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6 things mainlanders like to do in Hong Kong
Ahead of the Handover anniversary, we take stock of our love/hate relationship with visitors from the mainland
Since Hong Kong returned to China on July 1, 1997 Hongkongers have gradually become indifferent, if not exactly welcoming, to the burgeoning number of mainland visitors and immigrants in Hong Kong, who have contributed so much to the city's GDP.
Mainlanders have long been regarded as Hong Kong’s favorite customers. They arrive in groups with empty suitcases and extended shopping lists. They go home with too many shopping bags to carry, maxed-out credit cards and a bunch of new Gucci, Prada and LV items.
Yes, Hongkongers would like to picture mainlanders that way. They tend to blame mainlanders for the stock shortage of milk powder, cosmetics and luxury goods, and the city’s increasing inflation rate.
Yet, at the same time, Hongkongers love mainlanders because they have a big part to play in keeping the city’s economy dynamic.
However, mainlanders have more on their agenda than just raiding shopping malls. Hong Kong has much more to offer -- and much more to gain -- from its northern neighbors.
1. Scouting 'banned books'
One of the good things about “One Country, Two Systems” is that Hong Kong enjoys freedom of speech and has full access to the Internet.
Mainlanders always make sure they take advantage of this while they are here. They log on Facebook and Twitter and watch videos on YouTube and take home books that are banned on the mainland for their sensitive content.
An online group called Hong Kong Bookworm on www.douban.com, a Chinese social networking website, encourages users to share their taste for movies, music, books, and more. Users also post wanted booklists and look for people travelling to Hong Kong to bring the books back for them.
Popular books are mainly about certain periods of Chinese history -- the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square massacre; tomes on Chinese leaders and their motives behind certain political acts are also popular.
Douban users also search for works of exiled writers such as Nobel literature laureate Gao Xingjian (高行健).
In fact, earlier this month, some of the mainland-banned books, including "China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao" (中國影帝溫家寶) and a memoir of veteran mainland Aids activist Dr. Gao Yaojie (高耀潔), were among 22 shortlisted for the fourth annual Hong Kong Book Prize, organized by RTHK and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
Organizers said there were more political publications in this year’s list to help information flow to the mainland. Just beware of the customs checks.
2. Delivering babies
A Hong Kong identification document is considered as good as a passport to the rest of the world by many mainland parents.
In the planned upbringing for their children, which includes bilingual education, learning to play the piano, and a global career, a Hong Kong ID is the key.
For other mainland mums and dads, it is simply a way to get around the One-Child Policy.
Either way, mainlanders come to Hong Kong via various maternity service agencies scattered across China, but mostly in Guangdong province. Or they come by themselves, booking a spot several months ahead at a hospital and travelling back and forth two or three times for check-ups before they eventually hear the baby cry.
It is not too much hassle because agencies will provide spacious and clean accommodation in family hotels near the hospitals. Parents don’t even have to queue in the Immigration Office to get a birth certificate for their baby -– more than enough local “errand runners” are waiting outside the delivery room.
Of course, they charge a few hundred Hong Kong dollars, but compared with around HK$150,000 that parents have to spend for the entire process, this is nothing.
Government statistics state that out of the 88,000 babies born in the city in 2010, about 47 percent came from mainland mothers. In 2001, the figure was only 16 percent.
Even though the Hospital Authority announced at the end of last month that no more mainland mothers-to-be will be allowed to arrange maternity services for the rest of the year, the doors to private hospitals are still open -- at a premium price.
But the mainland nouveau riche do not care.
3. Pursuing a career in showbiz
Mainland faces are not rare in Hong Kong’s entertainment scene. In fact, they are quite popular. Faye Wong (王菲), one of the most successful singers in Greater China, was born and raised in Beijing until she went to high school.
Leon Lai Ming (黎明) -- actor, singer and one of Cantopop's Four Heavenly Kings in the 1990s -- is also from Beijing, while Raymond Lam Fung (林峯) (now TVB’s top actor, was originally from Xiamen, Fujian.)
The list of mainland-born celebrities is endless. The most recent cases involve Tang Wei (湯唯), the Chinese actress whose fame came along with controversy after her explicit scenes in Ann Lee (李安)’s movie "Lust, Caution" (色，戒) and Liu Xuan (劉璇), former Chinese gymnast and Olympic gold medalist. Both of them decided to get Hong Kong citizenship.
Tang starred in her first Hong Kong movie "Crossing Hennessy" last year, after a three-year career break the role in "Lust, Caution" has cost her. Now she has become one of the new China Faces in the international film scene and frequently appears on magazine covers.
Liu, on the other hand, has already been a TV hostess and singer on the mainland already before she came to Hong Kong to explore more acting opportunities. Now she is a regular on TVB dramas.
Such success stories are indeed an inspiration for young mainlanders, especially when it is much easier to cross the border nowadays.
Mainland beauties nabbed three Miss Asia Crowns in the last five years. In ATV’s Asian Millionstar, a show that aims to discover beautiful and marketable voices, mainlanders were always on the top five.
Winning contests is just the start of a show biz career. But local youngsters who dream of fame should be aware of tough competition from their mainland counterparts, even if said competition has less than perfect Cantonese.
4. Seeking blessings
For many mainlanders, coming to Hong Kong can be spiritual. The Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha in Lantau Island, is a hot pilgrimage spot, but mainlanders’ favorite activity is a practice called “kau cim” at Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon.
The Taoist temple is famed for the many prayers answered. The saying goes "you will always get what you pray for at Wong Tai Sin."
The practice is simple: keep shaking a bottle full of bamboo sticks with numbers on them until finally one stick stands out. And that number is supposed to be the code that explains everything about you, which you won’t be able to decipher until you pay some HK$30-50 to a fortuneteller outside the temple.
There are about 30 fortunetellers to choose from, most of whom speak understandable Mandarin.
He or she will tell you that the each code relates to a certain poem that describes exactly what you are in all aspects.
If you pay HK$30, you get one explanation for your career, or marriage, or health. If you want to know them all, you have to pay more.
Don’t be surprised when the fortune teller gets you right before he or she even knows you. And if the prospect is not looking good, you’d better be prepared to spend quite some money on items such as written charms or talismans that are said to counter misfortune and bring luck.
Mainlanders buy that. Just see how much the fortune tellers’ Mandarin has improved.
5. Snapping up luxury property
Recently, a 28-year-old housewife from Huizhou, Guangdong province, spent HK$345 million in Hong Kong for the most expensive luxury housing unit in Kowloon. She said it was “only a gift” from her husband.
She told the media that her family is only “middle-class" and that there are a lot more people who are much wealthier in the mainland.
The thing is, she is right.
Just a week later, a billionaire from Chongqing bought a seaside villa at 12 Headland Road, Repulse Bay, at a price of HK$547 million. And this was only the second highest transaction price in Hong Kong.
The first one, costing some HK$660 million, sits right next to it. Its owner is the richest man in Hebei province. The owner of the most expensive house (according to market evaluation) is also from the mainland.
In fact, the top five property transactions in Hong Kong were all conducted by mainland buyers, including CEO of Internet company Tencent, Ma Huateng (馬化騰), and President of Shanghai Giant Internet Group Shi Yuzhu (史玉柱).
According to government statistics, since 2010, around 30 percent of luxury housing (houses that costs more than HK$12 million, including first-hand and second-hand properties) buyers in Hong Kong were mainlanders.
Hong Kong’s housing price has reached its highest point since 1997. Mainlanders could well be expected to contribute more to the momentum, as the reminbi continues to appreciate.
6. Prepping up for higher education
Hong Kong is an important place for mainland high school students who want to study abroad. This is the closest place where they can take the SAT college entrance examination for American universities, which have no test venue in the mainland yet.
Three or four times a year, senior high school students from the mainland come to Hong Kong in groups, normally organized by local private English schools, to take the test that is essential in their college application.
A teacher surnamed Chen at a language school in Hangzhou, a city in southeast China, explained a standard schedule of the exam tour: “Thursday: arrival in the morning, hotel check-in before visiting the test center. In the late afternoon, free time. People normally go shopping; Friday: stay in the hotel for a final review. Saturday morning: test time. Before leaving in the afternoon, we’ll go for another shopping session.”
“The kids are mostly from rich families so they don’t care how many bucks they spend here,” the teacher said. “In fact, they bought all iPhones, iPads and other gadgets during their stay.”
Such test tours are getting more and more popular among mainland students, especially in big cities. There is no figure to show the percentage of mainland SAT takers in Hong Kong, but any search engine will come up with various advertisements and college application tips from language training centers and schools all over China providing relevant information or services.
In fact, Hong Kong is but one of the locations where mainlanders come to take language tests.
In online education forums, mainland students regularly share their test experiences abroad in the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, even Vietnam.
For the mega rich second-generation, the world is all their Rolex Oyster.