Hong Kong has been the natural gateway to China for as long as anyone can remember. While China went through a rather turbulent 20th century, Hong Kong became one of the most important trading hubs in Asia and the world. Although mainland China has now caught up with its little brother in many ways, the differences are still apparent and can be summarized by the following quote: “Both wore Prada high-heel shoes. But only one knew how to walk in them.” We've all been there!
Source: Niklas Westerlund
Let’s have a look at seven differences between Hong Kong and mainland China:
Naturally, this will depend on where you’re coming from in mainland China. Someone coming to Hong Kong from Harbin will probably melt on arrival, while someone coming from Shenzhen won’t even notice the difference. For good ol’ Beijingers, the clean air and humidity will be both a blessing and a curse. For those with a propensity for heavy perspiration - ready your cotton napkins; pretty much anytime other than December and January you’ll have sweat dripping down your face within five minutes of walking alfresco.
Going from a place where the English proficiency level is less than one percent to a place where it’s over 45 percent is a huge gear shift. Pretty much everything in HK is bilingual, and communicating with taxi drivers and cashiers at 7-11 is a dream. It’s comfortable for sure, but without an incentive to learn the local language (Cantonese), expats in Hong Kong tend to stick with English and therefore miss a great opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the local culture.
If you’ve ever visited a tourist attraction in mainland China you’ll have noticed that the biggest groups of tourists is in fact just other mainlanders. International tourists in China make up just a fraction of the total. In Hong Kong, however, you can’t go anywhere without seeing just about every nationality and ethnicity. As “Asia’s World City” Hong Kong is truly cosmopolitan. It can be exhausting at times, but the good thing is, no matter where you’re from you never feel like the odd one out.
Okay, we know. Mainlanders get a lot of heat for their manners, or supposed lack thereof. Some of it is unfounded, but some of it is unfortunately true. The contrast in manners and etiquette, coming from Beijing (a city that is famously polite by mainland standards but where public spitting is commonplace) to Hong Kong, is quite apparent. Being a former British colony, Hongkongers seem to have adopted the best (and worst) traits of their former rulers.
Despite the efforts of the MTR Corporation, which constantly urges commuters to “stand firm and don’t walk”, time-rich Hongkongers uniformly stand to the right on packed escalators, allowing those in a rush to have free passage on the left. You might even see someone get off a subway car, only to let other people out before they get back in again. Just imagine!
But politeness does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with friendliness. While mainlanders can be amazingly friendly (even though they belch), Hong Kongers may apologize for stepping on your foot, but your chances of getting one to crack a smile are slim.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, pets, especially cats and dogs, are loved in both places. What is surprising is the stray dogs in Hong Kong or, rather, the lack of them. You’d be hard-pressed to find one homeless hound on Hong Kong Island, whereas there are still gangs of them roaming the Beijing hutongs. Pampered dogs, with their cute outfits and their quaffed hair, are king in both territories, but the difference lies elsewhere. If your dog poops on the pavement in Hong Kong, you pick it up. Full stop. People even carry squirty water bottles to rinse away their dog’s wee! In mainland China, it’s, shall we say, less strict in this regard.
Hong Kong’s infrastructure is largely old, as demonstrated by the skyline which seems to have been left unchanged since the 80s. But everything is well-kept and surprisingly clean. Using elevators won’t emotionally scar you for life, and the only reason to walk around with your pockets stuffed with napkins is to wipe the sweat from your face - toilets here come equipped with toilet paper (and doors). Getting napkins in restaurants is a whole other story though. You often have to pay!
Taxis and the subway are more expensive than in mainland China, although still ridiculously cheap compared to most Western countries. If you want to travel for next to nothing, take the ferries and the trams, which are between 3.7 and 2.3 HKD each. Transportation doesn’t get much slower than this, but they’re quite the experience, post-colonial vibes notwithstanding.
One trick missed in Hong Kong, however: the longest (series) of outdoor escalators in the world will have you ride all the way to the top for the joy of it, only to realize you have to walk all the way down again by yourself. The scandal!
Hong Kong is home to some of the most exquisite and expensive restaurants in the world. If you’re a foodie with a big wallet, you’re in heaven. For us mere mortals, though, the food is just okay. Don’t expect to find 5 RMB pancakes or 2 RMB dumplings from your local street food stall. The street food in Hong Kong is indeed pretty lacking, but there are a couple of gems with slightly Western twists.
The good thing: Portuguese egg tarts and bread in general won’t cost as much as they do at 味多美, Wèiduōměi. The bad thing: if you’ve become accustomed to cheap and tasty mainland food, you’re fresh out of luck. Pretty much all the cheap eats here are Cantonese, arguably the most boring Chinese cuisine of the bunch. Yes, we went there!
Much more can be written about the differences between Hong Kong and mainland China. Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below.
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Keywords: Hong Kong Vs China Hong Kong China differences
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