14 April 2009

Hong Kong

I spent a few days in Hong Kong at the end of March and had a great time. I was struck by how different Hong Kong is from mainland China. Of course I was expecting some differences due to Hong Kong's roughly 100 years under British rule. Hong Kong on the whole seemed much wealthier and more modern, but also dirtier and with a better-preserved sense of history than Shanghai. It is more modern in that the transportation system is better, there is an incredibly dense collection of high rise buildings and a downtown that is more compact and more uniformly modern. But it also seemed dirtier and older than Shanghai in many places. There were more old buildings and much less new construction. The subway stations were old and had some character unlike those in Shanghai which all look the same, brand new. It was also interesting how much English is spoken there. I speak not a word of Cantonese, so my first approach would be to use Mandarin, but whenever that failed (about 50% of the time), I would revert to English and usually people understood. From my casual observation, it seems like there's a much greater percentage of foreigners living in HK versus Shanghai, and the city reflects that; it feels more cosmopolitan and global than Shanghai.

The weekend I went was the annual Hong Kong Sevens, a big rugby tournament. I didn't actually see any rugby, but the city had a carnival like (read: drunken) atmosphere once nighttime fell. It was a fun weekend and I found myself thinking that maybe I could spend a year or two in Hong Kong. There seem to be lots of job opportunities, so it's something I'll consider once I decide to make my next move.

Security is tight

Random weird experience when I was on the bus from Shenzhen to Hong Kong:

After I bought my bus ticket in the Shenzhen airport I was directed to a waiting room where they checked my passport and interrogated me about the length of my intended stay in Hong Kong, the reason for my trip, and whether or not I planned to return to China. This seemed a little excessive, especially because whenever I've gone to Korea or Taiwan there has been basically no security checks upon leaving China.

Anyway, once we got on the bus we were instructed to sit only in the assigned seats on our ticket. Then the driver collected all of our ticket stubs. Then something a little bit strange happened: the driver stood at the front of the bus, instructed everybody to remove hats and glasses, lift their heads and face straight forward. He came down the aisle with a video camera and recorded everyone, first on the right aisle and then on the left.

While I've noticed video cameras at the airport as you go through the immigration inspection to enter China, I've never seen this kind of security to exit China. It was weird because once we actually got to the border crossing to enter Hong Kong, immigration was a breeze. The officers at the Hong Kong border didn't ask me anything and granted me a 90 day visa on the spot.

01 April 2009

Different degrees of political correctness...

I was getting a few things at the drug store the other day when this strange tube of toothpaste caught my eye:

Darlie toothpaste. No big deal right? Well, the Chinese is 黑人牙膏 (hei ren ya gao) which literally means "black person toothpaste." Can you imagine that in the U.S.? This is a really popular brand here which I've seen all over but never really bothered to look at the box more closely. A little research showed that the Darlie brand is actually owned by Colgate-Palmolive. For a long time the toothpaste was actually called Darkie, but due to "changing sensibilities," the K was conveniently changed to an L in the 1980s.

This is just one example of the completely different attitudes towards race and political correctness. Chinese people here reoutinely refer to themselves as "yellow people," which I think in the U.S. would be at least mildly offensive. White skin is seen as the most desirable. The drug stores are filled with whitening creams and potions. This isn't so much of a racist thing, but rather a way to prove your wealth. In China to have dark skin is a sign that you are probably a farmer working every day under the sun or other manual laborer working outside. It means you're poor and uneducated. On the other hand, having white skin (especially for women) means you're educated, have a life of leisure and don't have to work, or work in an office.