Monday, 25 February 2008


I'm in Hong Kong this week on a business trip, my first trip to East Asia. So far it's been very interesting.

I came in early for the weekend to see my friend from grad school Liz, who is living and working in Shenzen. The first thing I noticed about the area is the big difference between Hong Kong and the mainland. Of course for all of its history as a city until 1997 Hong Kong was under the control of the British, and it was just a little over ten years ago that it was handed over to the Chinese, but with special stipulations. Hong Kong became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the "one country, two systems" policy, continuing to operate as a seperate country for most intents and purposes until 2047.

Hong Kong today is a strikingly modern city, a maze of impossibly tall skyscrapers connected by a series of walkways and tunnels which seem to never require one to go out into the open air. It's a very Western city, and there are tons of foreigners here.

When you cross the border into Shenzen, it's appearance is completely different. Located immediately outside Hong Kong, the city was a fishing village before the Chinese government decided to give it Special Economic Zone status and rapidly develop it. Interestingly, because the city was populated by migrants coming from China;s hinterland, the residents there speak Mandarin, even though the rest of Southern China (including Hong Kong) speak Cantonese. My friend who lives there is American of Chinese descent and speaks Mandarin, so she can get by fine there. But when we came in to Hong Kong she had a bit of trouble communicating with people because they speak Cantonese here. An odd phenomenon considering Shenzen is intended as a outlying city to Hong Kong.

On Sunday I went to Macau, the former Portuguese colony now handed over to China under a similiar arrangement. It's across the Pearl River Delta so you arrive there by boat, it's about an hour trip. Interestingly the border controls going between Hong Kong and Macau are really strict, four checks total, long lines, immigration forms, the whole nine yards. In fact between going to Shenzen, Hong Kong and Macau over the weekend I feel like I've done nothing but wait in border check lines even though I'm not leaving one small area.

Macau has now becoming the gambling capital of the East, quickly coming to rival Las Vegas in terms of size and income. The rest of China doesn't allow gambling, so people flock here by the thousands. It was quite impressive, with huge neon lights and massive towers. I've never been to Las Vegas but it seemed like this is what it must be like. Although Macau still has that seemy, old timey feel to it, with dancing girls on stage while you play the slots and cigarette smoke wafting in the air.

Interestingly, though Hong Kong was established as a city only in the 1840's (the British nabbed it from the Chinese in the Opium War, which was fought over Imperial China's ultimately unsucessful attempt to stop the British from pushing drugs on its subjects), The Portuguese established a colony in Macau in the 1500's. In fact Macau was the first European colony in China and also the last, being handed over to the Chinese two years after Hong Kong in 1999. The small island territory has a quite impressive museum detailing its history.

This week I will b doing interviews with people around the city for an article I'm working on and I will be speaking at a conference tomorrow and Wednesday. I'm a bit nervous about that, it's my first time. Tomorrow I'll be conducting an on-stage interview with two real estate investors, one from India and the other from Korea. I'm worried I may have a hard time finding themes to tie their investing together, but I'm going to give it a shot. Wednesday I'm moderating a panel on real estate investing in "frontier markets," and I have investors from Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and the Philippines on the panel. Hopefully I'll do alright, I feel like I have to to justify my stay in this ridiculously nice hotel. My room is way too opulant, it's making me uncomfortable. There's even a bidet in the bathroom!

I watched the Oscars live at noon today, an odd experience certainly! But was pleased to see the 'European sweep' of the awards, with two Brits, one Spaniard and on Frenchwoman taking the main acting awards. Nice!

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