So I went to Hong Kong for the weekend to visit with various friends. Here are the five starkest differences I've seen between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. There are obvious differences before you even arrive (eg. the HK dollar is 0.85 of the Chinese Yuan). But here's maybe some stuff that people can only understand if they're there to see it for themselves.
5. HK is definitely more of an international city. You see it in the restaurant diversity, even in the most local Chinese places. On Saturday, I had Singaporean for dinner. On Sunday, I had Thai for lunch. You can't find that easily in SZ. In HK, there are a bunch of options in many locations.
4. It was surprising that very few people in SZ seem to speak Cantonese fluently. It's Guangdong, so they should speak Cantonese, right? Well, correspondingly, it's surprising that very few people in HK seem to speak Mandarin fluently, even though mainland China is right there. This isn't to say that they don't speak Mandarin. But my HK friends tell me that many HK people struggle with Mandarin. It seems similar to a Canadian in Quebec struggling with English. I will say this though. Mandarin with a certain type of female HK accent sounds really nice. Like you're in a dream listening to mellow music. Hey, I was asking for directions, OK?
3. The streets seem safer in HK. People drive and walk more safely in HK. Seriously, it seems like traffic moves more slowly and orderly than in SZ. Plus, they drive on the left side of the road. Correspondingly, the people in HK obey the traffic and walk signals. I sometimes found myself to be the only one walking across the street when there was a Don't Walk sign, despite there being no traffic at all; the rest of the crowd would be patiently waiting on the sidewalk. It took some focus to get out of Chinese walking mode. Finally, is it just me or are there no mopeds and motorcycles on the roads in HK? How come I couldn't see any at all? But in SZ, you see them everywhere. Electric, gas-powered, even normal bicycles. In HK, it seems to be either only cars, taxis, or public transit.
2. Talk about bright lights. I can't remember if it was like this the last time I was in HK. But in Mongkok, the lights were so bright that it might as well have been daytime, not 11pm. Seriously. Daytime. If it weren't for the fact that it were artificial lighting, you seriously would not have thought that it was evening. I can't think of any location like that in SZ.
1. The public bathrooms in HK malls, restaurants, and offices are planned better. In SZ, you have lots of bathrooms where you open the door (or worse, there's no door), and the urinals are in plain view of everyone outside, including the women who walk past to enter their own bathrooms. The women's bathrooms are similar, but they don't have a big problem because they don't have urinals, they just have toilet stalls. However, in HK, the bathrooms are more western in design. They're planned so that the urinals aren't so easily seen by people outside the entrance. That's thinking ahead. I think this is interestingly indicative of where the Chinese mindset is and where it needs to go (and is going). Learning by rote doesn't teach kids how to think ahead. They only learn how to get the task at hand done, but not how to contemplate future problems and prevent those problems from becoming reality. Things are very reactive, rather than proactive. So next time you want to see how proactive a culture is about its thinking, go look at the bathrooms they design for high-traffic areas. Unless the culture values voyeurism, then you just have to change your own worldview first.