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China and Hong Kong:

Same Country Two different Worlds

By Lindsay Kuhlmann

photohongkong It was around ten o’clock in the morning when I stepped off the MV Explorer and into Hong Kong. My excitement for this moment had been building for days and the night before I found it extremely difficult to allow my brain to go into sleep mode. I had heard all about Chinese culture from various professors, read through guide books, and painted a picture in my head of what to expect.

            As I departed the ship I found myself in a truly global city. The ship’s gangway lead straight into an up-scale mall with expensive watches and glittering jewelry waiting to be bought by rich tourists. My first impression was, “This could be New York.” I walked for fifteen minutes and never escaped the stores. Dior, Prada and Coach all made an appearance in this global city. Thirty minutes into the city I knew I had to visit mainland China in order to see a more traditional form of Chinese culture.

            It took me one hundred and eighty U.S dollars to buy a round trip ticket to Guilin. I had to take a very advanced ferry to the airport and then a forty-five minute flight. When I made it to the mainland I found myself in a different world. Every car on the street was from the 1980’s. I didn’t see any Bentley’s or Mercedes like I had in Hong Kong. Although I was in a city with lots of tourism, nothing seemed like it had been built yesterday. Most of the buildings were made of cement that was crumbling around the edges. The sidewalks had huge potholes and if you didn’t watch your step you would easily trip and fall. All these sights can be partly explained by Sean Gallagher in Beijing’s Urban Makeover: the ‘hutong’ construction. “Under the rule of Mao Tse-tung, during the Cultural Revolution, very little construction took place throughout the country" (pg 1, Gallagher).  Even the hotel I stayed in for fifteen dollars a night, which was considered brand new, had to have been built twenty years ago.

            The day after arriving in Guilin my travel companions and I took a ferry boat ride down the Li River. As we followed a line of boats, businessmen riding on bamboo rafts approached the ferries trying to sell jade Buddhas. The only English they knew seemed to be “Hello, Hello!” which they would yell in order to get our attention.

            After the river boat ride we went to a “minority people’s village” called Shang-gr-la. The village had people dressed up in tribal outfits while performing traditional dances and making tradition crafts that were for sale. While it did seem a bit like a tourist trap, I found the houses where the villagers lived a far cry from the new skyscraper apartment buildings in Hong Kong. After visiting this village I felt that I had seen what ancient Chinese culture might have been like for these people.

            By ten o’clock that night I was headed once again for the global city of Hong Kong. When I arrived back from Guilin I entered a city with skyscrapers illuminated by color-changing lights and expensive shopping areas. I felt as if I was in a different world from Guilin. Yet both these worlds were found within the same country and represent Chinese culture. Through my experience of visiting China and seeing such different parts of the country I found that guide books, professors, and my expectations could not prepare me for differentiation I discovered between a transnational city and a vernacular city.


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