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Shanghai vs. Hong Kong

May 18, 2011
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The Bund at night. Some kinda magic in person. Also, the green speck off to the right is the building where I work 🙂

And the winner is… Shanghai! After a three-day stay in sticky-hot Hong Kong, I can faithfully say that I prefer Shanghai. I think the city is easily more pleasant and livable city than Hong Kong overall, although Hong Kong has its high points. I’ll break it down for you interested parties, or offended Hong Kong lovers, in categories that are in no way ranked (just numbered because of my love of lists).

Disclaimer: This list entirely subjective, and does not claim to be anything more definitive than my personal opinion. Finally, I’m considering these cities as places to live, not as travel destinations – and I’ve never actually lived in Hong Kong. Just so that’s all clear up front.

1. WeatherWinner – Shanghai

This is just too easy. Unless you’re a mutant who thrives in an opressively hot, humid environment, Shanghai wins by a landslide. Shanghai has a beautiful spring and fall. Summer is humid and hot, like in Hong Kong (though I would bet not nearly as bad), and winter is cold, but not too cold. It’s similar to the weather in New York. Hong Kong is grossly hot. Yuck.

2. Environment: Winner – Hong Kong

This one is also way too easy. Hong Kong is clearly the winner, becuase it’s surrounded by lush greenery, mountains, and blue skies. Shanghai is flat and polluted, and there aren’t nearly enough green things like trees or parks. Here, Hong Kong takes the cake.

3. People Density (a.k.a. crowded-ness): Winner – Shanghai

I was convinced Shanghai was crowded. It was the most crowded place I’d ever been, especially during rush hour on the subway. But I was wrong. Shanghai is full of wide, open spaces and is sparsely populated compared to the horrific density that is Hong Kong. Granted, not all of Hong Kong is crowded all the time. Rick and I stayed in Kowloon, in the Mongkok district, which is hear is one of the most crowded areas of the city. Still, no matter what district I was in, and at any time of day, I was blown away by how many people could squeeze onto one sidewalk.

4. Urban Design and Aesthetic Appeal: Winner – Shanghai

The Pudong skyline and the Bund are prettier than anything Hong Kong has to offer at night. Wider streets and sidewalks make for a happy Morgan. Finally, Shanghai has a far superior aesthetic appeal, in my opinion. Hong Kong is narrow and small and cramped, with way way WAY too many flashing neon signs and buildings covered with advertisements. The clutter makes my head hurt–too much visual stimulation. +1 Shanghai.

5. Public Transportation and Traffic: Winner – Hong Kong

These buses are nifty, nice British hangover. You can tour the city for practically nothing from the unblocked view up top!

This was a close one. The airports and subway systems are pretty much on par. Hong Kong barely inches out Shanghai because it’s got these nifty double-decker buses everywhere. Also, there are hardly any mopeds, a huge plus in my book. Finally, Hong Kong’s drivers aren’t nearly as insane as Shanghai’s. I never once feared for my life while in a cab in Hong Kong, like I have many a time in Shanghai. Plus, in Hong Kong people travel on ferries a lot! Cool!

But as for transportation cards, it’s about a tie. Hong Kong’s Octopus Card is awesome because you can use it at convenience stores and even some restaurant chains, like it’s a debit card. Shanghai’s Jiaotong Ka (交通卡) is awesome because you can use it to pay cab drivers, something the Octopus Card can’t do. But then, the name Octopus Card is way cooler. (Jiaotong Ka translates to “transportation card.” Clever, Shanghai municipal government. That was sarcasm.)

6. Language: Winner – Shanghai

This is a totally subjective answer, and many Westerners would likely disagree with me, but I highly prefer the Mandarin-with-a-little-English of Shanghai to the Cantonese-English-Mandarin-Indonesian-Tagalog mess that is Hong Kong. First of all, I speak Mandarin and English, but no Cantonese; so I’m fully functional in Shanghai, less so in Hong. (To be fair, nearly everyone in Hong Kong speaks English, lessening the problem.)  Second of all, I prefer the sound of Mandarin/Shangainese to Cantonese, with it’s 80 tones. (Just kidding – only 8 tones. Still.)  Finally, Hong Kong’s many immigrants speak a bunch of other languages, which make it even more of a Tower of Babble. Magnify the noise by the crowds (see #3 above), and I think you get my point.

7. Food and Dining: Winner – Shanghai

Xiaolongbao soup dumplings

A bit of a toughie. Shanghai’s food, it seems to me, is a tad more diverse and way cheaper. It’s also less safe (food scandals abound), but not if you shop at expat supermarkets. Plus, new restaurants and bars are constantly opening in Shanghai, and China’s multitude of regional cuisines are all featured in abundance–Sichuan food, Xinjiang food, Hunan food, etc. Hong Kong is more set in its ways. Finally, I’ll take xiaolongbao (delicate soup dumplings) and shengjianbao (fried, hearty soup dumplings) over dim sum any day. This is a close one, though.

8. Service Sector: Winner – Hong Kong

There is barely any service at all in Shanghai. In the average restaurant, you have to flail your arms and shout for five minutes before a waiter approaches you; and the waiters are usually impatient and in a bad mood. There are no tips, so nobody tries, and nobody really cares anyway (except the expats). In Hong Kong, there is pretty decent service. All service people speak good English. If they give you the wrong drink, they’ll replace it for free. They smile and stuff. It’s really nice.

9. Expat Scene: Winner – Shanghai

This is largely based on what I’ve heard, not on what I’ve experienced, but I think Shanghai is more international and younger than Hong Kong  (Hong Kong is quite British, and it’s an older crowd), and the expat social scene is better overall. More welcome to newcomers who are still finding their way, like me and Rick.  Also, Shanghai has many havens that feel like you’re back home. I found none of those in Hong Kong; even the Starbucks stores felt less like home than the ones in Shanghai. Some expat places in Shanghai are very unlocalized expat joints, you know? Maybe Hong Kong has those too, but I didnt’ encounter any.

10. Political, Internet, and Personal Freedoms: Winner – Hong Kong

This one’s a little too obvious to explain, so all just list a few things: Facebook, Youtube, Google services, visas, political protest, capital markets… you get the picture.

Shanghai 6, Hong Kong 4 – Shanghai wins!  But I’m super biased. I’ve grown fond of Shanghai since arriving. It feels a bit like home now. Another reason for Shanghai’s win that I did not address above: Shanghai is full of this energy that Hong Kong lacks. Hong Kong has the bustle of New York, but it also has the sort of worn in feel of New York. It’s sort of a has-been city. Shanghai is an up-and-comer. It’s one of the centers of China’s modernization, China’s transformation. Hong Kong is old news, but Shanghai is it.

I’ve said my piece. Feel free to comment with your thoughts on the match-up.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. rick permalink
    May 18, 2011 10:04 am

    so much less condescension in shanghai

  2. Ray Sarna permalink
    May 19, 2011 1:03 am

    Do you think that anywhere in the USA has the potential of being it?
    Palo Alto, home to the real world, aka the internet, is tiny but exciting, with very good restaurants, and The Farm offers events, lectures, performances enough for a two lifetimes.
    No comment regarding the rest of the towns surrounding same.

    Or just the San Francisco Bay Area? The two brain sources, UCBerkeley and Stanford, contribute eternally to produce peeps like your dad and tens of thousands of others.

    Would you pen a posting on your opinion of the Chinese mindset in the world of biz and generally as competitors?

    Their gov’t is hostile towards the USA, irrespective of the fact it was birthed through Nixon’s willingness to open trading opportunities for then and for many years thereafter, a country where the experience was for nearly everyone that which match the quality of service available at the Shanghai restaurant you described.

    I sense they are still furious over the British subjugation and the Japanese subjugation, and they’re focused on whichever other country happens to be dominant other than themselves.

    This “sense” leaves me here in the USA very wary of their near and mid term desire to participate “fairly” in world trade.

    We all know the Chinese are beggaring the West via their money exchange lock. I’ll express no opinion on that.

    But again, returning to my first question… would you post or comment?
    my email is I believe listed. If not, Rick can see it in the Law School Alum posting.

    Thx Morgan…

  3. May 26, 2011 8:14 pm

    * Even as a die-hard Hong Konger, I agree with you on the heat, humidity and crowds. We live next to Mongkok and we NEVER go there.

    * I love The Bund as much as the next person, but the skyscrapers ringing Victoria Harbour, with the backdrop of The Peak and Kowloon mountains, really create one of the best skylines in the world.

    * I’m a little baffled by your language comment. Maybe you were joking but Indonesian? Tagalog? Nobody speaks those except for migrant maids. And even they all speak English. I love our “tower of babble” and multi-cultural environment with one convenient common international language — English — even though I’m also a Cantonese speaker myself.

    * If you’re just looking at affordable regional Chinese food then SH wins. But for international food, it’s got to be HK. SH’s foreign food tends to be limited, overpriced and (aside from a few top restaurants) inauthentic. I was shocked when a friend took me to a “foreign” SH supermarket. There’s a better and more affordable selection of imported goods even in my local Kowloon grocery.

    * You’re right — the expat world IS different. HK’s expat population is bigger proportionate to the city. It’s more deep-rooted and integrated, which is probably why you felt there were fewer expat “havans”? There are some expat-y areas, like Soho and Midlevels, but foreigners aren’t trapped to a few neighborhoods. I have dozens of expat friends who live out in far-flung villages or outlying islands.

    * One big issue if you’re comparing places to live is cost. SH is still at bargain-basement prices compared to HK. My HK parents were shocked at how cheap stuff was when we went for the Expo — and we were staying and eating in tourist areas. If you’re rich or on an expat budget, great. If not, good luck finding a reasonable HK rent or mortgage.

    I loved your post. But I have to take issue with the “has-been” thing. Being a confident, long-developed international center is a good thing. I find SH-ers (and BJers) a bit defensive about how they are better at this or that, and constantly feeling the need to compare. Maybe it’s because growth is so new. I like living in a city that’s comfortable in its own skin, like a HK, Tokyo, NY or London.

    • June 14, 2011 9:26 am

      Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful reply! I have a dear friend living in Hong Kong who has made some of the same arguments to me about Hong Kong, and I must say, I’m quite biased having never actually lived in Hong Kong. I should also say, after a second visit to the city, I found it less jarring and more pleasing. (I wasn’t staying in Mongkok on this second visit – probably influenced me!).

      Re: language – good point. I think I was mostly reacting to the Cantonese. I also happened about a couple of parks on the weekend completely overrun by immigrant maids, all speaking in other languages. Rick and I wandered through a couple of these parks, and I think the experience influenced my impression of a “tower of Babel” effect. Also, the tri-lingual nature of announcements on the subway were a bit jarring.

      Re: price of housing – yikes, you poor Hong Kong residents! I know it’s been especially bad lately, and prices just keep shooting up! It’s no picnic here, either, but I know my lifestyle is much more affordable here than it would be in Hong Kong. I should have mentioned that in my post, as well as the costs of all sorts of things, from food to massages.

      Re: the “has-been” thing – Hong Kong has a very impressive history and is a hugely important center of financial and business (and cultural) activity in Asia. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise! But I do think the Mainland is where most people look when they’re looking forward, whether or not that’s very fair. Hong Kong will continue to play a critical role, though, I have no doubt.

      Glad to hear from a Hong Kong resident on this! Thanks again for contributing to the discussion.

  4. Don permalink
    June 10, 2011 4:13 pm

    I couldn’t agree more that shanghai is a better city over all. With it’s diversity of the old blended in with the new. Mainland China but also western. Something that HK lacks.
    @Joyce
    If you want to compare skyscrappers, then i agree HK wins hands down with the backdrop of mountains and more building density. But who cares that much about skyscrappers when we are comparing how livable a city is. Just because a city is more expensive doesn’t make it better or more livable. You criticise Shanghaiese and Beijingers for being showing off or pretentious due to insecurity if i gather correctly. But it’s you the Hongkonger here defending HongKong as a more prestigious city. Cities like Shanghai and Beijing are inferior just because they are cheaper to live in doesn’t sound right to me.

    Let me tell you a little history. Shanghai was a well established city in the 1930s, with sea routes connected to anywhere in the world, it was the most modern and economically advanced city in Asia exceeding even Tokyo. HongKong was still a small fishing village in comparison. The only building in HK that can compare to anything in SH was the Peninsula Hotel back in the days. SH has been sleeping during the cultural revolution but now it’s back in the game, the development in the last 30 years is evident enough.

    Between the Japanese invasion and the start of the communist rule, a large number of Chinese businessman in Shanghai fled to HK with little money but with them their entrepreneurial and pioneering brains prospered the city of HK. Most big businesses owners in HK are HongKongers but if you go back a generation or two you’ll find all their ancestors are from Shanghai between 1939-1949.

    Something for you to think about next time you look at them skyscrapers.

    Beijing is also a great city, it’s has a more authentic Chinese feel to it. If you living in Shanghai you don’t feel like you’re living in a communist country because it’s so westernised. If you go to Beijing and the Tianmen square, you’ll immediately get that soviet communist feeling and you’ll see a lot of communist builidings.

  5. June 12, 2011 6:53 am

    Hey Don — I think you mis-understand my comment. I think Hong Kong’s high price of living is one of its downsides, not its upsides. Trust me. As someone who pays a Hong Kong mortgage — and who’s spending on Hong Kong food, taxis and costs every day — I wish it were cheaper here!

    My point is that it’s a more multicultural and developed city. The divisions between Chinese / non-Chinese are not so great, which makes it feel more international — not quite like New York and London, but along those lines. There’s also less government / propaganda baggage.

    Hong Kong is much more livable. Friendlier, cleaner, more human-sized, especially compared to Beijing. There are islands, beaches and car-free communities a half-hour away from downtown.

    Even in Shanghai, I often feel jostled, yelled at and spit at. As you rightly point out, my daily comfort is more important than the height of the skyscrapers. (I brought that up as a response to the original post’s point on the skylines. But I find the whole macho my-highrise-is-bigger-than-your-highrise thing to be silly).

    It is certainly a freer city. As someone who works in news media, I want to be able to surf the net, pick up a foreign paper or go to a demonstration if I want without looking over my shoulder.

    As for the pretentiousness — well, all cities are pretentious in a way. But when I visit Beijing and Shanghai, people seem obsessed with having to compare. I’m constantly bombarded with comments — from cabbies to businesspeople — that China has bigger this and better that. In general, HKers don’t need to keep voicing those sentiments. And when we do compare, we generally compare ourselves to Singapore (if regionally) or NY-London-Tokyo (internationally).

    Yes, Shanghai was the pearl of the Orient in the 1930s, but that was long ago. Meanwhile, HK developed greatly in the 70s and 80s — and has been a developed city for the last 40 years continuously.

    For reasons we all know, all of China took a big step backwards 2 generations ago. My feeling among mainland friends is that they still feel the need to prove themselves. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a difference I’ve noticed.

    And I think it’s perfectly normal to love the city you live in — SH or HK!

    • Don permalink
      June 12, 2011 9:43 am

      Hey Joyce,

      Actually I feel silly immediately after my post because my points are quite biased since I was born in shanghai in the mid 80s, moved to Sydney in the 90s where I’m educated. I’ve witness proper third world poverty in Shanghai that’s so distant from where I am right now.
      Back in those days if anyone prefer living in Shanghai over HongKong I’ll be the first to say that they’re out of their mind. Actual fact is that SHese look up to HKers and have total respect for you because HKers are much wealther. The city is much more beautiful. Cantonese is the prestige dialect in mainland China everyone wants to learn it because they want to know the lyrics to a popular HK song.

      I can see your points on why you prefer HK over SH. Environment is a huge factor when comparing cities. My last visit to SH i remember I had a irritable throat after the first day due to inhaling some building dust near construction sites. Which is difficult to avoid since construction seems to be everywhere these days.
      When I was in HK in the summer holidays the pollution wasn’t that much better in the city. You may say nature is just 30mins away in HK it’s true. But still it’s inconvenient to travel 30mins just to breathe some fresh air. Similarly in SH you can catch a train to Hangzhou or Suzhou for the weekend and have fresh air and scenery unmatched by anything in this world.

      The facts you’ve mentioned are all accurate but i don’t see it as big issues like people spitting. I don’t think people ever purposely spit at you. People are constantly pushing and shoveling everywhere on a bus or in metro. I guess that’s not ideal, i’d prefer a more civilised system where everyone follows common etiquette, but those are things you can get used to. If you’ve ever been to NY city then you’ll know people are a bit like that there.

      Food is important, more important for some than others. As long as you don’t eat seafood in SH then you’ll be fine. If you really like seafood then you can dish out some serious dollars and get imported seafood from a reputable restaurant. You really have to pay the price for this i’m afraid. I’ve never been food poisoned once in my life in Shanghai a lot of my friends had been, mostly from eating seafood in restaurants. I’ve been food poisoned once eating at Star City Hotel in Sydney one of the biggest casino in the state. That week of my life i was on all sorts of antibiotics and lost about 5kg. So my point is it can happen anywhere.

      As for SHese or BJers bigging themselves up I’d have to say it’s only true to a certain extent. There are people like that everywhere in the world. I met Italians who can’t stop talking about how fast their cars are showing me pictures of their ducatti or how many properties they own in Italy and in europe. I disagree that there’s a trend where majority of the population in Shanghai or Beijing are like that. You can’t generalise an entire city’s population based on very few people you’ve come across with. I met a lot of Beijinger’s in Sydney where they all somehow have an uncle working as Chinese Government officials. But it won’t change how i perceive them in any way shape or form. The Shanghainese people i know are way discreet. you won’t hear them bragging about anything.

      You say you want to compare HK to NY. London, Tokyo, all of those cities you’ve mentioned have some sort of history behind them where they can call it their own. They have their own unique style. New Yorkers, ambitious and snobby. London a very old town, Tokyo Godzillas (okay that was a joke) but you see I think HK has nothing else other than it’s an economical and financial powerhouse in Asia. Former British Colony. Okay maybe i’m been unfair, HK action movies are legendary among the world. Shanghai has it’s romantic but somehow sleazy past. Every house, every park every building has a story behind it in the Old shanghai area.

      In summary, HK is a beautiful city, it’s entirely livable by any standards, SH not livable by everyone but for those who get it, they will never want to leave and there is no surprise why some people would choose SH over HK. To me, HK is like a grown man. He’s already successful and he’s found his place in the world. SH is like someone just turned 18. Ambitious and unpredictable, full of energy and adrenaline. That is precisely the reason why people will find it more exciting and fresh.

      Don Xia

  6. June 18, 2011 9:25 am

    Hi Don,
    That’s a great answer. There are obviously good and bad points to each city. It all comes down to personal preference.
    I never went to Shanghai until it was already very developed.
    My first step into Mainland China was to Guangzhou in the mid-1980s. I was just a child, and it was just for a week or something. It’s good to have your perspective.

  7. Trent R. permalink
    September 5, 2011 10:17 am

    1. Weather:

    Summer and Spring are similar in both places. However, HK has better weather during Fall and Winter. You can go out wearing a tshirt and an optional thin layer in HK whereas in Shanghai, you’ll definitely have to bundle up during the winter season.

    3. People Density:

    You’re spot on. HK is definitely more crowded. Mongkok is actually one of the most crowded places in the world. However, the crowds are more civilized than in Shanghai. I’m sorry to say that most Mainland Chinese lack manners and courtesy. HK citizens generally follow rules. Recently in HK, there have been an influx of Mainland Chinese tourists which completely ruins HK’s dynamic and image…

    4. Urban Design and Aesthetic Appeal:

    I know this is purely based on opinion, but Tsim Sha Tsui/Victoria Harbor is more legit than Pudong/The Bund. While looking at HK Island from TST, you can see the mountains behind it, giving it a more natural beauty. Although HK is filled with skyscrapers, it does a good job at preserving the natural beauty. And have you been to The Peak? Once you’ve seen that, Shanghai’s got nothing on HK. And yes there are neon lights everywhere and cramped streets, but that’s just on Kowloon. You need step out to HK Island and the other surrounding islands such Lamma. Also, I’m guessing you haven’t seen some of the real old, run down places in Shanghai huh? Please, venture out to Zhabei, very east of Pudong, Minhang, Hongkou to see the Shanghai they don’t show you on propaganda commercials.

    6. Language:

    First of all, Cantonese has a total of 9 tones. HK Cantonese however has 6 to 7 tones depending on the speaker. Most of HK citizens speak or at the very least understand English. On top of that, the ethnic Chinese (30 and under) speak Mandarin. I’m not sure what you mean by a Tower of Babble because at most, HK-ers just speak Chinglish/HK English. All the Filipino domestic workers speak good English.

    7. Food and Dining:

    HK is one of the best places to eat in the world. I don’t think you had time to try all the variety. Cantonese cuisine itself is a lot more varied than Shanghainese. Shanghai doesn’t have its own cuisine; it’s basically Jiangsu and Zhejiang food. Generally speaking, HK cuisine is a mixture of Cantonese, Chaozhou, and British/Western-influenced. HK’s got the cafe’s (茶餐廳) and the cooked food stalls (dai pai dongs). The seafood is fresh and actually safe to eat unlike China. You don’t have to worry about food safety issues here too. There’s a reason why all the Mainlanders come to HK to buy baby milk formula. You can eat cheap in HK and it would still taste good with high quality ingredients. You can eat cheap in Shanghai, but you’re stomach and health might pay for it later. And all the food you listed above – Xinjiang, Sichuan, Hunan, etc. – you can find in HK. You probably go to Din Tai Feng for xiaolongbao huh? Well if you do, that is a TAIWANESE company – not Shanghainese. And HK’s restaurant scene is more established than in Shanghai. I do admit that fine dining is also legit in Shanghai, but I’m talking about the real local flavors. HK beats Shanghai hands down. And that’s just not an opinion, it’s the truth.

    9. Expat Scene:

    I really hate to say this, but Shanghai has the world’s douchiest expats around. All they do is stay in their expat circle and complain about locals. I’m not accusing you of being this way, but a lot of expats in Shanghai are this way. I don’t blame them because they’re only there for business. The expats in HK tends to assimilate to the culture (to an extent). If you want those expat places Central and Lan Kwai Fong has those too. HK does not kowtow and spoil expats as much as Shanghai (maybe because HK is already pretty Western to begin with?) I just feel that Shanghai has an inferiority complex. Everything is just for show. “Oh look at us, look at how international we are!” Freakin’ tool.

    Shanghai does have its potential, but it still lags behind HK. Yes, HK’s heyday is over, but it’s rebounding again. Everyone is just now on Shanghai’s hype. And if you want to talk about a has-been city, Shanghai’s the real has-been city. It was the place to be back in the 20s and 30s before Communists took over. That’s when HK began to thrive. HK is also one of the most lively places. It’s more than just parties, clubs, and booze. In Shanghai, most places close by 10PM (aside from western bars, clubs). In HK, there are countless 24 hours cafes/eateries and vibrant nightlife past 10pm for ALL AGES.

    Shanghai’s a good place to visit, while HK is a great place to live. HK locals are nicer and won’t shove/spit/shit/piss everywhere. You don’t have to worry about cars running over you while you cross the street and the constant honking like in Shanghai. HK’s local gov’t isn’t as corrupt and oppressive as the PRC… No communism. Freedom of speech. You tell me which place is more livable.

    • junixu permalink
      May 19, 2012 6:47 pm

      Yikes, sounds like someone holds some real personal animosities against Shanghai.

      “And if you want to talk about a has-been city, Shanghai’s the real has-been city. It was the place to be back in the 20s and 30s before Communists took over.”

      Did you not read anything about Shanghai’s recent development?

      “HK is also one of the most lively places. It’s more than just parties, clubs, and booze. In Shanghai, most places close by 10PM (aside from western bars, clubs). In HK, there are countless 24 hours cafes/eateries and vibrant nightlife past 10pm for ALL AGES.”

      So, you target Shanghai’s parties,clubs, and booze as a weak point, and then go on to highlight HK’s parties, clubs, and booze as pros? What a strong argument.

      I will say though, that Shanghai’s abstruse qualities are both its weakness and strength. The dialect, the food, its culture and history, the architecture…is not something everyone will appreciate, but others care about passionately. And I get that this can radiate a haughty air of exclusivity and alienate some, so it’s understandable where the lovers and haters of Shanghai are coming from. Basically there’s the “There’s nothing special about it” side and the “You just don’t get it” side. The Hkers and SHers often don’t see eye-to-eye, everyone walks away from these debates self-inflated with pride.

      Nevertheless, making biased and illogical arguments of comparison (ahem) contributes very little to an already pointless battle of cultures.

  8. James permalink
    March 16, 2012 8:47 pm

    This is horrible.
    1) You live in Shanghai for awhile and get to actually know it, then look at somewhere as intense as hong kong for THREE DAYS and make all these opinions about it? Why does this even show up on google?
    2) You think “language” is equally as important as “freedom” even though your answer is basically “I speak Mandarin, not Cantonese, so I prefer Mandarin and therefore Shanghai”…something as stupid as that you allow to count as one “point”, equal to that of FREEDOM??
    What about having breathable air, and people NOT spitting/throwing trash everywhere and not knowing things even a kid knows (like making a line).
    3) Expat winner – Shanghai, despite “To be fair, nearly everyone in Hong Kong speaks English”. Your logic needs help, big time.
    4) As an expat, being able to talk to people, have freedom, clean air, and not walking in garbage/spit make HK infinitely better. Fix that one, seriously. You probably don’t value the freedom thing as much because you’re used to not having it. Same as people not spitting everywhere.

  9. BruisedLee permalink
    April 1, 2012 5:33 am

    This piece is so far off the mark, I could go into full-rant mode, but instead I’ll just address the key points:

    1. Weather: Shanghai is stinking hot and polluted in the summer, so get used to having a nice film of sweaty filth sticking to you after a day out in the city. Winters are b**l-freezingly cold and buildings are poorly insulated, have fun being cold for 4 straight months. HK is hot and humid, sure. But you can go to Stanley or Clearwater Bay and feel the ocean breeze, and go to the beach! Good luck doing that in Shanghai. And winter in HK is far more comfortable.

    2. Environment: OK you did nail this one. Shanghai is a sprawling, dirty alluvial mud flat. HK is set amongst green mountain peaks with endless ocean vistas from the different islands and bays – no contest.

    3. People Density: So you stayed in Mongkok, one of the most crowded places in the world! I get the feeling your HK “stay” was basically running around Central and Wanchai, TST and Mongkok. Did you bother to venture out to the other islands? The country parks and nature reserves in the NT and Lantau? Shek O country park? Lamma Island, a super-chill island with no cars, just 15 minutes’ ferry from Central? The southern portion of HK island?

    HK is full of parks, beaches, islands, and other various places to “get away from it all” and decompress. Shanghai? Ha! Oppressive dirty sprawl as far as the eye can see.

    4. Urban Design and Aesthetic Appeal: Completely disagree. HK has an iconic cityscape, recognizable from countless movies and photos. From the crowded, sign-bedecked backstreets of TST, to the spectacular HK skyline, to Vic Harbor with junks, floating barges, and huge container ships anchored in the distance… it’s all overflowing with personality and charisma. Let’s not forget the Star Ferry and Aberdeen and Queen’s road with their old-school red double decker trams. Shanghai? The Waitan waterfront, some nice old European architecture. A few leafy streets in the French concession. How about the rest of the city? Chinese cookie-cutter crap. Utterly soulless, dismal and gray. Blindfold me and drop me into a backstreet of Shenzhen, Shanghai, or Beijing, they’re all pretty much interchangeable (and dirty). HK by a longshot.

    5. Public Transportation and Traffic: To be fair, Shanghai has made huge strides in expanding the metro since I first lived there in 1999. But HK simply has one of the best public transport systems in the world. Octopus card ftw!

    6. Language: HK doesn’t have “many immigrants”, wtf are you talking about? It’s like 98% Chinese and most of them are speaking Canto and/or Guoyu. Also, don’t forget HK is a truly international city, so of course you’re going to hear more languages being spoken! It’s not a Chinese backwater like 99% of Shanghai. I use Mandarin most of the time in HK, they always understand me, even if they don’t speak it well, and get a big kick out of it!

    7. Food & Dining: This is where I truly begin to question your sanity. Shanghainese “cuisine”? Bwaaahahahahaha!!! Greasy, oily, spooge over some toxic chopped up meat carcass with bone chips in it, slimy eels or longxia dredged up from some of the most polluted rivers in the world, all slurped and gobbled with remaining shells spit all over the table and floors, by belching, cigarette-smoking, cellphone-screaming Chinese peasants. Bon appetit! HK has a vast selection of Asian and Western cuisines, world-class dining, great street food, and arguably the best Chinese cuisine in the world. Canto-HK seafood is peerless in my opinion. Certainly compared the Shanghainese slop. You do realize most of the “good” Chinese food in Shanghai isn’t Shanghainese, right? And that most mainland Chinese detest Shanghai food for the ugly, oily mess that it is?

    8. Service Sector: Not even debatable. HK: international standards. Shanghai: no standards!

    9. Expat Scene: Shanghai has the highest douche-per-total expat ratio of any city I’ve seen. Bar none. I’ve also met a huge number of alcoholics, addicts, and formerly well-adjusted people spiralling into pits of depression, anger, and addiction. I’m not being dramatic; I’ve seen it happen to close friends. Shanghai just eats away at your soul piece by piece, year by year, corroding your physical and emotional well-being. There’s something just fundamentally rotten, and mean-spirited about the place. That’s the only conclusion I can come away with after many years living there.

    HK expat scene is more real, more down-to-earth, partying and drinking in the streets of LKF, as opposed to “let’s get bottles of Chivas Regal and sulk at tables in our trendy wannabe clubs with 3’x3′ dancefloors!” that is typical in Shanghai. Shanghai night life is just douchetastic, in a way that I’ve never seen anywhere else. It probably has to do with the inferiority complex. The expats and better-educated locals know that Shanghai is a second-rate Asian city at best, so they walk around with these huge chips on their shoulders.

    10: Political, Internet, and Personal Freedoms: Yeah, I could fill volumes with horror stories of internet and news censorship and blocked websites. Basically it comes down to this: if there’s nothing to hide (as they claim), then why the need to censor the sh*t out of everything?

    Score: Hong Kong 10, Shanghai 0. About the only advantage Shanghai has is that it’s cheaper (although getting more expensive quickly), and the girls are more desperate. Shanghai is the prototypical Chinese boomtown, a dingy, cookie-cutter sprawl, desperate to show the world how “modern” and “rich” it is, shamelessly bulldozing down anything of historical significance and sweeping the past under the rug to make way for a glorious new future. The reality is that beyond the hype, Shanghai’s plans to become a truly international center of commerce and finance have stalled. The city has been mired in numerous corruption scandals, the banking sectors and equity markets are still closed to foreigners, and currency remains non-convertible (bye-bye international finance). It will remain as it was, another large mainland business city, albeit one with a more racy past.

  10. BruisedLee permalink
    April 1, 2012 7:12 am

    I’d like to add that I don’t have a personal grudge against Shanghai, heck I lived there for years. I just think the author’s comparative analysis is ill-informed. HK is leagues ahead in liveability, QOL, environment, recreation, career opportunities, dining, etc. This is based upon my own subjective experiences, and backed up by facts. Mainlanders know this: Hong Kong is the paradigm of a successful city in Chinese peoples’ minds, which is why they’re always comparing this-and-that, who has the biggest _____, as Joyce Lau mentioned. It’s the whole insecurity thing. Once I was chatting with some Shanghanese-HKers on the train from Shanghai to Kowloon (lots of Shanghainese fled to HK during the Japanese occupation and CR), they asked me quizzically “why aren’t you living in Hong Kong?”

    I’ve found that people who like Shanghai generally are new arrivals to Asia, maybe doing overseas studies for a year, and haven’t travelled much in Asia, so their basis for comparison is limited. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and pace of development in Shanghai.

    I prefer a more balanced approach. As for HK being a “has-been”, or “old news”, I’m not sure what that means. The city has been developed for decades, and has a mature economy, so of course it won’t have the blistering growth of mainland boomtowns like Shanghai or Shenzhen. The numbers (assuming we believe economic data coming from China) don’t tell the whole story, however.

    HK remains one of Asia’s major economic and business centers, has stunning scenery and cityscapes, tons of personality, great food, ample recreational activities, all packed into a small geographic area. It’s the product of a specific set of circumstances: colonization, laissez-faire economics, and strategic location. Trying to force Shanghai, a more recent product of central planning, into the same mould is futile. Shanghai’s success in the 1920’s and 30s was due to it’s status as a foreign entrepot, but the foreigners fled, and after the commies took over it quickly became a backwater.

  11. BruisedLee permalink
    April 2, 2012 7:15 am

    This piece is so far off the mark, I could go into full-rant mode, but instead I’ll just address the key points:
    1. Weather: Shanghai is stinking hot and polluted in the summer, so get used to having a nice film of sweaty filth sticking to you after a day out in the city. Winters are b**l-freezingly cold and buildings are poorly insulated, have fun being cold for 4 straight months. HK is hot and humid, sure. But you can go to Stanley or Clearwater Bay and feel the ocean breeze, and go to the beach! Good luck doing that in Shanghai. And winter in HK is far more comfortable.
    2. Environment: OK you did nail this one. Shanghai is a sprawling alluvial mud flat. HK is set amongst green mountain peaks with endless ocean vistas from the different islands and bays – no contest.
    3. People Density: So you stayed in Mongkok, one of the most crowded places in the world! I get the feeling your HK visit was basically running around Central and Wanchai, TST and Mongkok. Did you venture out to the other islands? The country parks and nature reserves in the NT and Lantau? Shek O country park? Lamma Island, a super-chill island with no cars, just 15 minutes’ ferry from Central? The southern portion of HK island?
    HK is full of parks, beaches, islands, and other various places to “get away from it all” and decompress. Shanghai? Ha! Oppressive sprawl as far as the eye can see.
    4. Urban Design and Aesthetic Appeal: Completely disagree. HK has an iconic cityscape, recognizable from countless movies and photos. From the crowded, sign-bedecked backstreets of TST, to the spectacular HK skyline, to Vic Harbor with junks, floating barges, and huge container ships anchored in the distance… it’s all overflowing with personality and charisma. Let’s not forget the Star Ferry and Aberdeen and Queen’s road with their old-school red double decker trams. Shanghai? The Waitan waterfront, some nice old European architecture. A few leafy streets in the French concession. How about the rest of the city? Chinese cookie-cutter crap. Utterly soulless, dismal and gray. Blindfold me and drop me into a backstreet of Shenzhen, Shanghai, or Beijing, they’re all pretty much interchangeable (and dirty). HK by a longshot.
    5. Public Transportation and Traffic: To be fair, Shanghai has made huge strides in expanding the metro since I first lived there in 1999. But HK simply has one of the best public transport systems in the world. Octopus card ftw!
    6. Language: HK doesn’t have “many immigrants”, what are you talking about? It’s like 98% Chinese and most of them are speaking Canto and/or Guoyu. Also, don’t forget HK is a truly international city, so of course you’re going to hear more languages being spoken! It’s not a Chinese backwater like 99% of Shanghai. I use Mandarin most of the time in HK, they locals understand me, even if they don’t speak it well, and get a big kick out of it!
    7. Food & Dining: This is where I truly begin to question your sanity. Shanghainese “cuisine”? Bwaaahahahahaha!!! Greasy, oily, spooge over some rancid chopped up carcass with bone chips in it, slimy eels or longxia dredged up from some of the most polluted rivers in the world, all slurped and gobbled with remaining shells spit all over the table and floors, by belching, cigarette-smoking, cellphone-screaming Chinese peasants. Bon appetit! HK has a vast selection of Asian and Western cuisines, world-class dining, great street food, and arguably the best Chinese cuisine in the world. Canto-HK seafood is peerless in my opinion. Certainly compared the Shanghainese slop. The good Chinese food in Shanghai isn’t Shanghainese, and most of those restaurants are run by Hong Kongers or Taiwanese. You do know that mainland Chinese detest Shanghai food for the ugly, oily mess that it is?
    8. Service Sector: Not even debatable. HK: international standards. Shanghai: no standards!
    9. Expat Scene: Shanghai has the highest douche-per-total expat ratio of any city I’ve seen. Bar none. I’ve also met a huge number of alcoholics, addicts, and formerly well-adjusted people spiralling into pits of depression, anger, and addiction. I’m not being dramatic; I’ve seen it happen to close friends. Shanghai just eats away at your soul piece by piece, year by year, corroding your physical and emotional well-being. There’s something fundamentally rotten and mean-spirited about the place. That’s the only conclusion I can come away with after many years living there.
    HK expat scene is more real, more down-to-earth, partying and drinking in the streets of LKF, as opposed to “let’s get bottles of Chivas Regal and sulk at tables in our trendy wannabe clubs with 3′x3′ dancefloors!” that is typical in Shanghai. Shanghai night life is just douchetastic, in a way that I’ve never seen anywhere else. It probably has to do with the inferiority complex. The expats and better-educated locals know that Shanghai is a second-rate Asian city, so they walk around with these huge chips on their shoulders.
    10: Political, Internet, and Personal Freedoms: Yeah, I could fill volumes with horror stories of internet and news censorship and blocked websites. Basically it comes down to this: if there’s nothing to hide (as they claim), then why the need to censor the sh*t out of everything?
    Score: Hong Kong 10, Shanghai 0. About the only advantage Shanghai has is that it’s cheaper (although getting more expensive quickly), and the girls are more desperate. Shanghai is the prototypical Chinese boomtown, a dingy, cookie-cutter sprawl, desperate to show the world how “modern” and “rich” it is, shamelessly bulldozing down anything of historical significance and sweeping the past under the rug to make way for a glorious new future. The reality is that beyond the hype, Shanghai’s plans to become a truly international center of commerce and finance have stalled. The city has been mired in numerous corruption scandals, the banking sectors and equity markets are still closed to foreigners, and currency remains non-convertible (bye-bye international finance). It will remain as it was, another large mainland business city, albeit one with a more racy past
    I’d like to add that I don’t have a personal grudge against Shanghai, heck I lived there for years. I just think the author’s comparative analysis is ill-informed. HK is leagues ahead in liveability, QOL, environment, recreation, career opportunities, dining, etc. This is based upon my own subjective experiences, and backed up by facts. Mainlanders know this: Hong Kong is the paradigm of a successful city in Chinese peoples’ minds, which is why they’re always comparing this-and-that, who has the biggest _____, as Joyce Lau mentioned. It’s the whole insecurity thing. Once I was chatting with some Shanghanese-HKers on the train from Shanghai to Kowloon (lots of Shanghainese fled to HK during the Japanese occupation and CR), they asked me quizzically “why aren’t you living in Hong Kong?”
    I’ve found that people who like Shanghai generally are new arrivals to Asia, maybe doing overseas studies for a year, and haven’t travelled much in the region, so their basis for comparison is limited. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and pace of development in Shanghai.
    As for HK being a “has-been”, or “old news”, I’m not sure what that means. The city has been developed for decades, and has a mature economy, so of course it won’t have the blistering growth of mainland boomtowns like Shanghai or Shenzhen. The numbers (assuming we believe economic data coming from China) don’t tell the whole story, however.
    HK remains one of Asia’s major economic and business centers, has stunning scenery and cityscapes, tons of personality, great food, ample recreational activities, all packed into a small geographic area. It’s the product of a specific set of circumstances: colonization, laissez-faire economics, and strategic location. Trying to force Shanghai, a more recent product of central planning, into the same mould is futile. Shanghai’s success in the 1920′s and 30s was due to its status as a foreign entrepot, but the foreigners fled, and after the commies took over it quickly became a backwater.

  12. Person permalink
    May 23, 2012 8:14 pm

    I just wanna fix a few points of yours from a person that has lived in both these cities for at least 5 years. The environment is much better in Shanghai. We’re talking about the atmosphere and pollution, right? HK is littered with garbage and the people treat it like it has the cleanup crew Shanghai does when it doesn’t. The result is puddles of green sludge and an overall appearance of a dark alleyway. I remember going home to take a shower at least twice a day. Shanghai, besides the dust due to construction is GORGEOUS. The sky is a light blue with pure billowy white clouds on a sunny day and the streets are completely spotless. Thanks in no small part to the sheer amount of workers it employs to sweep the streets on an almost hourly basis. Plus I don’t know what part of Shanghai you visited but every inch of the city is littered in green. It’s part of the policy there. Sometimes I even think they have too much green without enough places to walk because if you go to the suburbs, the sidewalks have been kept from the older years, but they still planted trees on them. I remember one street where the sideway is almost impossible for even one person to walk and you end up sliding against the tree just to get through. But, every time I think about going out in Shanghai I throw my worries out the window and just breath in that fresh air, walk those paved streets, and check out the local parks if I really want to blanket myself in lush green. I’m going to assume Kowloon has more trees because where I lived, nada. I doubt any tree could survive in all the garbage on the streets and sidewalks anyway.

    You didn’t take public transportation too seriously but I just wanted to add my experience. I can admit that as a novelty those double decker buses are cool to look at and give you a fun UK feel to it, but the drivers are nasty, the people are packed, and the streets don’t really accomodate them. Add the hills and sharp turns of HK streets and you get a very dangerous ride. If you take that into account plus the super high cost to ride public transit, it makes travel a thrill seeker’s luxury, not very useful as a living expense. Everything else you said is on the dot.

    I also want to add to language since I can speak Shanghainese that you’re really missing out. Shanghainese is a dialect the locals seldom use with foreigners, but it is beautiful. Of course if you disliked Cantonese for its 9 tones, you’ll probably dislike the 12 tones of Shanghainese, but if you can learn it, I’m sure you would appreciate it. It’s also helpful if you want to see the nearby Shao Xin opera that features the ever so popular Dream of Red Chamber, said to be the Romeo and Juliet of the East.

    Service: I don’t know when you visited Shanghai, but I know for myself that service is superb there. All the qualities listed here about HK service are present with Shanghai servers with the minor exception of English. You understand Mandarin so this shouldn’t be an issue. Because there is no tip involved, servers in Shanghai are not working to gain a higher tip, which means they won’t mistreat bad tippers like they will in HK. The service is very prompt, accurate, and always delivered with a warm smile and impossible patience. When I first came to Shanghai and needed a haircut, I could not for the life of me remember how to explain how I wanted it. The barber worked it out with me, asked me if I meant this long or that long, if I meant this style or not, and added suggestions I could try. Afterward, he even spent the time to teach me how I could say what I wanted word for word next time so it wouldn’t be so difficult for me. I don’t want to make assumptions but I think the quality of the restaurants you’re using is out of balance. Cheaper places in Shanghai will of course have less preferred service, but you’re also paying pennies on the dollar for it. Any reputable place will provide a very comfortable experience.

    I’d rename ten on your list to being personal comfort more than freedom. Chinese people by default hardly use sites like youtube or facebook. They have their own versions that don’t region block media so any uploaded content is available. This actually becomes more important than the sites that are blocked as you can then watch anything you want and still have avenues of self-expression. I know piracy and the like are taboo in western nations, but if you’re an American who grew up watching American programming, coming to China and finding your media region blocked because you’re no longer in in the country can be devastating. The entertainment is much different in Shanghai than in the US as can be expected. I wasn’t and truthfully still am not accumtomed to it. I took a big sigh of relief when I found I could still stream anything I used to watch from their sites like youku or tudou. Also, google isn’t blocked. In fact, China has it’s own version of google that allows streaming music. This version of google is inaccessible in the rest of the world because of the tabooed media, which is a shame.

    Overall, I’d say Shanghai really only has one major flaw and that’s its aging population. As you know, the one child policy is in full effect now, but that doesn’t account for those that came before, the same huge population that toiled through the Cultural Revolution. These people are mostly angry at the government and lost the opportunity for greater education and culture. This results in a large population that act rudely, spit, smoke, sometimes even urinate in public, among many inappropriate behavior. If anything I consider that a passing trait and a lasting reminder of what came before. The current generation of Shanghainese and most other urban Chinese are much more civilized and cultured. They wait patiently in queue, speak softly, and can talk freely about any subject. They have the best of historical Chinese manners with a modern flair and spice commonly associated with the west. Conversely, HK people despite the passing generations haven’t really improved. Most will shun Mandarin speakers and flaunt their supposedly superior Cantonese while doing most of the same things: spitting, smoking, urinating in public when drunk, etc. Modern HK locals have even developed an inferiority complex with the increasing global appeal of Mandarin.

    In the end, HK’s time is passing and Shanghai is forging a new and constantly upgrading modern city a great place to settle and find a place to hang your hat.

  13. Charlie permalink
    May 24, 2012 8:51 pm

    I just wanna comment on a few points of yours from a person that has lived in both these cities for at least 5 years. The environment is much better in Shanghai. We’re talking about the atmosphere and pollution, right? HK is littered with garbage and the people treat it like it has the cleanup crew Shanghai does when it doesn’t. The result is puddles of green sludge and an overall appearance of a dark alleyway. I remember going home to take a shower at least twice a day. Shanghai, besides the dust due to construction is GORGEOUS. The sky is a light blue with pure billowy white clouds on a sunny day and the streets are completely spotless. Thanks in no small part to the sheer amount of workers it employs to sweep the streets on an almost hourly basis. Plus I don’t know what part of Shanghai you visited but every inch of the city is littered in green. It’s part of the policy there. Sometimes I even think they have too much green without enough places to walk because if you go to the suburbs, the sidewalks have been kept from the older years, but they still planted trees on them. I remember one street where the sideway is almost impossible for even one person to walk and you end up sliding against the tree just to get through. But, every time I think about going out in Shanghai I throw my worries out the window and just breath in that fresh air, walk those paved streets, and check out the local parks if I really want to blanket myself in lush green. I’m going to assume Kowloon has more trees because where I lived, nada. I doubt any tree could survive in all the garbage on the streets and sidewalks anyway.

    You didn’t take public transportation too seriously but I just wanted to add my experience. I can admit that as a novelty those double decker buses are cool to look at and give you a fun UK feel to it, but the drivers are nasty, the people are packed, and the streets don’t really accomodate them. Add the hills and sharp turns of HK streets and you get a very dangerous ride. If you take that into account plus the super high cost to ride public transit, it makes travel a thrill seeker’s luxury, not very useful as a living expense. Everything else you said is on the dot.

    I also want to add to language since I can speak Shanghainese that you’re really missing out. Shanghainese is a dialect the locals seldom use with foreigners, but it is beautiful. Of course if you disliked Cantonese for its 9 tones, you’ll probably dislike the 12 tones of Shanghainese, but if you can learn it, I’m sure you would appreciate it. It’s also helpful if you want to see the nearby Shao Xin opera that features the ever so popular Dream of Red Chamber, said to be the Romeo and Juliet of the East.

    Service: I don’t know when you visited Shanghai, but I know for myself that service is superb there. All the qualities listed here about HK service are present with Shanghai servers with the minor exception of English. You understand Mandarin so this shouldn’t be an issue. Because there is no tip involved, servers in Shanghai are not working to gain a higher tip, which means they won’t mistreat bad tippers like they will in HK. The service is very prompt, accurate, and always delivered with a warm smile and impossible patience. When I first came to Shanghai and needed a haircut, I could not for the life of me remember how to explain how I wanted it. The barber worked it out with me, asked me if I meant this long or that long, if I meant this style or not, and added suggestions I could try. Afterward, he even spent the time to teach me how I could say what I wanted word for word next time so it wouldn’t be so difficult for me. I don’t want to make assumptions but I think the quality of the restaurants you’re using is out of balance. Cheaper places in Shanghai will of course have less preferred service, but you’re also paying pennies on the dollar for it. Any reputable place will provide a very comfortable experience.

    I’d rename ten on your list to being personal comfort more than freedom. Chinese people by default hardly use sites like youtube or facebook. They have their own versions that don’t region block media so any uploaded content is available. This actually becomes more important than the sites that are blocked as you can then watch anything you want and still have avenues of self-expression. I know piracy and the like are taboo in western nations, but if you’re an American who grew up watching American programming, coming to China and finding your media region blocked because you’re no longer in in the country can be devastating. The entertainment is much different in Shanghai than in the US as can be expected. I wasn’t and truthfully still am not accumtomed to it. I took a big sigh of relief when I found I could still stream anything I used to watch from their sites like youku or tudou. Also, google isn’t blocked. In fact, China has it’s own version of google that allows streaming music. This version of google is inaccessible in the rest of the world because of the tabooed media, which is a shame.

    Overall, I’d say Shanghai really only has one major flaw and that’s its aging population. As you know, the one child policy is in full effect now, but that doesn’t account for those that came before, the same huge population that toiled through the Cultural Revolution. These people are mostly angry at the government and lost the opportunity for greater education and culture. This results in a large population that act rudely, spit, smoke, sometimes even urinate in public, among many inappropriate behavior. If anything I consider that a passing trait and a lasting reminder of what came before. The current generation of Shanghainese and most other urban Chinese are much more civilized and cultured. They wait patiently in queue, speak softly, and can talk freely about any subject. They have the best of historical Chinese manners with a modern flair and spice commonly associated with the west. Conversely, HK people despite the passing generations haven’t really improved. Most will shun Mandarin speakers and flaunt their supposedly superior Cantonese while doing most of the same things: spitting, smoking, urinating in public when drunk, etc. Modern HK locals have even developed an inferiority complex with the increasing global appeal of Mandarin.

    In the end, HK’s time is passing and Shanghai is forging a new and constantly upgrading modern city a great place to settle and find a place to hang your hat.

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