My visa for China is a year long, multi-entry visa, which is great, but it means that every 30 days I need to hop on out of and then back into the country. This gave me the perfect excuse to hop over to Hong Kong for a long weekend visa run.
But wait a minute… isn’t Hong Kong part of China now?
Sort of. Hong Kong (and Macau as well) are these weird political anomalies. Technically they are apart of China, but as a Special Administrative Regions they’re kind of not. Under the “One country, two systems” policy Hong Kong has it’s own government, it’s own culture and (most importantly for me) it’s own immigration control.
So it is China and it’s not China, it was colonized by the British for 100 years and it’s one of the biggest finance centers in Asia. The biggest question on my mind was: is Hong Kong Chinese?
A little bit. It’s also a little like London, or Sydney, or New York. Basically Hong Kong is the most international city I’ve ever been to. As I learned over the course of a delightful few days, Hong Kong is a little bit of everything.
A little bit Shanghai
Despite being separated from the mainland since 1842, there is still a lot of China here. For starters, 95% of the population is Han Chinese, although they speak Cantonese here so my few words of Mandarin are somewhat useless. They may have been colonized by the British but they’ve still maintained a lot of Chinese culture, as well as a love for stinky tofu.
The most Chinese thing, to me at least, is the sheer number of people. Seven million people live in this city, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. With the lack of space to expand, people have built up. Hong Kong is probably the tallest city I’ve ever seen, and lit up at night it’s every bit as fantastical as the Shanghai skyline.
A little bit London
There’s a lot here that’s very different from mainland china though. Walking down the street I was awed by how quiet it was. Sure there was lots going on but nobody was driving like a maniac, no motorbikes, no spitting, nobody continuously abusing their horn just for the hell of it. In Hong Kong barely anyone even jaywalks! Compared to the chaos that is most of Asia this is very notable.
Aside from this civility there were lots of little touches that made me sentimental for my old stomping grounds: the traffic on the left hand side, the woman on the metro reminding me to “mind the gap,” the Marks and Spencers where I was able to stock up on some chocolate digestives. And to top it all off the fabulously fancy tea I was invited to at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.
A little bit New York
In addition to being a huge financial center, Hong Kong also shares a lot of New York’s youthful energy. Hong Kong is a city of innovators, start-ups and a huge entertainment industry. It’s full of life.
Consumerism too. The absolutely overwhelming diversity of restaurants, fast food places and shopping malls (seriously: Osaka has nothing on Hong Kong), make this one of the largest centers of capitalism I’ve ever seen. People in Hong Kong are much wealthier than those in mainland china and apparently love to shop. Additionally the city is a popular tourist destination for upper class Chinese people. They come here for a taste of international travel and to shop tax free.
A little bit everywhere else
The bay, the public transit and the ferries reminded me so much of Sydney. There’s more too: elements of Malaysia, Thailand and Japan all brought in by immigrants to this world city. Then there are the little things that are uniquely Hong Kong: like the street food.
I’ve been a lot of places on this trip that I’ve really enjoyed, but Hong Kong is the first place on this entire trip that I could see myself living. Not just crashing for a few months but actually staying and building something. It’s exactly the kind of city I adore: big but accessible, international, young. Just like I felt in San Francisco, when it came time to catch the bus back to Shenzen, I was SAD.
Lucky for me I’ll be returning next month! I can’t wait to delve deeper into what this city is all about.