Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Shopping In Hong Kong

Beverly Hills, look out!

Hong Kong has changed from its conversion under British Rule to control by Mainland China. But it has more shopping malls than any place I have ever seen.

There are the normal clothing and electronics and entertainment places, as you'd expect. But the jewelry stores sell things you literally cannot find in the United States, and the cultural mix is totally unique. It's very strange to see so many people who look utterly foreign, but upon sight of an obvious American, they become a completely different person, as if they have studied the idioms and manners of Americans, to put us at ease. The store windows almost all had advertisements in English, making it clear to me at least where the hoped to get their best business. Of course, Hong Kong's legacy is such that many of the locals speak with what sound surprisingly like an Eton accent. I already knew about the British influence, but it's the American influence which now permeates the malls. I almost expected the U.S. Embassy to be set in a mall, given the atmosphere.

I was warned early on by my wife, not to do any buying, or even to speak. This is because my wife is convinced that on sight of an American, the price goes up. Or more likely, since the price is often posted, someone who speaks Cantonese and looks it as well can haggle, where an American is expected to pay the full price. After all, we're all rich, right?

I was pleased and displeased to notice certain aspects of the Hong Kong culture. As an American, I was more or less excused for my large waist; Americans are expected to be fat, even if that is not a flattering image. But Asians, and Hong Kong especially, have completely unrealistic expectations for their body types, and I found myself sympathetic more than once to an overweight boy or girl, who was openly taunted for their weight by other children. I know from some discussions that such ridicule is a lifelong ordeal for heavy Asians, especially in professional positions. On the other hand, I was pleased to observe that racism is largely unknown in Hong Kong. That is, while Cantonese take a provincial pride in their culture, individuals from other nations and cultures are welcome and generally treated with respect and open minds. This was a pleasant change from Tokyo, where Nisei abuse of other nationalities, especially Koreans, is both common and malicious.

I found myself once again dismayed at how poorly Americans manage mass transit, when I saw how efficient the Hong Kong bus system is. It may not be the best in the region, and certainly not in the world, but it was surprisingly easy to get places in Hong Kong by bus, especially compared to Houston, where only the Park n' Ride system works well. I'm not picking on the Metro drivers, please understand, but the lack of coordination to make it possible for the ordinary person to commute, shop, and get around where they need to be without owning or renting a car.

The weather so far has been very much like Houston, warm and very nice in the afternoons, with just a little less humidity, if a little cool in the mornings. On the other hand, the water in Hong Kong, well, let's just say it inspires the bottled drink industry.

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