'Meet the People' debuts in Hong Kong

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HONG KONG -- Whether in town for business or pleasure, visitors to Hong Kong can get an up-close and personal look at Hong Kong daily life and society as part of a new Meet the People program sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourist Association.

The free program introduces visitors to English-speaking experts on everything from the subtle rituals of a Chinese tea ceremony to the graceful -- yet powerful -- martial art of Tai Chi.

Shoppers in search of a great buy will learn about Chinese antiques from one of Hollywood Road's top antiques dealers, while visitors to Cheung Chau Island will get acquainted with its centuries-old Bun Festival.

Most lectures and demonstrations last about an hour, and topics vary by day of the week. Visitors meet their hosts during the day at temples, teahouses and other venues throughout the city. Reservations are required only for groups of 10 or more.

"We believe the interpersonal exchange of the Meet the People program will make Hong Kong the trip of a lifetime for visitors," said Lily Shum, the tourist association's director for the Americas.

"If they participate every day they are in Hong Kong, they will come to know Hong Kong as much as we do," she said.

The following is a rundown of the programs.

  • Living with the Spirit World (Mondays at Tin Hau Temple, North Point).
  • Writer S.J. Chan, author of "Traditional Chinese Festivals and Local Celebrations," introduces visitors to Tin Hau, one of Hong Kong's most influential deities.

    The hourlong program takes place at Tin Hau Temple in North Point, one of the oldest temples dedicated to the goddess of the sea.

  • Treasures of the Past (Mondays at the Dragon Culture Antiques Shop, Central).
  • Antiques dealer and scholar Victor Choi helps visitors navigate the shops and merchandise along famed Hollywood Road.

    The hourlong tour includes tips on distinguishing between true antiques and good copies.

  • Tai Chi (Tuesdays and Wednesdays behind the Hong Kong Cultural Center in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon).
  • Yes, it looks graceful, but in its highest form Tai Chi is a deadly martial art.

    For visitors, however, the emphasis is on Tai Chi's graceful movements and its benefits for the mind and soul.

    The hourlong classes are taught by Pandora Wu, one of Hong Kong's best-known Tai Chi masters. Wu, who also teaches Tai Chi swordplay, has performed before visiting dignitaries.

  • The Language and Lore of Tea (Wednesdays at the Moon Garden Tea House, Causeway Bay).
  • Tea house owner Vincent Li introduces visitors to tea-drinking etiquette Hong Kong-style while relating the aromatic beverage's rich traditions.

    Far more than a refreshing beverage, tea is seen as having almost mystical properties in the East.

    This hourlong session promises to teach visitors why the Chinese believe: "Life is like tea. The longer it is immersed, the richer it becomes."

    As a keepsake of initiation into the ancient ritual, Li presents his "students" with a certificate of their participation.

  • Hong Kong's Contemporary Art Scene (Fridays at the Hanart TZ Gallery, Central).
  • Johnson Chang Tsong-zung, a curator, art critic and gallery owner, shares his insight into the contemporary art scene in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan.

    Chang founded the Hanart TZ Gallery in 1983, and it has since become the country's leading gallery specializing in Chinese experimental art.

  • Buns and Medals, Vignettes of Island Life (Saturdays at the Cheung Chau Windsurfing Center and Outdoor Cafe, Cheung Chau Island).
  • Cheung Chau is small, but its dumbbell-like shape makes it the most unusual of Hong Kong's more than 260 outlying islands.

    Island native Lai Kam regales visitors with stories about the island's unique Bun Festival, which has been celebrated in early summer every year since 1777.

    The eight-day festival celebrates the deity Pak Tai, who is believed to rule the ocean and look after the island residents' well being.

    Kam also talks about the island's most famous daughter, his niece, Lee Lai San, who won the Olympic Gold Medal in windsurfing at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

  • Wind and Water, the Relationship Between Buildings and Landscape -- Fung Shui (Sundays at the HKTA Visitors Center, Central).
  • Fung shui master Joseph Cheung explains the ancient principles of fung shui, the practice of positioning objects with respect to one another in order to achieve harmony and good fortune.

    Cheung emigrated to the U.S. in 1989 to start a fung shui consultancy business in San Francisco, where his clients include banks, corporations, restaurants and private citizens.

    For information about booking a program, call (800) 282-4582 or visit www.discoverhongkong.com.

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