The other main trip I took while in China was to the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Unlike mainland China, these two zones have their own government, currency, and much more freedom in terms of working directly with foreign businesses and travelers. This opened the door for us to have different experiences and get a glimpse of what China may look like in the future.
Our first stop was in Macau. Luckily enough, one of the students on our trip, Chris, lives in Macau and was eager to show off his home town. With heavy Portuguese influence, a lot of the restaurants and the old town area are reminiscent of a small European city. We had a delicious dinner our first night highlighted with sangria and spiced rice dishes. Later we toured the Ruins of St. Paul, a wall remaining from the missionary days.
In addition to the historical parts, Macau is known for its casinos. It is the only place in all of China and its territories which allows gambling, so many casinos have opened hotels here. Our group dined in the Grand Lisboa before walking through the Wynn, Four Seasons, and then shopping inside the Venetian. And since the gambling age is lower than in America, we all dressed up in and spent one night playing blackjack at our personal table inside the Hard Rock Casino. To finish off our stay in Macau, 8 of us (I passed on this one) did the world’s tallest bungee jump from the Macau Tower, 233 meters in the sky!
Next we took a ferry to Hong Kong. To sum up this city in one sentence, it was what I imagine China will be someday. The downtown area is reminiscent of New York, with many distinct areas from a bar district to the Soho restaurant streets to the Avenue of the Stars with handprints of many famous Chinese actors, we all agreed we could spend much more time seeing all of the sites. In the few days we spent here, we did visit a Buddhist monastery, swim in the Pacific Ocean, watch the light show on the waterfront, and see the skyline from the Peak, a site in the mountains that overlook the main strip of Hong Kong.
My main impression of Hong Kong, as opposed to Shanghai, stems from how much longer it has been influenced by western culture. As a former English territory, nearly everyone we met, including the hotel concierge, taxi drivers, and even convenience store workers, spoke fluent english. The culture was also much more business oriented, instead of the family and traditional values clearly apparent in Shanghai. With all of the efforts of the government and the youth in Shanghai to become a modern city similar to Hong Kong, I can see a rapid evolution into what we think of as a westernized city developing fully in Shanghai very soon. Until then, I will fondly remember Hong Kong as one of the most fun cities I have stayed in.