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Eyewitnesses to History

Southlanders Pack Their Bags for Hong Kong to Be on Hand for Its Return to China


Some are seeking the thrill of participating in a historic event. Some wish to renew happy memories. Others are studying the issues. And, even more simply are looking for an exiting destination for a summer holiday.

All will be among the hundreds of Southlanders traveling to Hong Kong to be on hand when the British return the crown colony to China at midnight Monday in the Great Hall of the annex to the Hong Kong convention center.

Five-star hotels like the Peninsula Hong Kong and the Regent Hong Kong on the Kowloon side and the Mandarin Oriental on Hong Kong island are sold out. (The Peninsula claims to have closed its waiting list in 1989.)

However, approximately 8,000 of the 34,000 hotel rooms in Hong Kong are still available, according to Thomas Axmacher, chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Assn., and also the general manager of the Regent. "We're anxious to get out the word that Hong Kong is not sold out."

The five-stars all have superb views of the Hong Kong Victoria Harbor waters, where Don Mischer Productions of Los Angeles will produce the mammoth Hong Kong '97 Spectacular at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, celebrating the tradition and culture of Hong Kong. Four million are expected to view the spectacle from the shorelines, high-rise buildings and hills surrounding the harbor.

The Regent is hosting its own spectacular--huge parties for 2,700 on Monday and Tuesday. The Regent will produce within the hotel nine parties featuring British colonial themes, including Singapore, Australia, India and America. For "The Americas" theme party, Wolfgang Puck will take over the Harbourside Room with Spago food, and Warner Bros. will provide the latest "Batman" sets and costumes.

On Tuesday evening, the mood changes to Chinese province themes--Shanghai, Hunan, Beijing--with appropriate decorations, foods and waiters' costumes. The 800 who attend the Ballroom Beijing party will step into a room with floor-to-ceiling paintings of the Forbidden City.

"Being in Hong Kong for the hand-over will be a chance to participate in history," said Joan Hotchkis. She and Tamara Asseyev will be house guests of former Arco chief Kent Damon and his wife, Louise, at their home on Victoria Peak. "It's the best view of the harbor," said Hotchkis.

The invitation from the Damons reads, "We request the pleasure of your company at a Mardi Gras party to celebrate the beginning of a new era."

"This is an opportunity of a lifetime," said Carol Inman of Bel-Air, who will be at the Mandarin with her husband, Michael, an immigration lawyer. They are frequent travelers to Hong Kong. Friends have given them invitations for both the British pre-midnight ceremonies in one hall and the post-midnight China affair in another hall.

For Peggy Ducommun Ward, it will be her 30th trip to Hong Kong. All except this one have been in April. Regarding the hand-over, she said, "It's sad, but it had to happen sometime." She will stay at the Regent and also see her longtime friend Run Run Shaw, the movie mogul.


Studying the issues will be the 85 guests on the Claremont Institute (not associated with the Claremont Colleges) think tank trip led by Michael Warder, vice president. The trip is labeled "To the Edge of Freedom." "Freedom is at issue in Hong Kong," he said, "and more so now that there have been significant revisions in the bill of rights that will affect press freedom, freedom to assemble and freedom of expression."

The institute program in Hong Kong will include speakers and briefings with key decision-makers, including Martin Lee, chairman of the Democratic Party; Richard Boucher, the U.S. consul general in Hong Kong; author Robert Elegant; and Hugh Davies, senior United Kingdom representative to the Joint Liaison Group (he will be the British senior officer in Hong Kong after Gov. Chris Patten departs). Ada Wong of the Hong Kong Urban Council and a graduate of Pomona College, who heads the Hong Kong committee on culture, will also speak.

Tom and Travis Kranz will be on the institute trip. Said Tom Kranz, "China, after more than 150 years, is reclaiming Chinese territory that the British took. So the Chinese view is that they finally have their land. But the American and British tradition of the rule of law and individual liberties is at risk, from the Western point of view, so we all need great diplomacy. Both countries will need to exhibit great skills and strategies in planning how they will work and trade together and share ideas."

Others on the institute trip include Pauline Naftzger, Don and Dorothy Bendetti, John and Kathinka Tunney, John Peschong and Bruce Herschensohn. Most of the group will watch the fireworks spectacle from a Southern California yacht.

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