Border ecologies: Tourism

By Deborah Berset July 25, 2018 Edition CHIC 2017-2018Discover CORE project

Dear readers,

In this article, we will analyse the differences we can find about the theme « tourism » between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Indeed, we have found a lot of disparities during our trip in these two cities.


First of all, let’s talk about the language. Surely it is important to inquire about the language or languages spoken in the country you are travelling in. We knew for example that in Shenzhen inhabitants were speaking Mandarin and Cantonese and the two official languages of Hong Kong were Cantonese and English as Hong Kong was once a British colony.

After our stay in Shenzhen and some research, it seems like it is Mandarin that is mostly spoken. We also discovered that almost no one speaks English in restaurants, cafés and shops ! We thought that it would be quite easy to communicate as a lot of people speaks English everywhere in the world and we were baffled to fount out this fact. In Hong Kong however, most of inhabitants speak English.


Secondly, we can point out the visa procedure. We (Swiss citizens) had to apply for a visa to go to China BUT didn’t have to do anything for Hong Kong. It is something peculiar when we know that it is the same country. This is a result of the “one country, 2 systems” approach.


Thirdly, let’s discuss about the driving. It might be a detail but it is also something we have to consider. In China for example, we drive the same way as in Switzerland (which means on the right side of the road, for the non-Swiss readers). Nevertheless in Hong Kong, we drive on the other side. This is also due to the British colonisation. Before coming to Hong Kong, it was something that never occurred to us : we thought is was the same as in China. It is something people have to acknowledge: if you rent a car, when you cross the road, etc.


One thing that is really important is the food. In Shenzhen, you will found a big variation of what you can eat. There is mostly local dishes but you can also find some European dishes if you’d like to. Of course, there are most of the biggest fast food chains like McDonald’s, KFC or Burger King. The kind of dishes will be different related to the neighbourhood where you are; if you are in a place with a lot of attendance, you will find a quite large mix of dishes. The only problem you will be faced with is the language. If the restaurant is not a European one, there will be no translation on the menu to help you know what you will order. If you are lucky, it may have images to help you. If not, all is written in Chinese and the waiter won’t be useful neither. As it was told in the first point, people mostly speak Mandarin or Cantonese. So if you have a question in English, they won’t understand and will speak in Mandarin to you. This is why you should have a sim card with some internet connection on it to allow you to have a translator or try to find a wifi, but again also the wifi is something that could be difficult to find.

In Hong Kong it is different. Because it’s a destination better known to the rest of the world, you will find more common dishes than traditional ones, and also you will have no bad experiences with the menu language; all is written with a translation in English and almost all the waiters speak English very well or the basics just to help you find what you would like to eat. There are no respective neighbourhoods to a variety of dishes; you can find everything anywhere you are. You may also find more little shops where you can eat on the sidewalk as in Shenzhen.


Another part that is important to discuss about is the prices! First time you will be faced with, it is in the Hong Kong airport where you must change your money into Hong Kong Dollars (HKD, HK$) or in Renminbi (RMB, ¥), commonly called Yuan. For example, 1 USD = 6.79 RMB, 1 USD = 7.85 HKD. As you can see, there is a difference between the two destinations. It will be the same with everything you will pay; all the prices will be lower in Shenzhen. The metro will cost you “nothing” maybe 5 RMB for about 30 minutes instead of around 10 HKD for the same journey time. Of course, changes of metro/bus lines are included in the journey time. If you have to take the taxi, it will be the same, a lot cheaper in Shenzhen than in Hong Kong.

If you’d like to come back with some goodies or gifts for friends and family, you will not find traditional things in either city. In Shenzhen you will find a lot, lot, lot of electronic goodies like small funny electric fans, electronic lighter and things related to phones or technology of all kinds. Why? Because it is a city made for electronic markets.

In Hong Kong however, what you will find will be more useless gifts like counterfeit bags/watches/boombox, etc. Of course, most of those counterfeit products are found in the little markets. You will also find some clothes and shoes and stuff you can find as usual in your country or in the rest of the world like Nike/Addidas/H&M… There is one interesting thing about the little market with counterfeit objects; you can negotiate every price the seller tells you. For example, a lovely fake watch may be announced for 500 HKD, you can easily have it for 3 times less than that! But it will be the only places where you can do that.

If you are still searching for some traditional work like pottery or jade, etc., you will find some antiquarian shops or the jade market in Kowloon, but as you can expect, the prices will be very high.


In conclusion, we can say that even if Shenzhen and Hong Kong are just next to each other, there are a few differences we can point out. Hong Kong is more like a “western city” and Shenzhen resembles a typical big Chinese city. Plus, Hong Kong is a famous destination in tourism and Shenzhen is less renowned. For instance on one hand, when someone speaks about Hong Kong, people usually know where it is and want to know more about this city. On the other hand, when someone enunciates Shenzhen, people have generally never heard of it. Every divergence relates to the “one country, two systems” theory.

We are both so glad to have had the opportunity to live this experience. We might never have visited Shenzhen if we were not part of this project !


Déborah & Joanne