Hong Kong's cultural kaleidoscope

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HONG KONG -- On an early morning in the piazza of the Hong Kong Cultural Center, Pandora Wu and William Ng teach a class in the art of tai chi.

Their graceful movements are mimicked by the enthusiastic students, who are here as part of the Hong Kong Tourism Board's (HKTB) Cultural Kaleidoscope program for tourists.

Slowly the visitors move their arms in circular directions, while the teachers motivate them to balance their yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) forces. This is not your everyday stretching exercise -- it's as much for your mind as for your body.

Wu and Ng are famous in Hong Kong -- he once performed tai chi swordplay before British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- and the class this morning, with a maximum of 30 students, is full.

The Cultural Kaleidoscope program was renewed last November and continues to be an important component of the destination's post-SARS "Hong Kong Welcomes You" campaign.

U.S. tour operators participating as HKTB partners -- including Pleasant Holidays, Pacific Delight, Ritz Tours and others -- can provide agents with brochures on the program.

Visitors to Hong Kong practicing the flowing movements of tai chi. There are actually two parts. The Meet the People itinerary, which includes the tai chi class, enables visitors to experience everyday life in Hong Kong.

Part two is Museum Visits, a comprehensive tour of the city's top museums such as the Museum of History (which has a new "Hong Kong Story" exhibit that's really quite good), Science Museum and Space Museum. Visitors can purchase a pass to all for $3.84.

On a recent visit, I participated not only in the tai chi class but also the jade appreciation class at the jade market in Kowloon. I also met with a feng shui master.

The jade class should interest serious shoppers. Henry Cheng, a jeweler and gemologist, tells students about jade's different colors (green, yellow, red, white and black), qualities and prices. After absorbing the details, visitors can then visit the jade market on their own to see how much they have learned.

Other options include the pearl-grading and appreciation class. Then there's the antiques class, taught by antiques dealer William Chak. The class meets at Chak's Company, his shop on Hollywood Road, which is rife with stores for serious collectors as well as outside tabletops covered with curios.

Architecture and heritage tours also are available.

One tour takes visitors through a guided walk in Hong Kong's Central district, visiting the Central police station, the Fringe Club and the former French Mission.

The other tour varies itineraries -- it could start on the island, Kowloon or the New Territories.

Other Cultural Kaleidoscope classes include a duk ling (Chinese junk) ride on the harbor, a Cantonese opera appreciation tour at the Heritage Museum, a Chinese clothing appreciation class and kung fu demonstrations at Kowloon Park.

For more information, contact the Hong Kong Tourism Board at (800) 282-4582 or visit www.discoverhongkong.com.

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