LEAVING Hongkong after five years was the easy bit; surviving the previous week of farewells and formalities was the hard part. Two visits to Revenue Tower (as the taxman's new home in Wan Chai is called) inside three days, and two cheques, was the most painful experience in a welcome welter of dinners, luncheons, parties and presentations. Amid the helter-skelter, there was still time to reflect on the changes Hongkong has seen since my arrival in March 1988. By comparison with the complexities of the present political situation, those pre-Tiananmen days were relatively simple: the Government could go about its business without too much worry about what China might say, there were no political parties to stir up public feeling, and there was general optimism about the prosperity from the cross-border relationship with Guangdong. The only down side was the lingering feeling that the Foreign Office had pushed the Governor into delaying direct elections to 1991 instead of sticking to the original timetable set down by his predecessor, Sir Edward Youde, before his untimely death inBeijing. Stepping down the democracy road, three years sooner would have made a difference, with 1995 now Hongkong's last chance to have a proper say in its own affairs under British sovereignty. The tensions of a community waking up to its right to choose - while facing the prospect that it may be short-lived if Beijing interprets the Basic Law to suit its own purposes rather than Hongkong's - will come to the surface in the next few months. Pollsters and analysts agree that the community at large wants to see peace break out, even at the price of British concessions: better still from China's point of view, concessions by the man who insists he is Hongkong's last governor, Mr Chris Patten. That may be a wish too far. Mr Patten, feeling healthier than he has done for years, thanks to his heart operation and a diet that has seen him lose more than 10 kilograms, is not likely to blink first. China's complaint that Britain has allowed Mr Patten to move the goal-posts by producing his October 7 proposals finds a ready echo with other Asian governments. The real offence to Beijing is not so much that he put the ideas forward, but that he now won't withdraw them. Recent history has conditioned China's rulers to expect London to back down when Beijing disapproves. But not this time. HONGKONG politicians and civil servants, used to watching ritual retreats for years, still cannot believe that London and the Governor are willing to confront China to secure a better deal for Hongkong. The mainland tactic of trying to prise apart Downing Street and the Governor has shown no dividends, despite resorting to a level of personal abuse reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution. Just as the Chinese side shake their heads and complain about theBritish going back on agreements, Mr Patten's supporters - he has plenty of them abroad but they are a dwindling number in Hongkong - find it amazing that the local stock market and any number of prominent businessmen believe he will quit and go home. Evenif the reforms package goes to the Legislative Council for debate, and the members then lose their nerve and vote it down for fear of being excommunicated by Beijing (the arm-twisting will be fearsome if the Legco process ever starts), there is no sign that the Governor will resign. Only a severe worsening of his heart condition would force him to leave. Anyone who meets Mr Patten cannot fail to be impressed by his intellect and his articulate ease. He speaks clearly - bluntly when needed - and seems not to need notes or prompts. The strength of China's reaction reflects its awareness that it faces a formidable adversary. How much simpler the transition would be, they say, if Britain had appointed a tame old peer or administrator heading for retirement, instead of a politician in his prime, out to make a difference. WHEN I first talked to Mr Patten about his new posting, in London last June, he was already sure that he could force change, that the widely-held wisdom that all deals with China were set in stone was mistaken. Decisions had been taken in principle that the old deferential way of dealing with China would be swapped for a more direct approach. It stretches credibility to assume that such a radical shift could be left to the whim of one man. It should also be remembered that the current policy retains all-party support in Britain, despite growing doubts that the Governor has bitten off more than he can chew. In Hongkong, the rapid revaluation of his talent, especially by business community leaders who applauded his more open, decisive style in the first two months of his rule, only to write him off as ignorant and arrogant once China gave them the cue, has confirmed the territory's reputation for putting pragmatism before principle. Critics who now castigate him for being unwilling to listen to advice, and for putting his own personal ambition ahead of the interests of Hongkong, were also those who criticised his predecessor, Lord Wilson, for being weak and over-compliant with Beijing. To the hardliners, Mr Patten is living proof of Britain's continuing colonial treachery, while his more moderate opponents are prepared to concede he is a good man here at a bad time, arriving too late to push through more democratic change. The turnaround in opinion inside six months of the October policy speech would make an academic study in itself. That should include the philosophical contortions the business community has gone through to reverse its favourable judgement of Mr Patten. They have fallen back on their traditional response - a plague on all politicians, and leave Hongkong to the business people who have no need for democracy. It is an argument that plays well with Beijing's leaders, on whom so many Hongkong business people rely for patronage and approval. But it ignores the argument that what the Governor is trying to do, through his reform proposals, is give extra insurancethat the rights and freedoms established in Hongkong under British rule remain the foundation of its prosperity. Before June 4, 1989, it was barely an issue at all. After the events in Tiananmen Square, the local business leaders who had been so bullish about a seamless transition went very quiet, and the vacuum was filled with the clamour for foreign passports, escape routes elsewhere, and a desire to build in more safeguards into the ''one country, two systems'' formula. Two years later, it was back to business as usual around the boardroom tables, as the engine of China's spectacular growth and Mr Deng Xiaoping's push for market reform propelled the through train. Out in the community at large, the confidence was not so high. After all, it is much easier to exude optimism sitting on a big bank balance and an overseas passport in your pocket. Very many of the businessmen who tell the world where Mr Patten has gone wrong do so in the knowledge that their safety net is in placefor 1997, with a foreign base lined up in case of trouble. What irritates them more than anything is the success of the United Democrats in winning the day in the first direct elections held in September 1991. All the talking, all the effort, that went in to form a credible conservative party to offer voters a proper choice, came to nothing. If the same elections were held today, it is likely that the results would be very similar. Eighteen months of huffing and puffing have finally produced the so-called Liberal Party, but it is far from proving that it is equipped to offer genuine competition to the real liberals. The former CRC is blighted by mediocre leadership, a lack of political sharpness and internal frictions that probably stem for an absence of a coherent set of convictions. It is also showing poor judgement in selecting staff, andhas yet to convince even staunch conservatives that it has the wit and the dedication to challenge the United Democrats at grassroots level in the 1995 elections. However, the United Democrats themselves are experiencing growing pains, mainly caused by the discomfort they felt at being cast in the role of a pro-Government party, supporting the Patten reforms in a muted, half-hearted fashion, and looking for shabbypretexts to show that they can still pull the lion's tail, such as last week's pathetic abstention in the Budget debate. Being both anti-colonial and anti-communist is their natural forte, but that is an increasingly difficult act to pull off in a community being polarised by the development of political parties and the Patten plan. The disappearance from the international spotlight of the United Democrats' greatest asset and greatest liability, Mr Martin Lee Chu-ming, is indicative of the problem. Instead of being Hongkong's most famous face abroad, keeping the democratic flag flying through his speeches and articles, he has been supplanted by Mr Patten. EVEN some of the Governor's greatest admirers confess to misgivings about the wisdom of him hogging the limelight. Other Hongkong voices are not heard, as reporters and camera crews home in on Government House from all over the world. Instead of leading anorchestra, he is a one-man band. Mr Patten seems to be relying on history to help him out, on the basis that if Mr Deng dies within the next three years, the changes in China will work to Hongkong's advantage in producing a more liberal attitude. That is a large assumption on which to base a policy, but it may come out right. Tiananmen Square, and what it said about China's determination to put political power above all other considerations, including international reputation, was the watershed of my five years in Hongkong. It buried the myth that persisted about Hongkong being a city interested only in money, not politics - a myth which some diehards are still trying to perpetuate. Of course Mr and Mrs Average of Hunghom would prefer a quiet life in a thriving economic environment, but Tiananmen Square blew away any dewy-eyedmisconceptions about Hongkong being left to its own devices after 1997. The rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary, have served Hongkong well, but businessmen are burying their heads in the sand if they discount their importance to its continued success as a financial and trading centre. The argument over the composition of the Court of Final Appeal remains a time-bomb. Confidence in the fairness of the system across the border is not increased by the degree of official complicity evident in the smuggling, car theft and piracy that has become such a prominent feature. Corruption has always been part of life in Hongkong, but if it permeates the police again, or infiltrates the judiciary because of politics, a vital plank in its reputation will have been removed. The other worrying trend is for China to treat Hongkong like a naughty child which needs to be brought into line. In some quarters in Beijing, a ''we'll show you'' mood prevails, often coupled with a warning that in 25 years Shanghai will have replaced Hongkong as the financial and commercial capital of China. Lord Wilson's Waterloo was the airport project, which delivered his administration into the hands of the Chinese and gave him his ''lame duck'' tag. But his more caring and concerned approach should not be forgotten. It was his initiative in 1988 which acknowledged the Government's need to do something about Hongkong's worsening environmental problems. Having launched an anti-pollution campaign within three months of my arrival, I welcomed this recognition of the situation, although progress has been frustratingly slow at times. Sitting on two community-based environmental committees, I often saw that not all branches of the civil service were equally committed to the Governor's clean-up policy. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Department seemed to have more problems dealing with colleagues in departments like Agriculture and Fisheries and Marine than with industrialists. Seeing the rubbish strewn around a beach or a picnic site on a summer weekend appeared to negate the value of 20 years of the Keep Hongkong Clean campaign. Despite the ''where there's muck there's brass'' mentality that still survives, there has been a major shift in public awareness of the importance of a clean environment in the past five years, with top companies leading the way in setting a good example. One personal disappointment has been the failure of Hongkong sports associations to lift themselves out of the mire of petty internal squabbles and ego-trips, and concentrate on achieving better results. At its best, Hongkong sport is second to none - the excitement of a full house at Sha Tin on Invitation Cup day; the atmosphere of the second day of the Rugby Sevens. But despite the efforts of the Sports Development Board to introduce a more professionalapproach, there are still too many individuals running key sports who are rank amateurs in the worst sense of the word. Money solves many problems, and Hongkong has plenty of spare cash. But the motivation has to be right. When the cause is good, the community can be astonishingly generous, as responses to various charitable campaigns run by the South China Morning Post have shown. There is a warmth in the people that is missed by the stereotypical portrayal of Hongkong as a hard-hearted, cut-throat city - I will miss it immensely.