Dramatic images of the Hong Kong skyline, the new Tsing Ma Bridge, and government officials assuring us all is well flicker from two giant screens, each made up of 16 large televisions. A pair of technicians laden with wires and cameras stagger down the long straight corridors dividing 150 walled-off booths for television crews - from ARD to WTN via MBC - and 80 for their cousins from the newspaper and magazine world. Blown-up photographs of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin peering over copies of the People's Daily take pride of place outside the mainland newspaper's booth, in prime position next to the entrance. Next door are Xinhua (the New China News Agency) and China Central Television. The Chinese communist leaders overlook 600 desks of free seating. Arranged in long rows, the seats look disconcertingly reminiscent of desks in a university examination hall, with the exception that each one has a telephone. In the middle of the desks is a cafeteria. Prices are low, by Hong Kong standards: $30 for a generous portion of spaghetti bolognaise, $35 for a pan-fried ham steak, $18 for a can of beer. Possibly Hong Kong's largest windowless room, on the seventh floor of the old Convention and Exhibition Centre, this is the 97,000-square-foot handover Press and Broadcast Centre. Opened on June 15, it will not close its doors until July 9. Just outside in the foyer, with the luxury of a large window overlooking the centre's new extension where ant-like workers can be spied clearing up the construction debris, 11 government information officers await journalists' queries. They are working the 12-hour day shift. Another 11 will take over at eight in the evening to staff the post throughout the night, says Brett Free, the senior information officer on this shift. Today, their numbers will swell to 20 a shift. Of the $233 million the Government has budgeted for the handover, Mr Free says, $85 million will be spent on this press centre. To be fair though, the Government will get $6 million back from renting out the booths - their cost ranges from $56,000 for a 215-square-foot television booth to $11,000 for a 96-square-foot print-media cubicle. For this investment, the Government should get a spin doctor's dream come true. If all goes to plan, the world's press should all be seated in readiness to be fed the official line as the long-awaited story unfolds. Mr Free says he expected the centre to be full on handover night. This weekend the pace is expected to pick up on the languid state of affairs earlier this week, in spite of figures showing almost 5,000 journalists had already picked up their press passes from the Accreditation Office in nearby Wan Chai Tower. The cheap cafeteria, with its green check tablecloths and pink-jacketed waiters, was an oasis of activity, but in the free seating area just eight journalists were seated at their desks. Piles of navy blue guides issued by Hongkong Telecom for press centre users - complete with lengthy instructions on how to buy IDD call-time - lay neglected on the tables. The upbeat commentary emanating from the video screens went unheard. Only three people were using the 29 free Internet terminals that came with a special 'handover media site'. One of them was reading the electronic edition of an Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, not exactly required reading for students of the Hong Kong transition. Josep Bosch, of the Spanish wire service Agencia EFE, sat almost alone in the free seating area. 'I use [the press centre] less than expected,' he said. 'The telephone arrangement is not very good, you have to dial 28 or 30 numbers to get a connection for an international call.' He conceded: 'You have to have this infrastructure when so many people apply to come here. 'But most probably [next week] there will still be empty seats because a lot of people will work at their hotels. 'I'm staying with friends of mine in Hong Kong, so I think it's more practical for me to be here.' Gao Anming, from Beijing, deputy national news editor for the mainland China Daily newspaper, had taken a desk in the free seating area near his paper's booth. China Daily, Gao said, had sent eight people to cover the handover. But only two desks could be fitted into its budget booth. 'It's spacious here, though,' he said. 'At least better than my hotel room.'