Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reflections on a brief OE

I've been away.

Went to Hong Kong, Macau and China.

Countries, their people and political systems, become far more interesting when experienced firsthand. Retrospective rambling accounts are not necessarily  interesting for those who weren't there.

So just a few observations.

Our teenagers - 15 and 19 - did not want to come home. New Zealand's merits, for example, space and clean air, do not compensate for the internationalism, excitement, variety, customer service, efficiency and fascination Hong Kong offers. As do Macau and Shenzhen to lesser degrees. But at that age, their priorities are understandable.

We were surprised and slightly amused when a tour guide showing us around one of China's Special Economic Zones spoke glowingly about the comparative ease of doing business in NZ where you can, "... set up a company in a day!" (He did not know we were from NZ seeing our mainly British passports.)

The same guide had just fathered his second child and was expecting to pay US$1,200 by way of a penalty (and I'm not talking child support). But he explained  that his rural-born status meant his fine would be less than that of others who could face much steeper penalties. He cited a local celebrity facing millions. Perhaps a progressive tax?  There didn't appear to be any particular rancour about this. A bigger point of complaint was losing money on Shenzhen's stock exchange.

The border we crossed between the New Territories and China is an ugly affair. A glass-enclosed corridor between two stations crosses over a brown canal-like ditch with barbed wire on either side. The initial impressions of China are slightly depressing but quickly improve.

The (gr)immigration officials are very stern but otherwise efficient. Below their panelled window is a facility to press buttons rating their service. Going in, we pressed the left-most button for the 'best' rating. But coming back my daughter got confused and again pressed the left-most button, this time though delivering a 'poor' rating. She was mortified at her mistake not wanting to cause the  young Chinese female official any bother. Two Australian teenage boys had pressed the poor button on purpose and thought Sam was a great source of amusement for being so concerned over her mistake.

Sam and I tried to figure out squat toilets. Mentally. Not physically.

In Macau we put our lives in the hands of a hustling cab driver. We christened him Brian for reasons that I won't explain because they are racist. Well, maybe I will. Brian is the name we give to every stereotypically bad Asian driver we encounter in NZ. This trip gave us greater insights into that phenomena. They do not hail from Hong Kong where the driving is excellent - assertive but accommodating. In Hong Kong they drive on the right. In China they drive on the left. That might explain something.

But Brian was a godsend. Drove us around Macau and managed to manage us with very little English. We paid him at the end of our day-trip, and, as I had discovered through our conversations, he was duly off to a casino to lose it. That was his daily routine.  Macau is the new Vegas and I couldn't do justice to describing the bizarre spectacle. Massive hotel casinos are looming up in the smog everywhere interspersed with development sites, cranes, and temporary facades.

Hong Kong in winter is hotter than NZ this summer. In Wellington anyway.

If we wanted to live in a comparable suburb of Hong Kong to Eastbourne (eg Stanley) we would pay 7-8 times the value of our 5 bedroom house for a two bedroom apartment, probably with no view. Otherwise  the cost of living is lower. Taxis and buses are affordable. We used both and marvelled at the low fares. Food is cheaper. Loyal to NZ wine, I was buying Oyster Bay sauvignon at 7 Eleven at less than the NZ price.

Kowloon Buddhist monks are graspy rip-off artists. Perhaps this is a misconception on my part based on the monk's misconception of my behaviour. I dropped some money in his collection bowl intending to walk on, but was subjected to the preliminaries of a blessing, with a bracelet pushed over my wrist then told I must pay $100HK. He wasn't taking no for an answer and I wasn't paying it. It got a tad physical. Quite unpleasant. Not that $100 HK would have broken the bank but I would rather give it to the lady with the burnt face and no hands. Avoid Kowloon if desperate beggars bother you. At one point I decided to not buy stuff I didn't need from street markets and give away the savings. I filled my pocket with change and then didn't see another. So perhaps not as prolific after all.

Air NZ is a great airline. Compatriot service companies should take a leaf out of their book. 

Great to be home but we returned with a reluctance. The bittersweet sign of a great  holiday. 


Mike Webber said...

Great to have you back, I have missed your posts.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Hi Mike

Are you still doing any flying?

We noticed the absence of helicopter traffic in Hong Kong and wondered about it. Visibility? Air traffic restrictions? It wouldn't be a lack of demand.

Brendan said...

Welcome back Lindsay

It's been a few years since I was in Hong Kong. Asia is special and I'm glad you and your family enjoyed it. How do they get by without wall to wall welfare?


Lindsay Mitchell said...


"How do they get by without wall to wall welfare?"

Apparently, with an unemployment rate of 3 percent, a liveable wage for menial work, esp. with overtime which is common, and families sharing living arrangements. Tax 16.5% (unverified).

Anonymous said...

I think Hong Kong is a great place to visit. A few minutes on a ferry or train can have you doing a walk in the bush, such as it is, with hardly anyone about. I suspect its the population density makes a the public transport viable but its darned good and easy to use.

What I continue to notice is the vast number of small businesses - no Mitre 10 Megas or Wharehouse type places shutting down the local shops. I haven't seen any change in that over the years.


Angry Tory said...

"How do they get by without wall to wall welfare?"

Because people know that if they do not work they will starve.

It's called "freedom".

NZ should try it sometime.

Anonymous said...

"How do they get by without wall to wall welfare?"

They don't. From a fact-based perspective, HK has one of the most generous welfare schemes in Asia, including universal state healthcare, education, massive state housing, a "Kiwi-saver" like scheme.

HK doesn't really have a dole, though, only hardship schemes, and eligibility is based on family income - like NZ's student allowances.

But with 50% of all housing state owned --- even Russel Normanl couldn't imagine that in his wildest dreams!