For several years in the 1990s, I paid broadly monthly visits to Hong Kong - then governed by the British - whilst my company Capital Citybus was a wholly-owned subsidiary of CNT Holdings. It had a number of business interests of which we were one.
Those were heady days - booming economy, expansion, and with the return of the colony to China some years away.
Fellow subsidiary Citybus, under the direction of venerable British (Welsh, actually) busman Lyndon Rees, was breaking into the franchised bus market at the expense of China Motor Bus and bringing hugely improved standards at the same time. Lyndon would often recall that when he arrived there in the 1960s every bus had two axles and two conductors. He succeeded in making sure they had three axles, no conductors and air conditioning as well!
After my management team and I bought Capital Citybus ourselves my trips to Hong Kong were far less frequent and more recently hardly at all. So it was very exciting to be able to visit again this past week, flying in from Sydney and using it as a base for my visit to BYD in Shenzhen (see last blog).
I did have a couple of hours between meetings to explore some old haunts. Back in the 1990s I did drive on Citybus route 260 between Central and Stanley - it caused a real stir as Europeans certainly didn't do jobs like bus driving in those days. I recall Lyndon following me in his car for a bit such was his anxiety. So I retraced those steps - as a passenger this time. What a contrast from my first ever trip - a white knuckle ride on a China Motor Bus DMS driven by a white-gloved racing driver. Now with highbacked seats and air-con, we travelled with ease, but no less speed, the winding roads past Repulse Bay and into Stanley.
The village itself has been transformed (and not in a good way in my opinion) - the world-famous market is still there but the rocky beach area now has a broadwalk, with a Starbucks, McDonald's and Pizza Express. A few old landmarks are still there but it has gone the way of tourist destinations. I retreated to some nearby, unspoiled locations, needless to say.
There was barely time to catch up with my old friends in Hong Kong but I did reflect on the changes which have taken place since I last visited. The Star Ferry is exactly the same but it now has an App; so do the trams. The MTR is building more railway at a great rate; and the road network into China is better.
But essentially the place remains buzzing with huge volumes of people all urgently travelling to and from work, play and home. Container ships crowd the docks area, bamboo scaffolding still supports unbelievably tall constructions, and tailor's shops sit side by side with electronics retailers in Kowloon.
And lastly - one other improvement since the 1990s. Improved diplomatic relations mean civil aircraft can take a more northerly route, and since the world is narrower at the top than in the middle, journey times are now faster. A late plane out of Hong Kong is now the first arrival into Heathrow. So a final contrast - from the 'new' Chep Lap Kok airport (actually opened 1998) to Heathrow's 'new' Terminal 5 - neither of which were in existence when I first headed east. And next time - indeed by the end of the year flight BA28 will be in the hands of the new British Airways Airbus A380....