zags and seesaws keep the balls rolling through the intricate maze, as chimes, gongs and xylophones get played along the way.

BUSIEST MALL
If Hong Kong is heaven for shoppers, then New Town Plaza in Sha Tin is the rough equivalent of Jerusalem. The city's biggest and busiest shopping metropolis ("mall" doesn't do it justice), New Town Plaza has 148,000 sq. m. of retail space and attracts 200,000 people daily, double that on Saturdays and Sundays.

CHEAPEST THRILL
You won't quickly forget the ride up the side of Wanchai's Hopewell Centre in a glass elevator. Though definitely not for acrophobics, it conveys a sense of just how tall everything in this town is as you watch the ground recede and head 56 stories straight up. And, with your stomach in your mouth, down.

BEST MAINLAND KITSCH
When it comes to leftover Cultural Revolution paraphernalia and softcore shots of semi-naked Beijing beauties from the 1920s, there are two shops on Hollywood Road that hold a near monopoly. The LowPrice Second Hand Store, on the harborside of the street where it meets the escalator, features a bucketful of Mao buttons that will keep you enthralled for hours. Fine Art Studio at the western end of Hollywood Road is where you can pick up your Little Red Book, your bust of the Chairman, and, with luck, a replica of a character from one of the era's revolutionary ballets (think Margot Fonteyn in a Red Guard uniform, brandishing a pistol).

MOST UNLIKELY KING
Tsang Cho-choi takes freedom of speech to the streets as the city's best-known graffiti artist. Tsang claims he's part of a clan that's inhabited east Kowloon for more than 2,600 years, and his street calligraphy is a written protest against the government for unfairly snatching his family's land. Nicknamed the "King of Kowloon," 76-year-old Tsang has recently gone trendy. A local designer has created a line of bed linens with a pattern inspired by Tsang's work.

MOST FAMOUS FLOPHOUSE
Though fabled as a grimy, rat-infested, fire-prone place for low-budget lodgers and ne'er-do-wells, Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road, Tsimshatsui, has cleaned up its act. You can still find cheap rooms (as low as $8 in some dorm-type facilities) and a kaleidoscope of cultures, but the thrill of flirting with danger is gone. The biggest thrills come from the maze of small shops that make up the ground and first floors. At Morningstar Company, for instance, you can rent one of 3,500 Indian movies.

BIGGEST (ETC.) BUDDHA
There are beaucoup Buddhas in Asia vying for recognition: the biggest stone Buddha, the biggest indoor Buddha, the biggest reclining Buddha. Hong Kong's contribution to the Buddha sweepstakes is the world's tallest, outdoor, seated bronze Buddha--a 250-ton statue that stands 24 m. high at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island.

MOST DURABLE POLITICIAN
A longtime champion of the "grassroots" element of society, politician Elsie Tu lost her legislative seat in the 1995 election. But she found a new home in the China-appointed Provisional Legislature. Now, at 84, Elsie's back in the thick of it.

BIGGEST CHILL
Perhaps the coolest joint in town, and we're not trying to sound hip, is Gaddi's in the Peninsula Hotel (2366-6251). But don't worry, the service at this fine-dining establishment is so meticulous they provide shawls upon request.

MOST ROLLS-ROYCES
You can't be a respectable tycoon in Hong Kong without one. Head straight for MD Motors, the authorized Rolls-Royce dealer. Hong Kong has a total of 1,600 now plying the streets: the most per capita of anywhere in the world, and about 1% of the car-maker's all-time production.

PINNACLE OF TRANSIT
A trip to the top of Victoria Peak is as much of a thrill for longtime residents as visitors, and the Peak Tram is definitely the way to go. The 1.4-km. railway operates on a funicular cable: one car goes up while the other goes down, at gradients as steep as one-in-two. This 109-year-old institution has recently gone high-tech with the opening of the new Peak Tower, the space-age terminal where the tram stops. Make a quick exit (past the soon-to-open Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museum) and settle in for a welcome repose at the lovely Peak Cafe across the street.

FUNKIEST HAIRDO
The future chief executive's crew-cut hairstyle is much like the man himself: practical, pointed, and proudly reminiscent of an earlier era. Where Tung Chee-hwa gets it done, nobody's letting on, but his brother was recently seen at the Mandarin barber.

MOST CORPORATE PSYCHIC
Need some other-worldly guidance with that next career move? Trying to get inside the boss's head? Want to know if the person across from you at the bargaining table is trustworthy? These services and more are available from Kathryn Ma, who bills herself as a "corporate psychic." For $120, she'll come to your office for a personal session to help you stay on top of the corporate game. She'll also inconspicuously sit in on important negotiations and analyze the various energies at work. She claims she can detect the truths and falsehoods in a deal, and point out anyone in the room who's lying.

BEST KEEPSAKES
No, we're not talking lamb chops or chop-suey, but chops: the little stamps that contain your name and other vital statistics. On Man Wa Lane in Sheung Wan, there are a host of chop makers who will carve your name (translated into Chinese characters, if necessary) in marble ($20-$65), jade, agate or crystal ($65 and up). Or if you prefer, have a handy rubber stamp made to your specifications.

BEST PLACE TO GET LOST
In a city that has never believed less is more, you don't find simple discos, you find "multi-functional entertainment complexes"--in this case, a 9,000-sq. m. nightlife extravaganza called Lost City in Tsimshatsui. True to its name, you might just lose yourself in the maze of karaoke rooms, dance floors, cafes and zebra-striped sofas. Half film set, half Vegas ballroom, it's a monument to excess that's setting the night on fire.

TIMELIEST CITY
Hong Kong's a worldly city, especially when it comes to knowledge of upmarket wristwatches. The abcs most likely to be learned by precocious schoolchildren are not Apple, Box and Cat, but Audemars, Breitling and Cartier. And they can't wait till they get to the Ps. The most exclusive watch sold in Hong Kong is the Patek Philippe model ref. 5016, which retails for more than $3 million.

BEST TRADITIONAL MEDICINE SHOP
Dispensing since 1909, the Eu Yan Sang (2544-3268) shop in Central is one of the oldest and most traditional Chinese medicine shops in town, despite the incongruous suits of armor that decorate the windows. The establishment has a root or bone or preserved animal part to cure most any ill. Try the dried seahorse to lower your cholesterol, ginseng for circulation--the best-quality root costs $19,500 a tael (37.7 grams)--dried gekko lizard for your kidneys and, of course, deer penis, which is said to revitalize even lower extremities.

MOST EXPENSIVE TREE
Any spot of green comes at a price in uber-urban Central, but $24 million? That's the amount spent to preserve a 120-year-old banyan tree, situated on Supreme Court Road, that was threatened by the development of Pacific Place.

TRENDIEST SHOPPING
When the shops have names like Guts and Giants, you know you aren't in K Mart anymore. Tsimshatsui's Beverley Centre is the trend mecca for Hong Kong's black-draped 20-somethings. The shops are tiny--seriously tiny. Some are so small that two customers cannot stand inside at the same time. Dozens of mini-boutiques reflect the quirky tastes of young designers and importers. Most open around 3 p.m. and stay open until late.

CHEAPEST THREADS
Blow all your dough on duty free and a credit card-iac trip to Joyce Boutique? Have no fear. You can fill your luggage with bargain-priced casual clothes and factory overruns on Granville Road in Tsimshatsui.

MOST REGAL CLUB
Though most of Hong Kong's royalty is disappearing with the handover, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club has steadfastly refused to give up its majestic monicker. Formerly royal institutions include the post office, police, observatory, Jockey Club and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

UNLIKELIEST BUILDING MATERIAL
Choi Keung, 61, is one of three bamboo scaffolding instructors at the Construction Industry Training Authority, the only institution that teaches the craft locally. There are 200 to 300 experienced scaffolders working in Hong Kong today (numbers are dwindling), and Choi estimates he has trained 150 of them. He has been a scaffolder since 1954. The average worker can erect 650 sq. ft. of scaffolding a day. Bamboo is the preferred material: it not only goes up four times faster than steel but is typhoon-friendlier too.

MOST EGREGIOUS EXCESS
With more billionaires per capita than anyplace else in the world, modesty and subtlety are not exactly watchwords among the rich and famous.

Cecil Chao, multimillionaire property developer and man about town, named his living compound Villa Cecil "because it's a name easy for everyone to know." Chao lives in a 15,000-sq. ft. house, and last year was renting out relatively minuscule 4,000-sq. ft. houses on the vast property for $15,600 a month.

Brenda and Kai-bong Chau, Hong Kong's best-known glamour couple, are famous for bringing the Carnaby Street styles of Swinging London to fashion-backwater Hong Kong. Today they believe in dressing to match their Rolls-Royces. Hers is pink, his is gold.

LAMEST HANDOVER GIMMICK
Hong Kong is undeniably the last gasp of the once-great British Empire, and one local entrepreneur is cashing in on that distinction by selling Canned Colonial Air--a sealed empty can that claims its contents are "100% pure pomposity." The item retails for $7 at hotel gift shops and local stores, and carries a warning: one sniff could lead to extreme arrogance, stiffening of the upper lip, or worse!

MONOPOLY CHAMP
No surprise that a city whose economy is dominated by a handful of hongs, or corporate conglomerates, produced the world-champion Monopoly player last year. Local teacher Christopher Ng Hon Yuen won the competition in Monte Carlo.

MOST DURABLE SINGER
Cantopop star Sam Hui holds the record for the longest stretch of concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum--41 performances given during a 37-day period in 1992. Total attendance was 462,481, about 8% of the city's population.

HAUTEST-HAIRDO
The uniform of Hong Kong's Wealthy Wives Club includes Chanel suits, Hermes scarves, clunky jewelry, and an expression of permanent petulance. Topping it all is a power hairdo from Le Salon Orient, where founder and top stylist Kim Robinson will attend to you personally for around $340.

FULLEST STOMACHS
Night and day, Hong Kongers greet one another with the words Sek joh fan, meiya? (Have you eaten yet?). Odds are they have ... even if it's 4 a.m. With one eating place for every 650 people, Hong Kong surely boasts one of the highest per-capita concentrations of cafes and restaurants in the world.

BEST SMOKED TEA DUCK
Keep your Peking duck, your roast duck, your glazed duck. The absolute best duck we've ever eaten is the smoked tea duck at Szechuan Lau restaurant in Causeway Bay (2891-9027). As the name implies, it's smoked, over tea leaves and camphor wood. Succulent and tender, with a unique flavor that has to be tasted to be believed. $21 for a half bird (which is sufficient), $42 for a whole.

MOST CHARMING CHEF
As if to prove that all the snakes in Hong Kong are not in corporate boardrooms, there's a periodic street show in front of the She Wang Sun snake shop in Wanchai (2891-6639). The chief handler puts the reptiles through their paces before turning them into snake soup. If you're lucky, he may choose to kill the main course by biting off its head.

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