ENTERING the hall that would host the birth of the Special Administrative Region government was like stepping straight into Beijing.
After a day of pomp and ceremony, the inauguration of the SAR government was in sharp contrast to the colonial farewell outside.
In a layout not unlike the Great Hall of the People, red and yellow flowers adorned the podium where Hong Kong's new leaders sat beneath the Chinese and SAR flags.
Only the judges in their wigs and gowns provided a reminder of colonial rule. But some of Hong Kong's new decision-makers already appeared to be struggling with their duties after the change of sovereignty.
Mainland journalists giggled as Executive Council convenor Chung Sze-yuen took the oath in halting putonghua. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa scratched his head and appeared to be holding back a smirk.
Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang also fumbled through the oath-taking. But an exception was made for foreign judges, whose swearing-in was in English.
It was the most sensitive ceremony of them all.
Despite the boycott by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, there was not a free seat in the house. More than 40 foreign ministers were among the guests.
The only hitch was when Provisional Legislative Council president Rita Fan Tsui Lai-tai started taking the oath before all the legislators had arrived on stage.
Earlier, in the time it took to play God Save the Queen, the Union flag was lowered for the last time after 156 years of colonial British rule.
During the 45-minute solemn and dignified handover ceremony, British and Hong Kong flags were kept flying high with jets of air in front of the cavernous Grand Hall of the Convention and Exhibition Centre extension.
About 300 Chinese and British officials sat beneath two giant flags of their countries.
In the hall in front of them were 4,000 people—foreign dignitaries, local, political and business leaders and representatives of hundreds of media organisations.
On the stage were key players in Hong Kong's return, including Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Director Lu Ping, Xinhua director Zhou Nan, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe, and former governor Lord Wilson.