Us westerners are guilty of a lot of things. One of them is being of the opinion that all black people look alike. (It makes me feel better to know it works both ways though). We feel the same about Asians. To the majority of white people, the majority of Asians look alike. We can’t tell them apart.
When you live in Asia this changes a lot. I have fun eyeing out the hordes of passers by on my way to work. Looking more closely at their individuality. There differing styles, facial features and body types and noticing that they’re just as much, if not more, unique than us whities.
Hong Kong is full to the brim with people. There’s not a moment in time when its quiet and there’s almost no place you can go for some reprieve- apart from your home. This overflowing of people has been an issue on the news recently and it’s not because Hong Kongers are reproducing at a rate of knots. Its the influx of mainland Chinese coming to visit (shop). Recently the visa rules have relaxed and mainlanders have been taking advantage.
But how does one tell the difference between people from mainland China and their lookalikes- the people of Hong Kong? Here are four giveaways that I’ve noticed so far.
1. Luggage. If someone hadn’t pointed it out to me I would be none-the-wiser. People come from mainland China with one thing in mind… to shop. But what do you do if you’ve hopped across the border for a quick weekend throughout which you intend to buy more than you can carry? Well you take your luggage shopping with you of course. Blocking up sidewalks and escalators are tourists on their spending sprees with their trusty roller-bags by their sides. If you didn’t know any better you’d think folks were between the hotel and airport. These suitcases are actually for shopping-till-you-drop purposes.
2. No-one loves their luxury brands like the Chinese do. Luis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, Versace. The more I’m exposed to them here in Hong Kong, the more I am of the opinion that a sometimes ugly item of clothing, branded with these household names, is the biggest waste of money. If you see someone walking out of one of these high fashion, luxury brand stores, they are almost definitely Mainlanders. They probably also have roller bags by their sides- Gucci of course.
3. The subway/underground system in Hong Kong is called the MTR. The MTRC (corporation) own everything- but that’s besides the point. The MTR swallows people up and spits them out at different places around the city, just like any semi-functioning underground system would. The MTR is always busy. A good day on the metro is when you have breathing space- not a seat. This is one of the areas of concern regarding the influx of Mainlanders.
It’s argued that their numbers are clogging up the main arteries of the city. A counter argument is that without them the luxury brand business would suffer.. hmmmm. If you see a Chinese walk out of a metro carriage and straight up to a map, congratulations, you’ve spotted a Mainlander! No Hong Konger needs a map! Not even me… well sometimes.
4. Hong Kongers speak Cantonese as opposed to Mandarin, which Mainlanders speak. Now, its very much the case that you would never ever be able to tell the difference between the two. However there is a way to tell if you listen really closely. Mandarin, spoken by Mainlanders, is much higher pitched, uses much more intonation and is way more sing-songey.
The only time I am able to make out a difference is when the metro speaks to you about what stop is up next. The clever metro speaks English, Mandarin and Cantonese and it is here where you will observe the very obvious difference between the two Chinese languages. I’m yet to identify an actual Mainlander based on their language, but there’s still time.