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"Home return" experiences

Two very different trips.

I made my first "home return" trip to the Mainland when I was about ten years old, accompanying my cousin, who was twenty years my senior to our home town in Changping, Dongguan. That trip made a bad impression on me as a youngster. I was too young to feel the warmth of relatives welcoming those of us who were fortunate to have had the opportunity of settling in Hong Kong. Instead, there was this huge goose that chased me around every time I set foot in the courtyard. Well, he became dinner on the eve of our return to Hong Kong. The lai chee trees opposite the front door seemed to receive a lot of attention from the congregation of relatives, and therefore made an impression on me, although in autumn no lai chees were to be found on them. And to crown it all, I got burned on the face by a match that one of the local boys very skilfully and using just one hand set flying in my direction. Apparently, that was a popular war game among youngsters. I eventually learned how to do it, but the distance that I commanded was far too short for me to even think of a stealth counter-attack. After that trip, home returns were something that I tried hard to avoid.

It was not until around thirty years later that I made another visit to the Mainland. This one was a lot more interesting though, mainly because it was unexpected. I did not even have my "Home Return Permit" with me. It was one of those glorious, cool winter days in Hong Kong, with lovely sunshine and the sky unusually clear. My special duty for the day (Saturday 3 December 1988 as marked in my diary) was to receive five guests from the Mainland at the Hong Kong side of the bridge, which was temporarily sealed off for the occasion, connecting the Mainland and Hong Kong at Man Kam To. At 0900 sharp, the party walked across the bridge to the Hong Kong side and I greeted them, accompanied by a Chief Immigration Officer. The guests were then quickly ushered into an Immigration Department van and we sped off to the helicopter pad at the Police post nearby.

It was a short helicopter ride (my first) from Man Kam To to Fanling Lodge. But it was enough to confuse me as to which side I was on, with Shenzhen very much urbanised and Hong Kong looking very green from the air. But the then "Royal" Hong Kong Golf Club confirmed where I was as we landed in the middle of it at Fanling Lodge. The Governor, then Sir David and now Lord Wilson, was there to greet the guests. It was his country home, which he kindly made available as a convenient venue for the meeting between a team of five of the "British Side" headed by Sir Piers Jacobs, the then Financial Secretary, and the five from the Chinese Side headed by Mr Lu Ping.

The all-day meeting was held in the room then known as "Lady Wilson's Study" facing the big but rather concealed garden at the Lodge. We had lunch there too, but I was too preoccupied with the subject of the meeting to remember what we ate or enjoy the serene environment. But even today I can still remember what we talked about. Those who are familiar with the monetary and financial development of Hong Kong will recall the Accounting Arrangements introduced in the middle of that year, which enabled the Government to acquire from the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation control over the Monetary Base. That was done with the endorsement of the Chinese Side and so at the meeting at Fanling Lodge we reviewed, among other things, the operation of the Accounting Arrangements, noting that they had strengthened the Hong Kong Government's ability to ensure exchange-rate stability and had been successful and well received. We also talked at length about the concept of having a monetary authority in Hong Kong. Indeed, that was when the seed was sowed, although both sides danced around the idea a lot, not wanting to be the one suggesting it but both agreeing without saying so that it would be a good way forward.

The meeting ended at 1645 as scheduled, and by 1700 I was on the helicopter again with the five guests heading back to Man Kam To. When crossing the bridge, Mr Lu Ping invited me to step onto the Mainland side, which I gladly did. That was my second "home return" trip, a rather more pleasant one, albeit very short, as we did not wish to hold up traffic over the bridge for too long.

Joseph Yam
17 September 2009

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Last revision date: 1 August 2011
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