Hong Kong vs Beijing: what makes them different

March 26, 2015 16:26
Beijing and Hong Kong retain their unique characteristics even as globalization is bridging the gaps between the two cities. Photos: HKEJ

A Hong Kong friend recently asked me at dinner table: "Is there anything that Hong Kong has, but Beijing doesn't? And, is there anything that Beijing has but Hong Kong doesn't?"

As a native Beijinger who has lived in Hong Kong for five years, I found the question interesting.

Let us now look at the two cities. One is the "Imperial Capital" that is proud of its glorious history while the other is widely known as a shopping paradise, with the highest density of luxury brands in the world.

Is there any merchandise that we can’t find in these two privileged cities?

I used to think that I can find anything in either Beijing or Hong Kong, but delving deeper I realized that there are some things unique to each city.

The first thing that came to my mind is that Beijing has rice vinegar, but Hong Kong doesn’t. As a Beijing native, it is my duty to like dumplings. When I have dumplings, I dip them in rice vinegar---there is a brand I particularly like called Dragon Gate.

Hong Kong has a thousand kinds of soy sauce, and you can also easily find Lao Gan Ma chili sauce in supermarkets, but when it comes to vinegar, there are not many choices. You may find a number of Italian red vinegars, and some stores offer Shanxi old vinegar and Zhenjiang fragrant vinegar.

But in five years I failed to find rice vinegar in any supermarkets. So every time I come to Beijing, I bring a bottle of rice vinegar to Hong Kong.

Beijing has a number of domestic video-sharing websites where you can watch popular reality shows produced on the mainland as well as Korean dramas and American series such as House of Cards and Game of Thrones. In Hong Kong viewers have no access to those due to copyright issues. 

Despite the fact that mainlanders flock to Hong Kong to buy milk power, baby napkins and medicines, Beijing was once confident that it has all the best things in the world.

When Lord Macartney, who was sent by Britain’s King George III to pay a visit to Emperor Qianlong in 1793, he brought the most impressive products his Empire could make at that time, including carriage and cannons.

The Qing emperor was not interested in any of it, believing that whatever the English have, the Middle Kingdom has better. After tens of years, when Yuan Ming Yuan was burnt down in 1860 by an allied army of Britain and France, people was shocked to find Macartney’s presents in a warehouse, never touched, covered by dust.

Now I think many things in Hong Kong have better quality than those in Beijing. Every time I go home, I buy dried mushrooms, dried shrimp and dried Bird's Nest for parents and relatives. These products in Hong Kong are of better quality---according to my mother.

And I like "wife cake" of Wing Wah. There is a shop near my place on Steward Road, and I try to buy a box of cake every time before going home. One day I went too late and everything was sold out!

There is a kind of medicine called Kilo-Mile Medicine Oil, which is really funny. It is actually made in Singapore and Malaysia, and is said to be extremely effective in curing rheumatism.

A couple of friends asked me to buy this for their parents, and when I entered the drug store I was amazed to see dozens, if not hundreds, of different brands. The shop assistant told me this oil is almost good for everything, and it is very popular among Hong Kong people as well.

Mainlanders buy many things in Hong Kong not because they can’t buy them at home, but because they believe the Hong Kong quality is better or the price is lower. One typical example is Apple gadgets. I don’t know how many iPhones and iPads I have bought for mainland friends, apart from two MacBooks.

In answer to mainland's movie and music online services, Hong Kong has something that Beijing doesn't -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and most importantly for me, Google.

There is also another thing that comes to mind: books about mainland leaders and politics, though the reliability of such books is questionable.

Recently a book described as Shen Bing's "autobiography" became a hit on the street. My friend bought one, uploaded a picture to Weibo and said: I know it is not trustworthy, but I can’t resist the temptation!

Shen is a CCTV anchor who was under custody due to her alleged sexual relationship with former Chinese security czar Zhou Yongkang. Now, many people believe that the accounts written in the book are fictitious. Still, it is popular because mainland travelers are curious to read the juicy political stuff that they can’t get at home.

Now, I'm sure I might have missed out some things. So, perhaps you can help me enrich the list.

In conclusion, let me share these thoughts: In the current globalized environment, one can buy almost everything everywhere. But I miss the days when one could buy really local stuff, not everything "Made in China".

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Contributor of EJ Insight