I had intended to stay in Hong Kong for a few days to ease myself into the hustle and bustle of what is the Chinese city life. After all, the city spins a most fine balance of “westernization” and original culture. I have visited Hong Kong many times and feel comfortable here.
Yesterday, however, I arrived in Hong Kong only to be greeted with an offer to take a day trip to mainland China (Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China) albeit just over the border to Shenzhen. I felt up for the adventure since I did sleep several hours on the plane. My uncle Steven, his wife Cisy, and I hopped on the bus for a quick ride.
Hong Kong and China, I have quickly discovered are really two entirely different entities. Everything switches in an instant when you cross the border. I sat next to a whole row of people on the bus that switched out their Hong Kong telephone numbers for their China telephone numbers by switching SIM cards in their phones. More telling, though was that all of sudden, my little knowledge of Cantonese became rather useless because Mandarin was spoken throughout. Even my uncle and aunt who speak Cantonese fluently often had trouble communicating.
Hong Kong citizens are sped through the immigration lines by use of their HK Permanent Identity Card. If you have lived in Hong Kong for at least seven years or if you were born in Hong Kong, you are eligible for this special identification card embedded with a smart chip carrying all your personal information. I had trouble with immigration as I forgot to fill out an arrival card for China. Hong Kong makes things easy with a carbon copy form that works as an arrival and departure card. China, however, has two separate forms (color coded yellow and blue for your information). I had to go to the back of the line after filling out the necessary information.
We ate lunch at a fantastic and gigantic dim sum restaurant. The eatery has two floors with several hundred tables. I never had to fill my own tea cup because the size of the wait staff was huge. The staff was huge because labor is cheap in China. They have a lot of people that need to be employed, and that is how they get things done. That’s how your clothes get made and your toys get assembled.
We took a taxi to the home decoration district which is very much so off the beaten path. The area is filled with shops selling everything to deck out your home from toilets to timber. My uncle is fixing up an apartment in the outlying areas of Hong Kong to sell. He bought the place a long time ago but never furnished it. We spent most of the afternoon looking at tile and wood flooring. It amazed me again to see the number of employees there selling to no more than a handful of customers. While I didn’t see any sleeping on the job, the most popular way to burn time for the workers was to play with one’s cell phone. What also got me was the amount of competition in the same niche. There were likely twenty shops all selling wood panels right next to each other. How do they all make money and stay alive? Product differentiation needs to be introduced.
The evening brought an interesting adventure for me: the spa. Once again huge spas like this one with saunas, pools, showers, changing rooms, recreation areas, massage rooms, etc. only exist because of the abundance of cheap labor. We had no less than five employees greet us on the way down the stairs from the front entrance. To keep things short, I got my first full-body massage. It was painful at times but rather relaxing on the whole. Forgive me but I’m not much of spa kind of guy.