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A tale of two cities with a pleasant twist

by anonymous

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Having been living away from Hong Kong (obtain more via Hong Kong city guide) for so long, I have almost forgotten how easy it is to get things done in that city compared to Shanghai.

One of the first things I did after getting out of the airport was to buy a local phone card. Activating it required one phone call to a specified number and the rest was done automatically. There was no need to punch in long strings of number for identification and confirmation like what you have to do to get a new phone card working in Shanghai.

No. I am not going to either bore or, worse, irate you with a blow-by-blow comparison of the two cities. But I was greatly impressed by how much more efficient Hong Kong has become in so many different ways.

There were times when many people, like me, deeply resented the rudeness of the shop attendants, restaurant waiters and waitresses, taxi drivers and almost everyone else who was in the position to provide some sort of service in Hong Kong. I could still remember distinctly how a friend of mine was mocked by a shop manager for requesting to have a HK$10,000 suit altered to fit his rather rotund physique.

The previous time I was in Hong Kong for Hong Kong tour, I tried to avoid taking taxis as much as I could not because of the fare, which wasn't all that high compared to other major cities, but rather because I couldn't stand the foul manner of the drivers in sweaty undershirts. Their constant grumbling about the slow traffic, bad weather, uncooperative customers or unsympathetic government could drive even the most patient passengers off the bend.

We all know how expensive eating out can be in Hong Kong. What used to irk patrons most was that the service almost always fell short of the standard one would naturally expect at those prices. I could never understand the logic behind penalizing early customers. Instead of showing them to the best tables in the house, the attendants would invariably lead them to sitting areas closest to the kitchen or toilet.

This latest trip has changed my impression about Hong Kong, my hometown, quite a bit.

Of course, the taxi drivers in Hong Kong, or in many other cities for that matter, still have much to learn from their Shanghai counterparts, who mostly are properly dressed, courteous, considerate and helpful. But the Hong Kong drivers are catching up fast. In other areas, Hong Kong seems to be pulling ahead. What really distinguishes Hong Kong from other centers of business or finance is convenience.

Almost anything one would normally need can be found in a shop not too far from home. In Shanghai, I had to ask a colleague in the office for the address of a shop to buy a phone cable. When I am in Hong Kong, there are numerous shops in different neighborhoods that sell phone and other cables at any length you want after visiting Hong Kong tourist attractions.

In terms of public transport, Hong Kong is way ahead of most other cities in the world. Taxis are plentiful and the buses will take you wherever you want to go. The Hong Kong underground railway system is renowned for its cleanliness and user-friendly design. Changing lines usually call for nothing more than walking across the platform instead of making a long trek through a labyrinth of tunnels as in the interchanges of some subway systems in other cities.

But it's the apparent change in the collective attitude of the workers in the service sector that has made life much more pleasant for residents and visitors alike. I was surprised to be greeted by courteous and efficient service not only in 5-star hotels and high-class department stores but also in small shops, humble eateries and, yes, convenience stores that set their priority on speed rather than politeness.

This was not the Hong Kong I remembered. But it is the one I love all the more. So when you have affordable China travel packages, you should not miss it.

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