Traveling Around China

Culture Shock in Hong Kong

Before coming to Finland I spent almost five days with my friends in Hong Kong. I had been there before, but just for a short Business trip and saw only glimpse of Nathan Road. This time I was prepared to find out what Hong Kong really is and if I like it or not. Someone told me that people either love or hate it, but maybe I am somewhere in the between.

What I do love about Hong Kong is the weather and toilets. Compared to Guangzhou there is zero pollution and the blue sky was amazing. There were clean public toilets at least in some metro stations which is something I would hope to see in Guangzhou in the future too. Right now would be too optimistic.

Our hostel was Pay-less Guest House in Chungking Mansion on the Nathan Road. Our room seemed to be the cheapest in town, 180HKD (16,24 euros) for tiny room with two beds and ever smaller bathroom. I can recommend the guest house because it wasn’t dirty, it was safe and the boy running it was nice and relaxed.

My least favourite place in Hong Kong is absolutely in front of our hostel. That is the place where I felt the need to grab my purse with two hands. But location in Tsim Sha Tsui was great for our “luxury suite” and just few block away I could breath again.

It felt really weird to be surrounded by fellow laowais, foreigners. Where are all the Chinese people? Or do they prefer to be called hongkongnese? In some parts Hong Kong truly is it’s own thing and at Star Ferry Pier there was plenty of propaganda (or should I just say information) about how bad the party in China is. Something you could never see in China, or if you do, then… Well, let’s not get into politics too deeply.

On the first day of my trip I had a conversation with a Finnish exchange student that had stayed about a year in Hong Kong.

Me: I think I have a Hong Kong culture shock.

Him: Oh yes, everything is so much better than in China.

Me: Um, actually I was thinking about how expensive everything is and how you have to wait seven minutes for the metro.

There are foreigners who love Hong Kong and then there are us who love the mainland China. Even though Hong Kong seems to be a nice place to visit, I don’t see any reason for me to move there. Too many foreigners, too many English speakers. Guangzhou isn’t maybe the perfect place to study Mandarin, but Hong Kong would be even worse.

If someone would force me to move to Hong Kong, then I would choose one of the numerous island. Islands like Peng Chau reminds me of mainland with familiar houses, grandfathers playing cards and stray dogs. Just the view and the weather would be supreme.

Want to see more photos from Hong Kong? Check out my photo gallery!


  • HuShiwei

    I brief two day stay in HK last year was a nice change of pace from the mainland.

    Although your Hostel was cheap I wonder if it was anything like the Garden Hostel at the Mirador Mansion? Maybe they are located next to each other, because I had the same exact feeling you had, like I would be mugged any second.

    At the time it was 70HKD a night, bed bugs included. But it was kind of interesting because it doubled as a dojo for martial artists.

    I’m s tarting to see a trend when it comes to how people react to other city’s/country’s, the “You either hate it or love it” line translates to “you can either adjust and see the good in it, or you can’t and hate it”.

    Sara Reply:

    I don’t know about Mirador Mansion, but it could be pretty much the same. Chunking Mansion wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I would choose some other place if there would be a cheaper option elsewhere.

    I agree with you HuShiwei that it’s about adjusting or failing to do that. From my own experience I’ve realized that it isn’t easy to adjust to the life in China. Everything is different and you have to make an effort to understand people that are different from you. Before coming to China I was worried that I would not adjust the life there. It would have been a terrible because coming to China was my biggest dream. Luckily I’ve liked it and feel like I am adjusting more and more everyday.

  • Adriana

    I love mainland China, but I think I would love Hong Kong too. Its a huge city, but still, its in China, and I think it would have an special flavor. Well, thank you very much for sharing.

    Sara Reply:

    Hong Kong certainly has it’s own special flavor. In the city center I’m not sure what to think about the city, but on the island I can see the similarity to mainland. Thank you for reading Adriana.

  • Jules

    Yeah, when I visited Hong Kong I also had some culture shock….too many people! I didn’t hate it, but I definitely didn’t like it that much…and I agree that there are far better places to learn the culture/language of China.

  • Rauno

    Interesting, Sara! Hopefully I will be writing about my own Hong Kong culture shocks in August, and then we can compare! :) I’m planning to spend as long as one month there, though, and reading this was the first thing I’ve done as preparation – thanks for the hostel tip, maybe I can get a good deal as I’m staying a bit longer. :) Enjoy your stay in Suomi, too!

  • Love Messages

    I’ve never been in Hong Kong. IS it okay to go shopping & dinning if i know only english?

    Sara Reply:

    You can do well in Hong Kong with English. No problem at all. Also lots of people are travelling in mainland China even they don’t know a word of Chinese.

  • Tom

    I’ve heard Hong Kong described as China lite, and I think that’s the best way to think of it. While it has a lot of Chinese attributes, it’s not so different from Chinatowns in the US. English is spoken everywhere, prices are are higher than the US, and there is food from every corner of the Globe. While I enjoyed my time there, it felt strange to be 10,000 miles away from home, but have almost the same experiences. I didn’t quite see the point in it.

    Sara Reply:

    Interesting to compare Hong Kong with Chinatowns, I haven’t heard this before. And because Finland is so small, and we don’t have any Chinatowns, I have never been in one myself. In my opinion if someone want’s to experience China it’s better to go to mainland and visit as many cities from different provinces as possible. But sure there isn’t anything wrong if someone just want’s to experience Hong Kong. It just isn’t for me.

  • Ma Si Wen

    I like the “grandfathers playing cards” part. Another thing I found interesting in China was bunch of people just playing music and dancing in parks.

    Sara Reply:

    At the north gate of my new university, Sun Yat Sen University, people gather at the evening to sing, dance and practice taiji. I have been there only once so I’m not sure if this happens every evening, but I’m eagerly waiting to take part!

  • Marcus

    Hope you had a smashing time at HK! I am surprised that you chose to stay at Chungking mansion though. Right across is the finest hotel east of Suez! Not necessary there but at least somewhere more decent. Chungking Mansion is quite a spectacular place but HK people know it is a bad place for accommodation. Except for the language matter what don’t you like about HK?

    Sara Reply:

    Marcus, I think the finest was little bit over our budget! It was an experience to stay at Chunking Mansion and actually the guest house we chose wasn’t that bad. The language aspect is probably the biggest factor that makes Hong Kong not-suitable for me. It’s not that I hate Hong Kong, but I just like mainland more.

  • Susan Blumberg-Kason

    I’m impressed you stayed at Chungking Mansions! I only went there to eat and shop. I first visited China 23 years ago and found it quite difficult. So when I moved to Asia two years later, I chose HK. Compared to China, it was more comfortable for me, although now I’m sure the tables are turned in many places on the mainland. Also, back in the mid-90s, we were afraid to go to Guangzhou. The old train station was terribly crowded and kind of scary. I stayed on Shamian Island one week thanks to the generosity of my parents.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for commenting Susan! I bet China was a different place 23 years ago and it still isn’t too easy to live here and adapt to the different life style. Train sations (three of them) are crowded, but I have always felt safe living in Guangzhou. Sure there are areas I’ve heard about and wish not to visit, but basically it feels safer than in Finland. Back home there is only quiet and dark street and only that creepy looking guy walking behind you. In China there are tens, hundreds or thousands of others at almost any place I go, so I feel safe.

  • E. Woo

    “Too many foreigners, too many English speakers.” You sound like my friend’s 87 year old mother in law who refused to live in a retirement home becuase she didn’t want to be with old people. All jokes aside, you love China but HK is semi western and better for westerners who do not like China. My hotel room cost more that 5 times what you paid, It is very expensive there!

    Sara Reply:

    Oh I know E. Woo that is really sounds hypocritical and I should remember that I’m also just a foreigner. I have to admit that sometimes I caught my self speaking of those foreigners. Actually according to my first plan I should be in Beijing right now so it was just a coincidence that I decided to stay in Guangzhou. So who knows what could have happened if Hong Kong had been my first destination, maybe I would like it more?

    E. Woo Reply:

    I was just being facetious so don’t take me seruously. You went to China, HK is like a middle ground. I can’t afford to live there but it has advantages over China: cleaner, more polite (drivers don’t honk constantly), more orderly and as you’ve observed, people have civil rights. Good luck my young friend, where ever life takes you.

    Sara Reply:

    I know, don’t worry E. Woo. It would be interesting to go to Taiwan and compare it to Hong Kong and China.

  • SAM

    Hey Sara. I totally agree with you HK is not a place to learn Chinese. I am a Hkese..but speak horrible chinese.. then you will know, hk is not a best place to learn Chinese. Well.. Regarding to Chung King Mansions, i work there for almost years, i know how you feel. people there saw me going inside the building alomst everyday when working there, they are still trying to sell me copy watches…

    Sara Reply:

    What a coincidence that you used to work there! I can understand your frustration because I got tired of hearing copywatch-copywatch twice a day (when going out and coming back) for four days. In Guangzhou you can here this too in Beijing Lu and near the railway station, but in other areas it’s not a problem. I like Beijing and Shanghai but they have too many sellers and cheaters on the streets looking for foreigners’ money.

  • Bobby

    I have a similar feeling about HK. Well, first of all, in Kowloon it may seem like there are a lot of foreigners, but you have to remember that Hong Kong is still 95% Chinese. That being said, the place is no challenge for me. There are too many foreigners, and too many locals who speak English, and I won’t learn anything there. If you try to speak Cantonese, they just answer you back in English. Shanghai also has a lot of locals who can speak English, but if I speak Mandarin, they will answer me back in Mandarin.

    The food on the Mainland is just better. It just tastes more fresh. I guess the Mainland doesn’t rely on too much imported/frozen stuff. I can’t stand Western style Hong Kong food (which they have in Guangzhou too). Ok, so the locals eat bread, and drink coffee, and cling to the fact that they were a British colony for about 100 years. Why do some locals feel so much shame to be associated with being Chinese, such a great culture with 5,000 years of history?

    Of course if you’re a lazy Westerner, you can just plop yourself in Hong Kong and not even need to learn a new language, or get used to eating a different diet, then that’s fine for those kind of Westerners, but why would I go all the way to Asia and live in a place that feels like a crowded London or Los Angeles?

    Lastly, everything is way too expensive, and it’s not worth it either.

    Sara Reply:

    I have to admit that I think in a little bit similar way with you Bobby. For me there’s no sense to live in Hong Kong, because I came to China to experience China. And Hong Kong is just something else.

    For more information about why Hong Kong people don’t like being called Chinese, you can check out this post from HK Girl Talk: Why Hong Kongers Hate Being Called Chinese

  • bobit

    Hello Sara, that was amazing it looks like you are writing my ideas about HK, i can’t agree with you any more, i m living in guangzhou and i had to go to HK many times whether for work or visa extention and very few times for tourist.
    in mainland i feel i’m at home, my chinese is not that good, but it happened many times that i forget i’m foreigner

    Sara Reply:

    I like visiting Hong Kong, but home is here at Guangzhou.

  • Alva

    I like Hong Kong, but I dont know for how long I could live there.
    I could live there if my salary is enough good to afford a good apartment, I mean, not a tiny tiny tiny one.
    Hong Kong is expensive so they better compensate you. On the other side, those who have a good income, I am sure they enjoy a lot!
    Plenty of stuff to do, is very international ,you can find everything you need….
    When do I think is the best moment to choose HK? I think..moving from Mainland to HK is easier than from HK to Mainland.
    My steps would be…
    Mainland – HK – Europe
    For example..but never…
    That must be a real shock!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you for sharing your thought Alva!

    For me, because I write about the mainland China and speak Mandarin, Hong Kong isn’t really a good option for me. Also like you said, the salary should be really good in order to affor a nice place. Hong Kong homes seem to be so tiny!

    This reminds me of a Finnish girl who visited HK straigh from Finland, she was impressed how large parks HK has. But when I visited HK after Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou etc, HK feels a bit small :)

    Alva Reply:

    Yes to me HK feels small, but the good thing is that you can get everywhere very fast with the MTR, is super fast, when you check the map seems like is very far but it doesnt take too long.
    Another point for HK in terms of the possibility of go hiking or to the beach..we dont have this opportunity in Shanghai.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I like the sea in HK very much, we don’t have beaches in Guangzhou either. But actually I was surprised how long you have to wait for the MTR in HK, In Guangzhou many lines during day time it’s only 2 minutes.

    Thank you again for your multiple messages Laura :) It’s so great to be able to connect with others through my blog.