China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning was opened to the public in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region over the weekend for 20th anniversary celebrations of the region's return to the motherland, attracting more than 3,000 people and triggering a souvenir buying spree.
"I am so excited. I grew up in Hong Kong, I witnessed the old times when our country was weak, but now I am so glad to see it has grown strong and great," 78-year-old Hong Kong resident surnamed Zhang told the China Central Television in tears.
Some 2,000 people visited the Liaoning over the weekend. Tickets were all distributed to Hong Kong permanent residents on July 3 within three hours. Another 1,600 tickets were given to select groups, like journalists and experts.
Among the visitors was Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, who told the Global Times on Sunday that "despite the hot temperature, people gladly and excitedly toured every corner of the carrier."
Song said that the Liaoning would also open to mainlanders in the future in a bid to promote national defense education.
Visitors were allowed on the carrier's deck and arsenal, said Song. They were given free water and bread.
Scale models of the J-15 fighter, which were each sold for HK$400 ($51), were the most popular souvenir, followed by HK$100 T-shirts embroidered with the number 16, the Liaoning's number. They were sold out soon after the first group of visitors on Saturday morning, haiwainet.cn reported Sunday.
A Hong Kong resident surnamed Lin, who visited the Liaoning on Sunday, spent about HK$4,500 on souvenirs, including key chains and T-shirts. Lin told on.cc that he waited in line for nine hours to get his ticket, and that "it was worth it."
The destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan and the frigate Yantai, which are also visiting Hong Kong, as well as the three barracks of the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison, were also open to visitors.
Wang Yu, a 22-year-old college graduate whose grandfather joined the War of Liberation (1946-49) told the Global Times on Sunday that visitors were so excited, and that some of them had waited in line for an hour just to visit the Yinchuan.