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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Revelers Pull Out All Stops for Handover Festivities

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong loves a party, and the start of a new era is always a great excuse -- even for those who aren't sure the Chinese takeover is something to celebrate.

Champagne toasts, fireworks and nonstop parties were ushering in the start of Beijing's sovereignty at midnight Monday.

The hottest ticket in town was the Regent Hotel's extravaganza, where more than 2,500 guests were to journey through Britain's colonial past, listening to reggae music and nibbling on Indian, African and Asian delicacies.

At the precise stroke of midnight, the party was to change to a Chinese theme.

"This is a foretaste of the massive celebrations we're going to see around the world at the start of the new millennium," said Winsome Lane, social editor of The Hong Kong Standard, an English daily.

Despite the steep cost of tickets -- 2,500 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. $325) plus 10 percent service charge -- the Regent party was a sellout.

Tickets for the handover ball at Cafe Deco on the Peak -- dress code "imperial white tie" or "imperial chinoiserie" -- cost 3,900 Hong Kong dollars.

"People who spend that kind of money will be determined to enjoy themselves," said Ong Chin Huat, social editor of the Hong Kong Tatler, the city's society bible.

"If you want to sulk, you stay at home," Ong said.

"Hong Kong is a party city. It's extremely social,'' Ong said. "That's because business and socializing is very much interlinked.

"You go to a cocktail party and you may strike a million-dollar deal by meeting someone. So it's partying with a reason.''

For those who don't move in high society, there were plenty of free events, starting with fireworks shows Monday night.

Downtown Victoria Park, a popular gathering spot, was hosting a Carnival of Unity, with games, folk art shows and food stalls.

In the districts of the New Territories to the north, seaside Sai Kung was the venue for entertainment such as magic shows, lion dances and Chinese folk singers.

Hong Kong's 100,000-strong Filipino community was putting on a free two-day carnival with concerts and dancing.

Philippine first lady Amelita Ramos sang in Hong Kong on Sunday.

An all-night dance party was to kick off in a basement in a downtown hotel an hour before the midnight sovereignty switch, with tickets costing 350 Hong Kong dollars.

For the more highbrow, there was a weeklong matinee of classical Peking opera, starring Mui Bo-kau, son of legendary opera singer Mei Lanfang.

On Lantau island, a one-hour trip by ferry from downtown, there was even a brand-new exhibition to ponder the meaning of it all, called "Art of Politics -- One Country, Two Systems."

For many, the best seat for the handover was a couch at home.

A five-hour television variety show, "Brilliance of the Dragon," starred popular singers Andy Lau and Anita Mui.