Michaela Merz

Shanghai versus Hong Kong

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I visited both cities for the first time. And even though I had heard and read quite a few things about them, retrospectively I was not prepared for any of them.

All acquaintances adored Hong Kong. Perhaps my expectations were too high because of that but I was disappointed. Hong Kong in December was cold, loud, unfriendly and hectic. The masses of people, pushing and little vitality made me sad and upset. Countless times small dealers molested me on the street, tried to sell me watches and tailored suits. Every sight could only be visited after hours of queuing and in proportion to the time invested in the endless queues they were only to a limited degree worth seeing. In Hong Kong people are very disciplined in waiting. The queues forming at the doors to the subway cars are as if drawn with a ruler. Nobody is impatient, nobody is jostling. The only quiet place I found in the Space Museum. Almost no one wanted to see that.

Despite the impressive fireworks on New Year’s Eve, the great view on the many skyscrapers, port and sea, I was glad when we left the city again.

In Shanghai I expected the same and was very much surprised. Never before I have seen such a huge city, which seems so calm and can be so quiet most of the time. Incredible but true!! There are broad streets and sidewalks, which are almost deserted, shops, where one is the only customer in the morning, and all that in the city centre. There are skyscrapers, fenced and guarded, old districts with narrow streets, where life takes place outside – I was watching children doing their homework, mothers washing their children, people eating, cooking, frying vegetable, gutting turtles, repairing motorbikes. Even along the large avenues laundry was hanging on clothes lines between the trees. The parks were not full of children (I did not see many of them) but of retired people. Impressive was a man of about 80 years or older, who had come in a wheel chair and lifted himself with big effort from the wheel chair to a gymnastic apparatus and slowly did his gymnastics. In the parks, people did not walk their dogs but their birds. People come with cages and hang them on the trees.

State of the art mixed with old things, extremely expensive mixed with very cheap. The city is perfectly clean; nowhere a piece of paper and one can only envy the city the cycling paths. On top of that half of the parked bikes are not even locked. Madness!

When entering shops nobody paid any attention, nobody greeted me and no one tried to sell me anything (only on the flea market). After the importunate experiences in Hong Kong this was a pleasant surprise. The only one being “importunate” was the shoe cleaner. But even he did not do it unpleasantly but very nice and good in selling and with an endless patience. My black leather boots were dirty. He persistently followed me for about 15 minutes but at a distance and smiling and pointed at my dirty shoes and smiled apologetically. The passers-by also smiled apologetically at me until I finally gave in and let him clean my shoes for 10 Yuan. I watched the locals at their tasks and they smiled at me and I at them. I have not laughed that much as in Shanghai for a long time.

Only one thing I did not understand. Why are certain windows in skyscrapers at large height regularly barred? So that one cannot get out? Or that one cannot get in? For me neither of the two makes sense above the 5th floor.

I felt at ease in this upcoming metropolis, safe and very relaxed. On top of that one can eat well and a Chinese massage is just heavenly.

If I can choose the next time, I would prefer to go to Shanghai.

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