Experience #36 - Macau and Hong Kong

I need to write about Macau and Hong Kong together because they have a quite peculiar form of government. Both are defined as Special Administrative Region of China. This means that this republic has sovereignty over these regions, what was conceded by their colonizers, Portugal and United Kingdom respectively, in the end of the 90s. Also because they are small peninsulas and islands of the southeast of this big country. Even though, Macau and Hong Kong still have their autonomy, like their own financial, legal and immigration systems, while China controls the defense system and foreign affairs. We could feel a few differences, for instance in the visa process Brazilians don’t need it for both regions, but need for China.

It’s hard to know the concrete truth, as something this sovereignty should take from this agreement. Independently from that both “regions” are progressing very well, according to the news. There is even a principle called “One Country Two Systems” that tries to regulate this relation which, in theory, is valid for fifty years and maintains continental China socialist and the regions capitalists. Strange and who knows what will happen.

A few facts that normally nobody knows is that they are at the top of the following rankings: HDI, life expectation and GDP per capita, according to what the statistics say. I could believe it even more when I noticed the streets impeccably organized and clean, excellent public land transport and everything working. Consumerism and ostentation are at their peak, with pompous architectural constructions, luxurious cars and endless jewelleries. Actually it’s quite common to see people with real travel size bags walking around the streets all the time ready to buy it all. Even with the local low cost products (Chinese), I saw much more premium stores with expensive prices full of people. Poor globalization…

The cost of living in both countries is very high, from accommodation to food. It’s evidence that when the economy develops only who has a high financial standard is welcome. As it is not our case, we decided to stay just a few days and we couldn’t meet a project, but I could take a lot from this experience.

Furthermore, Macau is the biggest gambling centre in the world, what means casinos concentration. According to the internet it’s bigger than Las Vegas, believe it or not… The hotels are huge complexes, but independently from that the streets have its very pleasant bohemian look and feel. There are many hidden squares, wooded and taken care, like “Patio da Eterna Felicidade” (Eternal Happiness Courtyard), besides the well preserved old buildings that remind the ones in São Paulo downtown, due to the Portuguese influence of course.

As Portuguese is one of the official languages, I arrived pretty excited to finally talk in my native language again. However, in the pretentious “boa noite” (good night) at the immigration the officer didn’t answer, neither in English, just like the guy at information counter and in the bus. I maintained my hope and kept loudly asking in Portuguese around the streets with no success. It was a disappointment… Indeed it’s only used officially in the government and by the few Portuguese people who still live there. To heal the homesickness from Portuguese (the language, not Manuel) we had dinner at a typical restaurant, where besides the delicious food it was nice to talk and understand what the next table was saying. It’s not that I was snooping, but you feel more earthly again by understanding around you. Unfortunately by the end, the communication delusion was even more severe, because even English is very poorly spoken, therefore leveraging the complexity of our daily life. It’s sad to see that a promising country with high standards of development was not capable of prioritizing this education that can improve a lot the information exchange and mutual learning.

Hong Kong has this same linguistic limitation, what seemed to be even stranger being the third biggest financial centre worldwide. It shows its modern skyscrapers collection, even more luxury stores and jewelleries every corner in downtown, no exaggeration. I had a fun surprise for having booked a hotel room and, instead of that, I got a match box in an aisle of an office building. The roguery transcend internet… On the streets their dense population could be felt, subways always packed, lines and shoulder touching when waking. I confess it was a bit disturbing, but it’s part of feeling the local reality with empathy.

All the discussion about conscious consumerism was present there. The quantity of people I saw “burning money” in futile things was scary. Ok, the criteria of necessary is relative, but see entire families with bags in a jewellery where the cheapest earring at showcase costs a few hundred dollars has a certain meaning… The solution to remodel all the business models for a more correct consumption is definitively complex, but what if we simply don’t want to want anymore what we don’t know why and start to think what we really want because we need it? This matter has no relation at all with donating or helping someone, just to rethink about what we need. Each one has his free will that is a universal right, but we always have to consider that our way of thinking is highly supple and the conflict of interest is part of this mental mess.

This influence is so madly inserted in our mind that even I noticed myself struggling to think that about something that I needed to buy just because in that region everything is cheaper and I couldn’t lose the opportunity… It’s like a self-defense psychological tool to always think about spending less independently from needing it, but spending. Fortunately the conscious came back to control in time…

It was the beginning to learn a different culture that I always wanted to know, its good and bad sides. Although I’ve gone there with a few prejudices and the fact that this people have a very different pattern of behaviour from what I’m used to, I left there surprised. With the experiences of the following weeks in China I’ll be able to understand further these contrasts from the world’s largest population. There are a lot of people!