By Bobby Yip

Hong Kong celebrates its 15th anniversary since the handover to Chinese sovereignty from British rule on July 1, 2012. In the city’s King George V Memorial Park, a plaque from the colonial era is hidden behind the roots of a banyan tree. I found this to be a good symbol of the fading former colonial links to the territory’s past.

Bearing the romanticized phrase “Pearl of the Orient”, Hong Kong attracts visitors from around the world. Due to a fast growing economy, a flood of mainland Chinese visitors in recent years (including many big spenders) have boosted the city’s retail sales. In 2011, nearly 42 million visitors came to Hong Kong, about 64 percent of them from the mainland.

SLIDESHOW: HONG KONG 15 YEARS LATER

The “Forever Blooming Bauhinia” sculpture outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, a gift from the Chinese government in 1997, is one of the most popular tourist spots for mainlanders. To me, they enjoy a freedom of expression here without fear of political correctness. Under an immigration scheme, a few of might eventually settle in Hong Kong. With a good judicial system, low crime rate and a wide range of personal freedom, just to mention a few, becoming a Hong Kong citizen is a dream for many on the other side of the border.

The late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, architect of “one-country, two-systems”, said Hong Kong “will remain unchanged for 50 years”. In reality, various educational and cultural programs are conducted to try to strengthen the locals national identity and to make them become more patriotic. Flag-raising at schools and national studies are increasingly popular.

Yet, a lot of people still consider themselves as “Hong Kongers” rather than “Chinese people”, recent local polls showed.