Border Ecologies: Tourism

By Valérie Springmann July 30, 2017 Discover Trobak, give value to your waste project

This text is an attempt to compare the touristic experience in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The World Tourism Organization defines tourism more generally, in terms which go “beyond the common perception of tourism as being limited to holiday activity only”, as people “traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes”.

Although they are separated by a few kilometers only, there is a clear opposition between Hong Kong as the ancient trade platform and Shenzhen the small fishing village turned into the manufacture of the world. Since Hong Kong used to be a british colony many of the cultural aspects still remains. A large community of foreigners are living there.

As result it will be much easier for non Chinese to wander around the city as most notice and signs will be traduced in english.

Whereas in Shenzhen chinese is the only language, smartphone’s app are the western tourists essential tools to open up a path into the city heart. The city is well known for it’s rapid growth and skyscrapers are coming out of the tropical forest like mushrooms in the autumn leaves of normandy, however tourists don’t seem interested. Although they should, the rare ones are the rock’n’ rolls stars of the town, they are greeted with big smiles and selfied. This atmosphere is unique in such a developed town, the locals don’t speak english but they are very willing to help and welcoming, in fact it is the place to go for an authentic ride into contemporary dictatorial china.


Everything is controlled by the government in mainland china it has eyes and ears everywhere. There even have cameras in the elevators and each building entrance is guarded, one of ten people is a member of the communist party. As to amplify even more this feeling of total control at every metro entrance our bags Xrayed like in an airport.

Moreover censorship is very high, TV channels, and websites can be wiped out instantly for a diplomatic issue. Most Western media are blocked, like Le Monde and CNN … even internet giants like Google or Facebook are not allowed. However it easily bypassed with a VPN. Travelling to china is also an online journey a good tourist should try to use locals apps like Baidu to replace google, wechat for whatsapp, and onerice for trip advisor. WeChat is used to connect people and groups, it’s very handy much more advanced than WhatsApp as it doesn’t require to give a number instead a simple scan of your personal QR will add the contact. In addition it’s also merging Facebook, Instagram, TripAdvisor, people use it to pay, to order food and to blog. Unfortunately tourist can only access to the chat and blog as you need a chinese account to enjoy wechat pay. The visit of Tencent (the owner of wechat) is a like a shabby sci-fi  ride into a Chinese version of George Orwell 1984 a must see for any Google user. Tencent shows china’s spooky ambition to spy on it’s people and allows foreigners to grasps the importance of online privacy. Hong Kong is an oasis of freedom within China as it benefits from a privileged status within China, which allows the city to avoid the censorship and have it’s own money the Hong Kong Dollar.

As a result when going from Shenzhen to Hong Kong, although it’s only a metro away it requires to pass the border with painful passport check and long corridors.

Once arrived in Hong Kong the cost of living comes as real blow on your wallet.

Everything is cheaper in Shenzhen, the metro, the taxi but also the meal and drinks. For example, a bottle of water was minimum 10 HKD in Hong Kong but only around 3 RMB in Shenzhen.HK is already used to many sightseer as it contains all the ingredients; a couple of viewpoints for selfies, trendy shops and some historical neighborhoods. Food is also a big attraction for tourists as restaurants offer a large variety from the English crab pub to refine Japanese fish and weird HK breakfast food.

On the contrary in Shenzhen even though the town office of tourism boast itself of a large tourist affluence, they are very few, even with smart apps one can feel very lost but this DIY experience is closer a immersion into chinese culture than Hong Kong. Shenzhen has huge potential for an unusual tourism who could be developed in the next years. In the electronic market Huaqiang Bei of Shenzhen, transistors and sensors are sold like babouches and carpets in the souk of marrakech. It’s in Shenzhen’s PCB fabrics that all the cuddled smart phones are born, to any electronic user it will be very emotional. It’s the pilgrimage of western capitalism, the consumer finally has the chance to meet the producer.


The touristic experience of both Hong Kong and Shenzhen offers the beautiful combination of the ying and the yang; to the airy skyline of animated skyscrapers to the crowded narrow streets from world influence to the strict Chinese control from the spirit of youth, to the wisdom of the ancient.