Monday, May 31, 2010

China’s 2 Richest Cities – Shenzhen & Hong Kong

For years Shenzhen has been the richest city in on the mainland. It's one of the biggest cities you've never heard of with a population of over 10 million people with a stock exchange, a subway system, parks, luxury hotels. Shenzhen is a factory town, the final assembly point of the iPhone and many other things in your house. The Taiwanese company responsible for iPhone assembly, Foxconn, has 800,00 employees in China, 400,000 of them in Shenzhen alone. 

30 years ago Shenzhen had a population of around 20,000. When Deng Xiaoping took over China after Chairman Mao finally shuffled off to that great collective farm in the sky he probably noticed how prosperous communism free Chinese places such as Hong Kong and Taiwan were and wanted to see what would happen if he allowed some of that capitalist evil in a corner of his kingdom. He did this first in Shenzhen and once the special economic zone was established money, factories and jobs poured over the border from higher wage Hong Kong. This transformed Shenzhen from absolutely nothing to a madhouse migrant city and Hong Kong from a city with a manufacturing economy to a city with a mostly service economy.

There's plenty of wealth out where people can see it in Shenzhen in the form of Audis, Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches and even a few Cadillacs. There's a fair amount of luxury cars tooling around on Shenzhen's wide streets with right hand drive and sets of license plates for both Hong Kong SAR and Guangdong province. While Shenzhen might be the richest city on the mainland it's the poor sister to the richest city in all of China, Hong Kong. It's a gigantic Tijuana with Hong Kong SAR playing the role of Asian San Diego. Shenzhen is a city built on hard work and other peoples money and it's paid off for many of the locals and investors. Glitzy wide shopping boulevards slowly dissolve into migrant laborer alley hells.

The women in Hong Kong are the picture of affluent fashion, their less well to do sisters in Shenzhen they seem to make it up as they go along.  After I saw the third woman in Shenzhen wearing thick, black Larry King frames without any lenses (I saw one woman stick a finger through the empty lens opening to rub her eye) I knew it wasn’t a one off aberration. 

Even with China's one child policy one thing that I've seen all over China are babies and pregnant women and Shenzhen is no exception. But due to the high cost of living babies in Hong Kong are few and far between. By day the familiar bellowing and barking of Chinese dialects on the mainland dissolves across the Hong Kong SAR border into another language. No, not Cantonese, the dialect most spoken in Hong Kong; it's the familiar puck-puck-puck of Pilipino. Hong Kong is packed with Filipinas. Although I'm sure they're out there somewhere it seems most of the male Filipinos are back home in Manila. Filipinas in Hong Kong serve as maids and nannies (as well as ply the world's oldest profession). Just as in Southern California the first words of a rich kid might be in Spanish, in Hong Kong his first words might be in Tagalog.

Unlike anywhere I’ve ever been in China, in Hong Kong you can drink the water straight from the tap. I drank Hong Kong tap and while it might be just a coincidence within 24 hours I had a roaring case of Chairman Mao's revenge. I knew I that eau de tap was graded as fit for human consumption the minute I went to a 7/11. In China 550 ml (roughly a pint) of bottled water can cost under .15 US, in fashionable Hong Kong it's .75 to a $1 US. Hotels in China usually spot their guests 2 bottles of water, in Hong Kong you can get all the water you want straight from the tap.

Hong Kong’s MTR is perhaps the best subway system in the world and riding it is a breeze.  The announcements are in 3 languages; Cantonese, Mandarin and British English.  Click here  and here for samples.

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