27 March 2019
Women advertise products and services on a street in Shenzhen. The neighboring mainland city attracts thousands of Hong Kong travelers everyday because prices there are much cheaper. Photo: Bloomberg
Women advertise products and services on a street in Shenzhen. The neighboring mainland city attracts thousands of Hong Kong travelers everyday because prices there are much cheaper. Photo: Bloomberg

What draws Hongkongers to Shenzhen

Figures released by the Hong Kong government this week on the flow of people across the border show a flood of mainland visitors. Everyone knows that. But, surprisingly, they also show that an even larger number of Hong Kong people cross the other way everyday.

If thousands of mainlanders cannot live without Hong Kong, no less do thousands of our citizens rely on Shenzhen – for cheap housing, recreation, massage, shopping, eating, trading, work, golf and – until a national crackdown that began a year ago – prostitutes.

The two cities have not merged and there is a tightly controlled border between them. But they increasingly resemble the New York model of rich brother Manhattan and poor brother Brooklyn — two members of the same family, each dependent on the other.

The data, from the Planning Department, comes from a survey carried out at 10 immigration control points from Feb. 24 to March 9, 2014, the first since a similar one three years before.

During the period, it found a daily average of 658,100 passenger trips across the border, 8 percent more than in the 2011 survey. Of these, 53,200 were between the city and Macau and 604,900 between here and Shenzhen. Of the latter, 52 percent were made by residents of Hong Kong, 32 percent by mainlanders and 14 percent by Hong Kong people who live on the mainland.

Of the Hong Kong travelers, 42 percent went for leisure, 27 percent to visit friends and relatives, and 19 per cent for business. Shenzhen was the most popular mainland destination, accounting for 74 percent of the trips. A daily average of 168,200 were same-day trips.

The survey found 737,000 travelers crossed the border at least once a week, up 5 percent from the 2011 survey. Of these, 65 percent were residents of Hong Kong. But the number of Hong Kong people going to work each day on the mainland fell to 17,400 from 21,500 in the last survey.

“For me, the biggest attraction of Shenzhen is the massage, just 88 yuan (US$14, HK$110) for three hours in Futian,” said Leung Kwok-lao, a taxi driver. “It is just over the border and very convenient. It is half of the price in Hong Kong. I also go to Hua Qiang Bei and buy electronic pieces for the interior for the cab. They make them to order for you, at 20-30 percent of the price here.”

Hua Qiang Bei is one of the world’s largest markets for electronic goods, real and fake, which attracts clients from around the globe.

“Shenzhen is the easiest place to go for a day out, accessible and cheap. There are many restaurants, massage parlors and places to shop,” said Leung. “The law and order is all right, better than other mainland cities.”

Thousands of Hong Kong residents like Leung go to Shenzhen for rest and recreation; it is the most convenient place to go, cheaper and with more to do than Macau, and with decades of experience in serving Hong Kong people. Sex used to be a popular reason – until a crackdown that began at the start of 2014. For that, it is now safer and wiser to go elsewhere.

For the rich and upper middle class, another attraction is golf. Mission Hills in Guanlan, which is between Shenzhen and Dongguan, is the world’s biggest golf course, with 216 holes. Each of its 12 courses was designed by a different golf personality.

Another group of frequent travelers are traders who take goods from here to Shenzhen, to benefit from the difference in price and the demand for genuine goods. These include milk powder, electronics, Chinese medicine, skin care products and other cosmetics. Fewer goods come the other way.

A third group are Hong Kong people who have moved to Shenzhen and commute back each day. They go because its housing is cheaper, 40 percent or more, or they have a mainland wife not qualified to live here. The preference of most is have their children educated in schools in Hong Kong.

This explains another figure in the survey – 20,510 children crossed the border each day to Hong Kong for schooling, an increase of 60per cent from the 12,790 in 2011. Of these, 40 percent were younger than five, 45.4 percent are six to 11 and the rest 12 to 18.

“It is the poor and working class of Hong Kong who move to Shenzhen,” said Michael Wong, an IT consultant who likes to go there on weekends to visit restaurants, coffee houses and bookshops and buy fake CDs.

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Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker

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