HONG KONG — Call it "The Year of the Line" in Hong Kong.
Armed with instant noodles for nourishment and possibly an umbrella to hold off rain or sun, Hong Kongers in 1997 waited patiently for coins, stamps, stocks, apartments, even baked goods.
People stood for hours outside the post office, for example, for stamps featuring Queen Elizabeth II, in the hope they would become valuable after China took over.
Britain's queen also drew locals to bank lines, changing bills for coins with her picture. With the coming handover, they were being replaced.
And then there was "red chip" fever. Stocks with close links to the mainland caught fire. One, Beijing Enterprises, had 1 in every 15 adults lined up to invest. And surging property prices had people camping outside new developments.
But after the Asian financial crisis hit Hong Kong in October, the character of the lines changed. Instead of trying to make a buck, Hong Kongers lined up to keep one.
Concerned depositors waited outside the International Bank of Asia to withdraw their money after rumors the bank would fail.
When Japanese retailer Yaohan's declared bankruptcy, its final, one-day sale was greeted with lines that stretched for blocks. "Hong Kongers just love a sale," explained one woman.
And then there were the November cake runs. People with coupons for free mini-cakes waited for hours to redeem them over concerns that a bakery might go under.