Friday, 1 November 2013

Hong Kong: The Difference

When I told my South African friends that I planned on travelling the 40 km from Shenzhen in Mainland China to visit Hong Kong, they often replied in puzzled tones: "But, isn't Hong Kong in China?"
Or they would smile and nod excitedly, which either meant they were cognisant of the big difference between Hong Kong and the rest of China, or that they had no idea where Hong Kong was.

Either way, I do not blame them at all. 
Hong Kong is an interesting city indeed.

Hong Kong

During World War II Hong Kong was occupied by Japan, but was liberated by Chinese and British troops in 1945. For fourty-seven years, from 1950 to 1997, Hong Kong with it's 600 000 post-war inhabitants remained under British rule. An influx of people followed suit due to the manufacturing trade and high-rise buildings emerged to house the growing number of people. In 1997 the city was handed back to China under the "One country, two systems" principle and is therefore a city within China, but very different from mainland China.

Today, this city of 1100 km2 is home to 7 million people - it's smaller than Johannesburg's 1600 km2, but with twice as many inhabitants.

Busy Bodies

So, what is the difference between Hong Kong and China?
Here are a few I have come across in my brief visit to the city - some are evident, cannot-be-overlooked, in-your-face differences. Others are more subtle.

Crossing Over

  • Visa requirements: South Africans don't need a visa to visit Hong Kong, but they do for (mainland) China. Crossing the border entails filling in forms, standing in a queue, getting your passport stamped, etc., etc. In other words, it is much easier to travel from Paris to the Netherlands than to travel from China to Hong Kong.
  • Currencies: The currency in Hong Kong is Hong Kong Dollar, while in China it is Chinese Renminbi (Yuan). Neither "foreign" currency will be accepted once you cross the border. Yes, I have tried in vain.
  • Traffic regulations: In China you drive on the right. In Hong Kong, on the left. If you have requested a taxi to take you from China to Hong Kong, the driver's steering wheel will be on the right, which means in China the driver will drive on the right side of the road from the wrong side of the car. Luckily, as soon as you cross the border to Hong Kong, the driver will find himself on the left side of the road and therefore on the right side of the car again. Yes, it is as confusing as it sounds.
  • Language: In China everyone (except me, it seems) speaks Mandarin. In Hong Kong, the native tongue is Cantonese and (happy days!) most people can speak and understand English.
  • Legal System: Regulations from the number of children you are allowed to have (one in China and unrestricted in Hong Kong) to the number of Facebook friends (none in China due to the Great Firewall and unrestricted in Hong Kong), and anything in-between changes as soon as you cross the China-Hong Kong border.

Look Right

I found this BBC article very interesting as it mirrored many of my at-first-glance experiences.

When speaking to Hong Kong locals, many of them view Hong Kong as culturally different from mainland China, as explained in this video:

As for me, the more different the places that I get to visit on my journeys, the happier I am. 
Therefore I am looking forward to further exploring this city in, but different from, China.

Sparkling Skyline


  1. The entire Guangdong province (called Cantón in old English, therefore Cantonese) of the mainland China speak Cantonese, the same as Hong Kong. They are the same people. Almost everyone in HK has relatives in Guangdong.

    Even though Shenzhen city is located inside Guangdong province, it is by and large a migrant city with many of its people coming from other parts of China with different dialects. So both Mandarin and Cantonese are widely spoken in Shenzhen, with the former more popular.

    Many current ecnomical, intellectual and social elites of Hong Kong came from mainland China as recent as 1 or 2 generations ago.

    Without communism and serving as the window of China mainland to the world for many decades, HK has become one of wealthiest places in the world on per capita GDP, and THE wealthiest if taken into account per capita fixed assets, which means percentage-wise, HK has the most dollar millionaires in the world.

    BTW, China's currency RMB is traded in HK. While majority places don't accept it as a payment, many stores do due to a large influx of mainland tourists everyday.

    What you see in HK (btw, and Taiwan, or Singapore to a large extend) is the authentic Chinese culture with a modern mix of Westernisation.

    What you in mainland Chinese is also the authetic Chinese culture, but with many areas screwed up a bit by Mao's Communism.

    Therefore, there is NO cultural differences between HK and the mainland China, but big manner differences (e.g. waiting in a line, no spitting/litttering, proper Chinese table manners, etc), It's because of the large differences on education and income levels of an average citizen between the two.

    In essence, if China mainland is a sort of "France", then HK is "Super Dupper Monaco" on steroid. On manners and average income, if China is the pre-1992 East Germany, then HK is the West Germany.

    BTW, my family come from HK originally. Welcome to my city!


  2. BTW, Chungking Mansion (the huge building featured in your second photo) does not represent Hong Kong at all, because it is largely owned and occupied by Indians, Pakistanis, etc with their super cheap Indian hostels, Indian curry eateries, etc. They don't look like HKers, they don't sound like HKers, they don't smell like HKers and they don't behave like HKers. The place has many illegals and in fact a large percentage of Hong Kong's annual crimes come from there. Chungking Mansion is actually a "4th-world" hell hole which has nothing to do with Hong Kong but shame.