The moment I entered the arrivals hall at Hong Kong airport I could feel the difference. I entered not just a different world, but a different system.
Everything suddenly seemed to be more colorful, more vibrant; people looked more individual, representing a different life style by behaving more individually. The speed of the city is a faster one, even the walking patterns differ a lot from what I am used to in Beijing. The crowds are more heterogenous, people from many different places. Mandarin, English, Cantonese, Dutch, German – many languages can be heard in the shadows of those sky rising towers.
Hong Kong is this 7.4 million people city in the south of China, on the eastern side of the Pearl River estuary. The territory was returned in 1997 after 99 years to China. Since that it is officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. As having this special status, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from that of mainland China. The principle is called „one country – two systems“.
Recently the city is in the news because of demonstrations and also violent protests. A bill was tried to introduced that would allow the extradition of criminal fugitives who are wanted in territories with which HK does not have extradition agreements, including mainland China. This led to concerns that would subject citizens of HK to the legal system of mainland China and thereby undermine the region’s autonomy and Hong Kongers civil liberties.
Fortunately the city remained calm. But it was very visual that tourists stay away these days. It’s said that official numbers of travellers in Nov 2019 dropped at about 60% compared to Nov 2018, so the major sights were almost deserted, the prices for accommodation surprisingly low. The many shopping malls, luxury brand stores, boutiques and jewellery stores were also deserted. Shopping-crazy mainlanders make up by far the biggest number of tourists.
Although both Chinese, Hong Kongers and people from the mainland don’t understand each other. Chinese from the mainland say (probably influenced by the official media), Hong Kongers „hate them“ and reject the PR China. Hong Kongers, on the contrary say, that mainlanders „envy them“. And of course, the on-going rejection of the protests by the mainlanders, lead to even more refusal to be part of one big Chinese Nation.
A Chinese friend told me that his favourite parts of China, if you’d define the territory of China the way the government does, are Taiwan and Hong Kong.
While being in Hong Kong I tried to imagine how it would feel for mainland Chinese to be here. Being in HK actually FEELS more free and suddenly even Beijing, that I would define as an international „kinda“ colourful city (because of advertisements of whatever kind and all the bling-bling lights at night), is all grey, concrete and dull, even people are dull and I realised that the dominating colors of clothes are black, grey and brown. HK also means, no more open propaganda posters, but there are commercials on the screens in public transport instead of military parades and all smiles toward the Grand Chairman. Way less surveillance cameras, no massive displays on huge junctions that’d prominently show you if you’d dare crossing the road at red lights, no need to talk about certain things in low voice. Free access to all those websites – google, social media, western news, etc. – that aren’t accessible on the mainland. But, rumours go that a visit from the mainland to HK would put you on an alert-list.
Anyway, I wonder about how people perceive HK, however, I am aware that I might perceive it way differently than Chinese probably do.
This is only one side. I also noticed another aspect: People in HK (or in other places of the so-called free world) are expected to be friendly. But all their smiles seemed temporary, it faded when they didn’t have to deal with me anymore. Whereas in Beijing people that work in service and public spaces aren’t expected to be friendly. But when they smile, I have the the feeling that this is an authentic one, a real one, a human one.
Other than that what can I say? The city is awesome. To witness that iconic skyline anytime of the day is mind-blowing. To take the tram up to Victoria Peak to enjoy the view from above is purely amazing. To take the ferry to one of the outer islands beams you to – again – another world within 30 minutes: White beaches, laid back lifestyle, hills and mountains to keep you busy hiking or running various trails.
The huge contrasts is what defines the city: a hybrid between the East and the West, an urban jungle on the one side and remote hilltops, sandy beaches and romantic fishing villages on the other side. A fascinating place.