Since GV came to China for a short visit, it gave us the opportunity to spend a few days in both Shanghai and Hong Kong. Both cities are, and have been, two top east China destinations, for businesses and tourism. For two cities in the same country, there are a few striking differences, apart from those you would expect between any two internationally influenced cities. A few that stick out are:
Language. Hong Kongers speak Cantonese, while the people from mainland China speak Mandarin — Shanghai having its own dialect. While most Hong Kong natives speak both Cantonese and Mandarin, the reverse is not true. Most Chinese don’t understand Cantonese and don’t have a reason to — it’s a different language, even though the characters are the same.
Driving and traffic — Besides the obvious difference that China drives on the right, Hong Kong on the left, Hong Kong traffic is orderly by comparison, with a noticeable lack of two-wheelers, so no chance of getting run over on the sidewalk (except by other pedestrians). Shanghai traffic may be orderly if you are from China, but with the amount of e-bikes stealthy heading every which way including against traffic, coupled with drivers who’s concept of right-of-way is that no one else should have it, traffic appears more chaotic.
Currency — not many countries have two cities with different currencies — one is not used in the other and vis versa. There are a few that use two concurrently, but not totally separate as in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Customs — since there has been so much trade going on in the relatively free-port of Hong Kong attracting many more international companies, Hong Kong natives are more socially sensitive. For example, on a bus or subway in Hong Kong, a Hong Konger would automatically stand to let an elderly sit. Not so in Shanghai (or most of China). It may be the years of one-child policy that created a “me” culture, but the behavior difference is quite noticeable to Hong Kongers, and to others. Just this week on the airport bus to Shanghai, a guy nearby was playing music so loud from his phone that GV thought it was music from the bus speakers. It was bad sounding chinese operatic music which was, at least to us, grating and annoying. He didn’t care and was oblivious.
Censorship — Hong Kong, at least now, still remains relatively open. No problem with most social media websites. In Shanghai, forget FB, Google, and most other social media sites. Additionally, news is censored. Several months ago when there were demonstrations in Hong Kong, the general China population had no idea. It simply was not reported.
Escalator Etiquette — in Hong Kong they’ve got the “stand right, walk left” concept down. Going anywhere in both cities takes you, at some point, to an escalator. In Shanghai, people stand, they don’t move on the escalator. They step on and feet become glued to the steps, on the left side, right or middle, doesn’t matter. In Hong Kong, a large majority actually treat the escalators as an assist and those who don’t stand to the right. It’s not that Chinese are lazy to walk up, but it sure does seem that way.
Spitting — granted, an issue in Asia in general, but particularly so in China. In Shanghai it’s not so unusual so see (or hear) an older person hack and heave. In most public parks with a rule board, “no spitting” is in the top of the list. In Hong Kong, even though you may see “no spitting” signs, it’s meant more for their visiting brethren. The other day I was walking into my building through the garage to the elevator. I passed my neighbors, an older couple, in the hallway. Before seeing them I heard a loud hacking around the corner. When I passed them I said hi, but he waved only because his mouth was full. When they turned the corner I heard the expectoration hit on the floor. How do I know it ended up on the hallway floor and not a tissue? Because I heard it land. In fairness, this spitting custom seems to be changing with younger generations in China.
Indian imports — relatively open ports also bring a more tedious side of commercialism. Missing in Shanghai is the small army that the sub-continent has exported to Hong Kong. A walk down one of the main streets in the Kowloon section of Hong Kong will present you, every minute or two, with an Indian badgering you trying to sell “copy watches” or tailored clothing.
Although I’m only citing a few of the more obvious differences, one of the similarities is no shortage of Starbuck coffee shops. Perhaps by coincidence, our hotels in each city had a Starbucks within spitting distance.
In all, both cities were a pleasure to visit. With a worthy excuse, I’d welcome the chance to return to either or both.