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Expats with Hong Kong in their blood

It may be part of China, but you can still get a plate of British fish and chips in downtown Hong Kong
It may be part of China, but you can still get a plate of British fish and chips in downtown Hong Kong  

From Mike Chinoy
CNN Senior Asia Correspondent

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Amid pomp and imperial nostalgia the British left Hong Kong five years ago in droves, afraid for the territory's future after it was handed back to China in 1997.

While many took the conventional route home by air, some sailed through the harbor the first British colonialists named after Queen Victoria.

It was in these same waters that George Cautherly's ancestors arrived two centuries ago -- sea captains engaged in the lucrative opium trade with China.

His family has been here ever since, although they long ago moved into a more legitimate business making medical supplies in China. His great great grandmother is buried in Hong Kong. And Cautherly says he never thought of leaving.

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"I never considered whether it was time to pull up stakes simply because the family has been here through a lot of different phases, and we have lived here in China before it was communist, we have lived in Hong Kong, so to me it was something that was not going to be an issue," says Catherly.

Alasdair Watson had the option to go in 1997. But he believed China would keep its promise to leave Hong Kong alone and opted to remain in what had been the Royal Hong Kong Police Force when he joined in 1980.

"There's been no change since 1997. Everything has carried on as normal," Watson says.

While Watson maintains it's business as usual in Hong Kong, the facts say differently. Hong Kong Chinese now run the government. And there are fears the territory's freedoms could be eroded.

Despite these developments, civil servant Mike Rowse felt there was still a role for him. He heads Hong Kong's investment promotion bureau, Invest Hong Kong, and is the first Briton to give up his British passport for a Hong Kong Chinese one.

"I just felt I don't want to be here on a British passport saying Hong Kong/China is a great place. I want to be here on a Hong Kong/China passport telling them my hometown is a really good place to do business," explains Rowse.

Many other expatriates feel the same way. At annual events like the Stanley Beach Dragon boat races, the large foreign presence is still evident, even if the British are no longer the biggest expatriate community.

But for people like Cautherly, Hong Kong is in the blood.

"I really feel that I am part of this place because we have some flesh and bone here. I expect to end my days here. I hope to negotiate to put my ashes here because I like to be here. It would be nice to spend the rest of eternity in a place like this."




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