What a ride it's been

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2012, 12:00am


1 - July 1, 1997

At midnight on June 30, Hong Kong reverts to China after 156 years of British rule. The last colonial governor, Chris Patten, sails out of the city soon after the first HKSAR chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, is sworn in. At first light, 4,000 People's Liberation Army troops cross the border.

2 - New airport opens: 1998

Cathay Pacific flight CX889 from New York via Vancouver is the first commercial flight to touch down at the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok at 6.25 am on July 6. Within hours of that first flight, though, chaos reigns, with operational problems involving flight information systems, cargo handling, personnel training and passenger terminal infrastructure causing major problems that are not fully resolved for several months.

3 - 'Big Spender' executed: 1998

'Big Spender' Cheung Tze-keung is sentenced to death in Guangzhou in October for a string of serious crimes committed in Hong Kong, sparking fears of a loss of judicial independence. Mainland authorities argue that much of the planning for his crimes took place on the mainland, justifying a prosecution there. In one of the world's most audacious criminal exploits, Big Spender hatched a plot to kidnap a string of the richest figures in Hong Kong. In the end he kidnapped Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, the son of Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, and property tycoon Walter Kwok Ping-sheung of Sun Hung Kai Properties, pocketing ransom money of almost HK$2 billion. Cheung is executed by firing squad.

4 - Death of pop icons: 2003

Two of the brightest stars in Hong Kong's showbiz firmament - Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and Anita Mui Yim-fong - pass away in tragic circumstances. Cheung takes his life on April 1 by leaping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, leaving a suicide note stating he was suffering from depression. He is 46. It is a sad conclusion to his legendary showbiz career as a singer and actor. The news of Cheung's suicide shocks Chinese communities around the world. While people are still recovering from the news, on December 30, Mui, a close friend of Cheung, dies of cervical cancer at the age of 40. Throughout the 1980s she dominated the Canto-pop scene and was considered Asia's Madonna. Mui was also a great actress.

5 - Sars: 2003

This is also a year of unprecedented panic over severe acute respiratory syndrome - Sars. A massive quarantine in the outbreak area includes Amoy Garden housing estate in Kowloon Bay, where a total of 321 cases are recorded. The disease is later found to be concentrated in the sewage system of the blocks. It hits 1,718 people, including about 100 medical staff in Prince of Wales Hospital, who volunteer to take care of Sars patients. The catastrophe claims 299 lives. Officials later find that the outbreak was first reported in Guangdong province but was covered-up by the mainland government. The city is removed from the World Health Organisation's list of infected areas in June, 2003. When H1N1 swine flue emerges as a global health threat in 2009, the memories of that terrible period come back to haunt the city.

6 - Half-million march: 2003

The depth and breadth of feeling against the proposed Article 23 anti-subversion laws is seen on the streets of the city on July 1 when 500,000 people march against the move, many calling for the resignation of chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. A drip, drip of top-level resignations - including executive councillor and Liberal party leader James Tien, security secretary Regina Ip and financial secretary Anthony Leung - follows as Tung's leadership lurches from crisis to crisis. The meltdown culminates in Tung's resignation in 2005.

7 - Pui-Pui the crocodile: 2003

The saltwater crocodile becomes a local celebrity after being spotted in the Shan Pui River, Yuen Long, on November 2, 2003. It is to be a long game of cat and mouse. Australian crocodile hunter John Lever and mainland experts spend months trying to capture her, and she is eventually trapped by officials from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department on June 10, 2004. The croc then spends two years at Kadoorie Farm while her permanent home at the Wetland Park in Tin Shui Wai is built. She moves in on August 15, 2006, and has remained there ever since.

8 - Silent Witness: 2002/05

They come in their tens of thousands to watch him race and win - an incredible 17 in a row - culminating in 2005. Silent Witness is a superstar and more as he blazes his way into the hearts and minds of millions of racing fans and a wider audience. He is even accorded his own website by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Silent Witness gives Hong Kong positive international publicity during its darkest moments - bird flu, Sars and political turmoil.

9 - Disneyland opens: 2005

When Lantau Island's Hong Kong Disneyland opens in September it is viewed as a major tourism cash cow. The park, of which the government owns more than half, attracts 5.2 million visitors in its first year, below its target of 5.6 million. The lower-than-forecast attendances continue until its third year, when a surge begins. Since opening, the park has hosted more than 25 million guests. It is the 15th most-visited theme park in the world in 2010, with 5.2 million visitors.

10 - WTO riot: 2005

The World Trade Organisation conference held in Wan Chai, with 148 nations participating, is one of the largest international events ever held in the region. A series of protests break out - mainly involving notoriously militant South Korean farmers - outside the designated protest zones and police resort to using tear gas and pepper spray for crowd control.

11 - The 'Bus Uncle' incident: 2006

Hong Kong's first global viral YouTube sensation features a stand-off between feisty middle-aged Roger Chan Yuet-tung and an unlucky young fellow on a bus. After asking Chan, who was sitting in front of him, to lower his voice on the phone, the young chap receives a barrage of abuse from Chan. The 'Bus Uncle' clip attracts more than one million hits in May. The infamous refrain 'I have pressure. You have pressure. Why did you provoke me?' becomes a catchphrase in Hong Kong and around the world.

12 - Edison Chen nude photos: 2008

Chen is involved in a scandal when sexually explicit nude photographs of himself taken four years earlier are circulated on the internet. Celebrities implicated include Gillian Chung, Bobo Chan, Mandy Chen, Candice Chan, Rachel Ng and Cecilia Cheung. Nude photos of Edison's girlfriend, Vincy Yeung - niece of Emperor Group chief Albert Yeung - are also made public. Chen expresses remorse and announces his departure from the Hong Kong entertainment industry.

13 - Manila bus hostage tragedy: 2010

Sacked Philippines police officer Rolando Mendoza shoots dead seven Hong Kong tourists and their tour guide on a hijacked tour bus before being killed by a police marksman during a bungled rescue attempt in Rizal Park in the Philippines capital, Manila. Millions of stunned Hong Kongers watch the tragic events unfold live on television. An inquest held in Hong Kong last year finds that the eight victims were unlawfully killed. The Hong Kong government continues to warn against all travel to the Philippines.

14 - New broom: March 25, 2012

Leung Chun-ying chosen as Hong Kong's third chief executive after a rancorous campaign against one-tine favourite Henry Tang Ying-yen and Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan. Leung, who starts the race a rank outsider, sees his stocks rise after a series of scandals rock Tang's campaign, prompting Beijing to switch its backing. Leung's election prompts speculation that a new era is dawning in Hong Kong.

15 - ICAC arrests: March 29, 2012

The ICAC makes the biggest arrests in its history, detaining two of Hong Kong's richest tycoons and the former top government official who masterminded Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's successful bid to become chief executive. Former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan is arrested at his home. Also held are brothers Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, who control Hong Kong's biggest property developer Sun Hung Kai. The probe centres on Hui's alleged relationship with Sun Hung Kai over several years when he was in and out of government. No one has been charged so far, although the investigation is expected to spread deep and far.