Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Long Trip for Milk: Barriers, Trust, and Truth in China

During my visit to the top of Guia Hill in Macau I met someone new:

man with Macau scene in background

We met while we were both exploring historic Guia Fort. He lives in mainland China and was visiting Macau for the day. One topic he mentioned during our wide-ranging chat was the Internet censorship enabled by China's Great Firewall (which does not operate in Macau). He said it does not affect him as much as some of his friends since he works at a Taiwanese company which uses a VPN to securely (and freely) access the Internet. Regardless of his own situation, he believes the Great Firewall is unfortunate and should not exist.

In addition to the Great Firewall, there is another barrier in China that bothers him -- the borders between mainland China and China's special administrative regions of Macau and Hong Kong.

Pass book for Chinese to enter Hong Kong or Macau
Pass (通行证) required for mainland Chinese to enter Macau or Hong Kong

Despite possessing the passport-like pass mainland Chinese need to enter Macau, for each visit he must apply for a new visa-like permit to be placed in it. As with China's Great Firewall, he wants the border removed and believes it is not fair to mainland Chinese.

What most caught my attention was what brought him to Macau. Although he enjoyed seeing the sights, his primary goal was purchasing the customs maximum two cans of New Zealand baby formula. Like cigarettes and diapers, baby formula is a common product brought to mainland China by those coming from Macau. Due to past milk scandals his cousin with an infant does not trust the milk products produced in China. Approximately every two months he plans to take a more than hour-long bus ride from the city where he lives to the Macau border, pass through two immigration channels, purchase baby formula, pass through immigration again, and take another long bus ride back home -- all in one day.

I asked him why he did not save himself the trip and purchase the New Zealand baby formula through a source closer to his home. He said his family would not be able to trust its origin due to the vast numbers of fake products found in mainland China. When I asked him why fake products were such a problem he replied, "The Chinese government often lies to the people. So, the people..." He did not finish the sentence and simply looked away with an expression I am hesitant to interpret. I will just say that it did not at all appear to be positive.

He may not agree with some of China's policies. He may be wary of China's milk. He may not trust all of what he hears from China's government. But despite his frustrations, his story does suggest signs of positive recent changes in China. He was doubtful he would have as easily obtained a permit to visit Macau only 10 years ago. And I am not sure whether 10 year ago he would have as openly expressed himself or he would have given permission to publicly share his thoughts with his photo included.

Regardless, he feels conditions still need to improve for himself and others in China. And sometimes he is willing to take a long journey to help it happen.

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