Showing posts with label Borders. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Borders. Show all posts

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Nearly Empty and Policed: Last Night at Hong Kong Port and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge

Hong Kong Port, the border checkpoint for people using the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB), is one of the few remaining checkpoints open in Hong Kong for direct travel to or from mainland China — a response to the still-spreading Wuhan coronavirus and its effects. With the closing of all cross-borer ferry and helicopter services, the bridge is also the only way to travel directly between Hong Kong and Macau. Despite the dwindling options for reaching Macau or mainland China, when I arrived there last night at around 7 p.m. the Departure Hall was nearly empty.

Hong Kong Port departure hall with hardly any travelers

On the plus side, passing through immigration was a breeze as there were no line for the single immigration officer handling visitors.

The bridge showed few signs of travelers as well.

no other vehicles in sight on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge

At times no other vehicles were in sight. Quite regularly, more than a minute would pass between any vehicles headed in the opposite direction passing us. Although I have found traffic on the bridge to be rather light in the past, even before Hong Kong was dealing with a virus outbreak or protests, last night was more extreme.

When I returned to Hong Kong Port shortly before 2 a.m. after an evening in Macau, I wasn't surprised to find it similarly quiet at first. However, after clearing customs the Arrival Hall provided a surprise: approximately 20 police in riot gear who were on their way out of the building.

numerous police in riot gear walking through the Hong Kong Port Arrival Hall
Definitely back in Hong Kong

I don't know if the police were responding to a specific threat, but Hong Kong Port might be a prime target for protestors who seek a more complete closure of the border between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Perhaps they don't need to bother.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Rambling Travel Tale: One Way to Go From Taipei to Guangdong

The previous post may have seemed out of the blue not only because it was about trash collection but also because it featured Macau. So I will take this opportunity to share a personal travel experience that captures a few of the issues involved in traveling to the Pearl River Delta area.

After an unexpectedly long stay in Taipei, it was time to leave. I knew I wanted to head to Guangdong province but had some flexibility in how to do that. For example, I could take a cheap (less than US $60) flight from Taipei to the island of Kinmen, a ferry to Xiamen in mainland China, and then high-speed rail to Guangdong. Or I could fly directly from Taipei to Shenzhen or Guangzhou in Guangdong. The differing options had various tradeoffs regarding price and convenience. One issue was that there was no way to fly directly from Taipei to where I expected to spend the Lunar New Year holiday.

Then I discovered some cheap direct flights from Taipei to Macau — just US $80 one way. Macau borders Zhuhai, a city in Guangdong. There are no direct flights from Taipei to Zhuhai. But even if there were, the Zhuhai airport is actually farther from the most urban areas of Zhuhai than the Macau airport. The catch is that as a Special Administrative Region in the People's Republic of China, Macau has its own immigration procedures. And they take time to go through.

Overall, I felt the Macau to Zhuhai route was reasonably convenient, and the price was sweet. Oh, and the flight was on Air Macau. I could add yet another airline to my list. So, I bought the ticket.

The flight left the gate about 15 minutes early. The breakfast on the flight, some sort of chicken noodles, was surprisingly tasty. Upon arriving at the airport in Macau, I considered taking a special bus that allows you to avoid Macau immigration and head straight to one of the mainland China immigrations checkpoints on the border with Zhuhai. A policewoman saw me reading a relevant sign, though, and asked if I had a reservation. I said the website indicated that tickets for a bus to the checkpoint I wanted could only be bought at the airport. She then said the tickets must be sold out and that Chinese tour groups often buy them out. I explained the website didn't indicate they were sold out, just that you had to buy them in person. She repeated the point about Chinese tour groups.

I was tempted to check things out with the bus company myself. But given the departure of the next bus (they aren't very freqent) I thought I might make it to Zhuhai more quickly another way.

So, I went through Macau immigration, which was very fast at the airport. Then I wanted to take a convenient city bus to the border at Portas do Cerco. I had some change in both Macau patacas and Hong Kong dollars, both usable on buses in Macau, but not enough. So I exchanged some Chinese yuan knowing I would be making my way back to Macau later. Then I took a bus to Portas do Cerco where I passed through Macanese immigration once again — not as quickly as at the airport but 10 minutes is fine. The line for mainland China immigration was reasonable as well. In the end, I made it to Zhuhai quicker than I would have had I taken the more expensive bus which bypasses Macau's immigration process.

After settling in Zhuhai for a bit, I returned to Macau for a day. And later I finally made the next leg of this journey.

So here's a photo from today, the first day of the new Lunar New Year, next to the Jiangmen River in Jiangmen, Guangdong:

Man and boy sitting next to the Jiangmen River

One take home message from all of this is that when one making a long trip to this part of Guangdong, there can be a variety of options worth considering (I have other tales to share). I wouldn't have guessed that flying to Macau would be the winner in this case. But it was. And it worked just fine.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Hong Kong to Guangzhou in Double-Decker Train Style

When I was ready to depart Hong Kong and head to my next destination, Guangzhou, I knew exactly how I wanted to make the trip this time. Not only did I know I wanted to take the Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train, but I also knew which type of train I wanted to take. The line makes use of both Ktt trains and the 25T new train set, and I wanted to ride the Ktt. The Ktt locomotives are purchased from Switzerland and the coaches imported from Japan. Furthermore, the Ktt is managed from the Hong Kong side. The 25T is manufactured in mainland China and managed from the Guangzhou side. But what mattered to me was that only the Ktt is a double-decker train.

double-decker Ktt train at Hung Hom Station in Hong Kong

Of course I sat on the upper deck.

The train left Hung Hom Station in Hong Kong right on schedule. Two hours later the train arrived on time at the Guangzhou East Station in a downtown area of Guangzhou.

The biggest negative of the trip was the mobile devices symphony which regularly erupted, an issue not particular to double-decker trains. I am still wondering what made the irregular beeping noises reminiscent of the stopwatch on a digital watch from the 1980s. Regardless, the overall experience was positive. I appreciated the less obstructed view from the upper deck. And I found the immigration processes which occur both in Hong Kong and Guangzhou due to the border between Hong Kong and mainland China faster and less draining that those required when taking a bus or using the metro to cross the border.

Someday a new high-speed line will finally be completed (a story of itself) and offer a faster connection between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. But while the trip will be quicker and the immigration process even easier assuming everything is handled with a joint checkpoint on the Hong Kong side, which raises its own issues, the train will go to Guangzhou South Station — far less convenient if your destination is in downtown Guangzhou.

If you wish to take the Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train and want a double decker experience, the schedule posted by the Hong Kong MTR indicates which trips use the Ktt train. At least at the main ticketing area at Hung Hom Station, requesting a seat specifically on the upper deck next to a window is a breeze assuming seats are available.

Monday, September 19, 2016

View of Macau and Zhuhai from Above Avenida da Ponte da Amizade

One more cross-border view — this photo taken from a pedestrian bridge over Avenida da Ponte da Amizade in Macau:

Avenida da Ponte da Amizade in Macau and Zhuhai in the background

The tall buildings next to the road can be seen in the previous post's photo. The buildings much farther away in the background are across the border in Zhuhai and near where I took the earlier photo.

The next photos I share taken from the area here and before won't feature the two neighboring cities, but instead some new bridges and artificial islands.

View of Zhuhai and Macau from Lovers' Lane

To complement the recent photos taken in Macau which show the neighboring city Zhuhai on the other side of a body of water, here is a photo taken at the popular Lovers' Lane in Zhuhai which shows Macau on the other side of another body of water:

People look at Macau from Lovers' Lane in Zhuhai, China

One notable aspect of the photo are the cranes towering over the under-construction building on the far right in Zhuhai and the buildings with greenish scaffolding left of center in Macau. The change in Macau's skyline is evident when comparing this photo to a couple of photos taken from a similar vantage point shared in a post from four years ago about the border between Zhuhai and Macau.

There is another notable change, though it is more difficult to see in the photo. Near Macau and running roughly parallel to its shoreline, there is now a land bridge. It doesn't look like much, but it is an important part of an extensive series of bridges, tunnels, and artificial islands under construction which will connect Zhuhai and Macau to Hong Kong across the Pearl River Estuary. More about that massive, expensive, and delayed project and how it has changed views from both Zhuhai and Macau later.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Views of Macau and Zhuhai from Fort Monte

For readers relatively new to this blog, I want to highlight some posts from previous years about the border between Zhuhai, a city in Guangdong province, and Macau, one of China's two Special Administrative Regions. Posts covered topics including mainland Chinese who visit Zhuhai but don't have the special permit they need to enter Macau, the fences and walls separating the cities, a comparison of waterside walkways with views (which have since significantly changed) of the other city, and the grey market (which appears to have since evolved as well) that flows across the border.

To add to the series of posts, below are several photos taken from Macau's historical Monte Fort, in order facing approximately northwest, west, and southwest. They capture Macau in the foreground and Zhuhai towards the background. Water separates the cities in the photos, though it is isn't visible in all places. For example, the tall, slender building on the far left side of the last photo is in Zhuhai (more about it another day).

When I am in the heart of Macau, Zhuhai often feels like it is a world away. Views such as these remind me of how close it remains, as long as I have my passport and Chinese visa.

View of Macau and Zhuhai facing northwest from Monte Fort

View of Macau and Zhuhai facing west from Monte Fort

View of Macau and Zhuhai facing southwest from Monte Fort

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Diaper Spillage Averted in Macau

A good save the other day in Macau by men on opposite ends of a flatbed wagon:

two men stopping stacked boxes of Pamers diapers from falling of a flatbed wagon

None of the boxes of diapers hit the ground. These diapers, which are designed to avoid another type of spillage, were apparently being delivered to locations in Macau. Given this area's close proximity to Macau's border with Zhuhai, many of the diapers are likely destined for locations in mainland China, whether as personal purchases or part of a grey market which I first looked at several years ago. During my recent time in Macau and Zhuhai, I have revisited the topic. Later, more about what I found, including how goods not only flow out of Macau through the grey market but into it as well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Non-International View of Macau from Zhuhai

View of Macau from Zhuhai at night
View of Macau, China, from Zhuhai, China (February 2015)

You could try swimming from the location in Zhuhai where I took the above photo to Macau. I stress "try". Even if you reached Macau, the relevant authorities would likely prevent you from getting much farther, and what follows would likely not be a pleasant experience. Reaching Macau would be far easier if you simply walk to the nearby immigration and control point and cross the border on land, assuming you have the relevant documents. Many Chinese people I have met in the same area did not though. But if you do make it to Macau from Zhuhai, regardless of the method you use I wouldn't call it "overseas travel".

Monday, August 3, 2015

Many of China's 109 Million "Overseas" Travelers Never Left China

People in Zhuhai walking away from the border gate with Macau
People in Zhuhai, China, walking away from the border gate to Macau, China (February 2015)

The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) claims mainland Chinese citizens traveled "overseas" more than 100 million times last year, the most ever. This statistic is often mentioned in media reports and commentary regarding growing opportunities for countries to attract international travelers from China and their money (examples from The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, Xinhua, and Quartz). But numbers from China often come with big caveats which significantly impact their meaning. This one is no exception.

To be clear, the statistic does not cover citizens of Hong Kong or Macau, both Special Administrative Regions where a number of rules and regulations differ from the rest of China. One possible reason for omitting the two cities is if CNTA included them it would be at a loss to explain why it wasn't also including Taiwan. The People's Republic of China claims Taiwan but doesn't currently control it. Presumably CNTA doesn't have the same access to Taiwan's travel data. So clumping Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau together, a common thing to do in China, helps CNTA avoid highlighting a delicate issue. And there can be meaningful reasons for not including data about Hong Kong's and Macau's citizens, including many countries making it easier for them to visit by having more generous entry rules for them than for citizens of mainland China.

Less mentioned and more significant than the statistic excluding people traveling from Hong Kong and Macau is it including people traveling from mainland China to Hong Kong and Macau, where mainland Chinese need a special permit to visit. This means when a Chinese citizen living in Shenzhen travels to Hong Kong it could count as "overseas" travel despite the cities sharing a border easily crossed by foot and both undisputedly being part of the People's Republic of China. The same holds true for Macau, which borders Zhuhai.

I can't find a breakdown of the statistic for all of 2014, which was 109 million, on CNTA's website. However, in December last year CNTA provided additional details for the year's first 11 months when the number had already surpassed 100 million. According to CNTA, of those more than 100 million "outbound tours" from January through November last year:
Overseas tourist destinations of Mainland Chinese citizens are: Asia (89.5%, in which Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan account for 70.4%), Europe (3.5%), Africa (3.0%), Americas (2.7%), Oceania (1.1%), and other regions (0.2%).
Reported elsewhere, Taiwan had 2.8 million mainland Chinese tourist arrivals for all of last year. Hong Kong and Macau clearly account for a large majority of the trips. Even in the most extreme case, the final numbers for the year could not change this point.

So indicating Chinese citizens made 100 million "overseas" or "international" trips is highly misleading at best. This doesn't mean there aren't growing opportunities for countries such as the U.S. to attract international travelers from China or influence them to spend more money. I think there are. But citing the 100 million statistic isn't usually going to be a great way to make that case.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Views of Zhuhai Without Fences and Walls

For a change of pace from the previous post, here's a view of Zhuhai from Macau sans fences and walls:

Looking westward towards Zhuhai's Hengqin Island across the water from Cotai in southern Macau

And here is a view of Zhuhai without borders:

Looking northward from the square in front of the Gongbei Port immigration checkpoint in Zhuhai

One can continue in this direction for thousands of kilometers before needing to worry about another immigration checkpoint. Though you may first encounter a famous wall.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fences and Walls Between Two Cities in China

Despite Macau being a part of China, mainland Chinese need a special permit to enter it. I've pondered the border between Macau and Zhuhai, the neighboring city in mainland China, both while looking at Macau from Zhuhai and while looking at Zhuhai from Macau.

I recently visited the western half of Macau's northern border. I found it provides a stronger impression of the border than many other vantage points due to the long stretches of human-made barriers in both Macau and Zhuhai. This area of Macau is connected by land to mainland China or only separated by a narrow strip of water. At most other locations wider bodies of water separate Macau and the rest of China, and no long stretches of border fences or walls exist.

Below are eight photos I took from this area in Macau in the order they were taken as I headed west along the border. In all of them Zhuhai can be seen in the background. If a fence on the Macau side is not visible, it means I stuck my camera through the gratings. See the three links above to earlier posts for more scenes and for more information and thoughts about the border between Macau and mainland China.

Man looking at the new Zhuhai Railway Station from Sun Yat Sen Park in Macau
Man looking at the new Zhuhai Railway Station from Sun Yat Sen Park in Macau

A partial basketball court in Macau in sight of apartments in Zhuhai
A partial basketball court in Macau in sight of apartments in Zhuhai

a sign in Macau providing notice of video surveillance at the border with mainland China
There is video surveillance along the border.

Farther away view of the Zhuhai Railway station with Zhuhai buildings on the left and in the center
Farther away view of the Zhuhai Railway station with Zhuhai buildings on the left and in the center

Looking westward from the same location as the previous photo

triangular shaped building at the border between Zhuhai and Macau
This appeared to be a building for border police.

Public exercise equipment and a child running by
Public exercise equipment and a child running by

a strip of water with mountain and apartment complexes in the background
Mountains and new apartment complexes are easy to find in Zhuhai

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Assorted Links: Tech in Southeast Asia, Car Pollution, Borders, and a Homemade Dialysis Machine

There is an ever growing list of pieces that I want to comment on here. So that they all don't get stuck in a bottomless pit due to waiting for time to write the more extensive posts they deserve, I will share a few of them together along with some brief comments.

1. As recent posts here make clear, I have spent the past several weeks in Malaysia. I won't deny that its weather, food, and scenery were a draw. But I was also curious to take a closer look at a key country in a diverse region becoming increasingly relevant for tech companies--somewhat symbolized by an airport in Thailand being the most photographed location on Instagram.

Jon Russell shared his optimism for Southeast Asia in his article "Why Southeast Asia is the world’s most exciting region for startups and tech in 2013" on The Next Web. One of the challenges he mentioned for local startups particularly caught my eye:
Society in many Southeast Asian countries values working for big companies (‘getting the lanyard’), not to mention that few startups can compete against the salary and compensation packages that multinationals and other large businesses can offer.
This reminded me of some of the advantages multinational tech companies with foreign headquarters once enjoyed over local companies in China. It is remarkable how much the landscape has changed in recent years. To keep things brief, for now I will just say that what companies offer and what people seek will continue to evolve. In both respects, a growing variety can be found in China.

2. Michael Dunne, president of Dunne & Company, a Hong Kong-based consultancy specializing in Asian car markets, wrote a post for the China Real Time Report about the growing contribution of cars to China's pollution and the challenges faced in reducing their impact. It raises several key issues, such as why electrical vehicles in China may be best considered as "coal-burning cars". He also addresses why a seemingly simple tactic--reducing pollution by improving the quality of fuel used by vehicles--is not so simple:
Fuel prices are set by the state ostensibly to protect the economy – and especially the rural areas – from affordability shocks.

State-owned oil companies China National Petroleum Corp and Sinopec have been reluctant to invest in world-class refineries that produce high quality fuel because doing so would increase costs that they cannot pass on to the consumer
As I've written before, although the pollution related to China's rapid growth is shared by many, the growth of wealth it represents has not been as equally distributed. "The wealthy" subsidizing (in one way or another) the costs of producing high quality fuel could be one way to acknowledge and partially address this problem. Not only would it help people who truly could not afford an increase in fuel prices, but it would help everyone breathe a little bit better. But like other potential solutions, despite some outside impressions of how China operates it is not a change that could be made with the flip of a switch.

3. In FT Magazine Simon Kuper shares and comments on Valerio Vincenzo's photo essays about borders. Much of the article is about the lack of barriers today at the borders between many European countries. Kuper contrasts these open borders with the past and with today's more restrictive borders elsewhere in the world.

As I read Kuper's article and paged through Vincenzo's thought-provoking photos, I considered some borders not mentioned in the article that I have mentioned before: the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and the border between Macau and Zhuhai. Both of these borders are remarkable because they restrict the travel of mainland Chinese within their own country. Anyone in Switzerland or Germany can dine at a table straddling the countries' border without needing to show a passport, but mainland Chinese cannot even enter Hong Kong or Macau with only their passport and typically need a special permit (or proof of an onward flight and entry visa to another country). And I can only wish you good luck if you wish to try having a meal which spreads across the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

4. In the category of "Chinese resourcefulness" is a story first reported by Chai Huiqun in China's newspaper Southern Weekly. You can read it in Chinese here. Or you can read Xinhua's English article by Hou Qiang "Homemade dialysis machine sustains uremia sufferer for 13 years":
A sufferer of uremia for 20 years, Hu [Songwen] built his own hemodialysis machine with medical equipment, such as a blood pump and plastic tubing, that he purchased from a local market. The crude device has sustained his life since he stopped going to the hospital 13 years ago. Hu was a junior in college when he was diagnosed with uremia in 1993. After six years of medical treatment, hefty hospital bills completely depleted his family's savings.
See Caixing Online here (H/T Malcolm Moore) for photos of Hu and his machine.

The story reminds me of research conducted by former colleagues. I'll just say designers of medical technology can learn much from cases such as Hu, both in terms of the challenges some people face in China and how people sometimes overcome those challenges.

And that's all for this edition of assorted links.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Baby Formula in China: Foreign Brands Coming In, Advertising Going Out

Several months ago I shared a story of a young man who occasionally makes a long trip to Macau from his home in mainland China so he can purchase baby formula produced in New Zealand. He does this because of previous milk-safety scandals in China, and he wants to be sure that his cousin's infant receives a genuine non-Chinese baby formula. He is not alone in his concerns, and foreign brands of baby formula are well aware of the demand in China for their products. In Buy Buy China, Dror Poleg reports that this combined with Chinese taxes leads to significantly higher prices for foreign baby formula:
The brands, in turn, make the most of their captive market [in China] and mark up prices up to 4 times their level in the US or Europe. A tin of foreign baby formula ranges from around RMB 200 to RMB 400. Some high end products – such as Wyeth’s Illuma, Nestle’s NAN H.A., and Mead Johnson’s Enfagrow - cost even more. China now levies a 10% tax on imported baby formula in an effort to promote domestic alternatives. But demand driven by safety concerns is inelastic, meaning Chinese consumers absorb the extra costs while foreign brands continue to grow their market share. Similar, if more moderate, dynamics can be seen in the market for other baby products.
The higher cost of some products in mainland China is yet another reason why the Macau-Zhuhai border is a key point in a grey market sales network.

Chinese brands are of course also aware of the situation and hope to improve their image. But it may seem surprising that one well-known Chinese brand is attempting to do this through advertising not only in China, but in London as well. In fact, Londoners themselves are confused. As reported by Boruo Chen in Asia Society:
Yili, a Chinese milk company based in Inner Mongolia, recently launched an ad campaign on London's iconic double-decker buses that had locals scratching their heads. The ad shows Chinese men and women, none of whom are recognizable celebrities or athletes, alongside the brand's logo, in Chinese. No Yili products are for sale in London, and few clues on the buses hint as to the significance of these people.
Is this a sign Yili has made a huge marketing blunder? Maybe not. Poleg claims in another article on Buy Buy China that Yili's main goal for its London advertising is not influencing British perceptions. Instead, Chinese consumers are the target:
On closer inspection we found the London campaign is part of a broader effort to restore Yili’s reputation back in China, following its implication in scandals involving Mercury- and Melamine-tainted milk formulas. The campaign is orchestrated by Ogilvy & Mather and includes a cooperation with Youku, China’s leading video site, and a domestic advertising campaign as well. The London ads are used to appeal to Chinese Olympic visitors and serve as fodder for a PR push in the Chinese media, trying to portray Yili as an international brand that is well accepted beyond China’s borders (here, for example, in Chinese).
Poleg is skeptical that such a campaign will be successful. However, Darren Wee in the Financial Times expresses reason for optimism (article is behind a paywall but can be read in full if you click its entry on Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc. -- do a search on one of the sentences below to find it):
Chinese consumers love western brands, so Chinese companies have begun to advertise in the west to build a reputation at home.

Sales of Yili Shuhua milk rose 12 per cent when it featured in the 2011 Transformers  film.

This result suggests that Yili knows what it is doing, even if Londoners are baffled.
It is fascinating to consider how advertising in a far away country may prove valuable at home for Yili. And not only does it suggest some of the ways in which businesses based outside of China can profit even when a Chinese company is targeting Chinese consumers, it is also an example of how evaluating the quality of a design, whether a marketing campaign or a mystery beverage vending machine, requires understanding its purpose.

If the campaign proves to be a success for Yili, it is possible even more Chinese companies will attempt a similar strategy. Could Londoners soon find themselves regularly puzzling over Chinese ads?

At least for the short term*, London's advertising sales agents probably hope so.

*The question of whether it would be good for them in the long term raises some interesting issues I would want to further consider before commenting.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Future Intercity Railway Station at the Macau-Zhuhai Border

[Update at end]

In February I wrote a post about the variety of transportation methods I used to travel from Guangzhou to Zhuhai to Macau. The trip began with a subway ride to the large Guangzhou South Train Station (see the post for photos of some impressive architecture) and ended with me in Macau after having walked across its border with Zhuhai. One of the highlights of the trip was the high-speed train on the Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway. Unfortunately, at the time it only reached as far as northern Zhuhai, and a long taxi or bus ride was needed to get to more central locations.

Someday the line will extend to Zhuhai border with Macau at Gongbei Port in central Zhuhai. Although some online sites currently claim this extension will open this month, I think I have some good evidence from last week that more time will be needed for its completion:

rail station in Zhuhai under construction
A section further away from the Gongbei Port border crossing

rail station in Zhuhai under construction
An opportunistic photo closer to the Gongbei Port (security soon explained I was in a restricted area)

Although it is not yet open, progress appears to be continuing on what should be a convenient transportation method for some of the people traveling to Macau -- even if all they want to do is buy safe baby formula, gamble large amounts of money, or eat good Portuguese food. And it is yet another sign that China's infrastructure is continuing to grow.

Update (March 4, 2013): The Zhuhai Train Station is now open. See the more recent post "The Good and Bad of the Extended High-Speed Guanzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway".

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Looking Back at Zhuhai from Macau

Two earlier posts (here and here) included scenes in Zhuhai with Macau in the background--a special administrative region that mainland Chinese can only visit with a special permit. As a reminder, here is a photo from a popular "boardwalk" in Zhuhai with a view of Macau across the water:

people in Zhuhai with Macau in background

Like many other times I visited here, there were numerous Chinese walking with family or friends, riding bikes, or having their photographs taken. In fact, the two umbrellas in the photo are for vendors who photograph customers for a price and then use a computer to quickly produce photos. Although there are other popular waterside walkways in Zhuhai where Macau cannot be seen, it appeared that visitors to this location were particularly drawn to the view of Macau.

I had often wondered how the area of Macau seen in the background would compare to this vibrant area in Zhuhai which was excellent for both enjoying the view and people watching. I answered my question during my most recent visit to Macau. Here is the view of Zhuhai from there on an overcast day:

view of Zhuhai from Macau

The location where I took first photo in this post is near the tallest buildings. Although it was interesting to see Zhuhai from a new vantage point across the border, what most caught my eye was a bit closer:

waterfront in Macau with 2 people sitting on a bench and an empty walkway

There were very few people on the Macau side and no vendors of any type. The difference does not seem to be solely explainable by the weather since on the opposite side in Zhuhai I typically saw more people even on days with similar weather.

So what is the explanation for the difference? Is it because Macau offers a more interesting or photogenic skyline? Is it because the Zhuhai walkway itself is more appealing? Is it because the cities have different visitor numbers and demographics? Is it because the cities differ in what else they offer for ways to spend free time? Is it because Macanese can more easily visit Zhuhai than mainland Chinese can visit Macau? It is because Macau has a status in the eyes of mainland Chinese that Zhuhai does not have in the eyes of Macanese? Some of these explanations could be interconnected. Others are possible as well.

Whatever the reason, the difference in the number of people at the opposite waterfronts can be seen as symbolic of deeper differences. Compared to mainland Chinese, Macanese can travel to a far larger number of other countries without needing a visa. Macanese enjoy greater freedoms of expression and use an open Internet not censored by mainland China's Great Firewall. Macanese on average earn more money. Regardless that many mainland Chinese may not necessarily want to live in Macau, they may desire some of what Macau has to offer in a way that does not hold true for Macanese regarding mainland China.

It would be fascinating to know what people in Zhuhai are thinking when they gaze at Macau. It would also be fascinating to know what they would think upon learning that so few in Macau are gazing back.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Border and Metros in Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Here was my view as I sat today in one of Hong Kong's many metro trains:

inside of subway car in Hong Kong
Near the beginning of the East Rail Line in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's East Rail Line is somewhat special since its split northern end has terminal stations at border crossings with Shenzhen. As I have mentioned before, Hong Kong's border with Shenzhen raises some interesting issues regarding the restrictions mainland Chinese can face when traveling within their own country.

Fortunately, I did not need to spend much time dealing with the immigration formalities. Also positive, I was surprised by the friendliness of the immigration officer on the mainland China side of the border. He seemed amused by my first name. I have no idea why, but I am happy to have brought him a little joy.

After crossing the border, I hopped right back onto the metro--but this time the Shenzhen metro:

inside of subway car in Shenzhen
Near the end of the Luobao Line in Shenzhen

I can report that Shenzhen still has the X-ray scanners sidelined. Maybe they feel they are not needed. Maybe the machines have not yet had their radiation safety certified. Whatever the reason, based on what  I saw today the security in Shenzhen's metro does not seem like the security in Shanghai's metro but is instead more similar to the security in Guangzhou's metro. And in case you are wondering, today no balloons or comment cards were involved in my metro experience (see the previous two links for context to that remark).

After the extensive metro trips I am now in a hotel across from Shenzhen's main airport. Tomorrow I will be elsewhere. Once I am there, as I work through other posts I will share some photos to see if anyone can figure out the location. One clue for now: I am reasonably sure I will not be taking any metro rides.

[notes: The East Rail Line is part of Hong Kong's MTR (Mass Transit Railway) and is mostly above ground. The Luobao Line is part of the Shenzhen Metro and is mostly underground. That one of the lines is almost entirely above ground led me to use the word "metro" instead of "subway" in this post to avoid potential confusion. However, based on their typical usage (at least in some places) I think either word would be OK.]

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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

From Video Mishaps to Hong Kong, Open Plan Offices, and Text Messaging Legal Woes

I had hoped to have a post today about the parade in Taiwan I mentioned here. However, I am having some bizarre problems creating the video. It looks completely fine in the edited preview, but in the final version some sections get stuck rapidly alternating between just a few frames. Other sections are fine, though. I will give it a whirl again this weekend. If all goes well I will put up the post on Monday. Otherwise, maybe I can just add some techno music to the video, and it will go viral.

For now I will do something I have not done in a while -- a quick review of some random links I had been holding onto for potential deeper commentary. Since I may never get to them, here are a few in no particular order (previous post of assorted links here):

1. I have previously discussed (herehere, here, and here) the barriers mainland Chinese face visiting Macau and Hong Kong. Bo Gu of NBC News describes her own first visit to Hong Kong. Her story about how she obtained the necessary permit highlights both some of the challenges in obtaining a permit and provides a taste of how "official processes" can work in China.

2. An article by Julian Treasure on The Sound Agency website discusses research indicating that open plan offices can hurt work productivity, even when they have been designed in the hope they can promote "creative thinking and better problem solving". I have not yet had a chance to review the original research papers, so I do not want to comment specifically. I will just say that what is reported is consistent with other cognitive psychology research I have conducted/reviewed in the past.

3. A Reuters article by Patricia Reaney warns:
Couples who may be heading for a nasty break-up should be careful about texting because it could end up as evidence against them in divorce court.
I appreciate the concern from a legal perspective, but it strikes me as somewhat ironic. I am no relationship expert, but it would seem to be that if one wants to save a marriage that reducing lines of communication may not be in a couple's best interest. Also, the advice to not put anything in writing seems easy to follow -- just speak your thoughts. However, sometimes people are better able to express themselves through written means (and sometimes very specific forms of writing). I have conducted research that... well, I cannot share details so I will just say that I think there may be some opportunities for innovations here. And they will not necessarily only apply to troubled couples.

That is all for the links. Now hopefully I can sort out the video problem.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cigarettes, Noodles, and Diapers: Profiting from China's Internal Borders

At Zhuhai's Gongbei Port (拱北口岸) in China's Guangdong province one can see a steady stream of people exiting immigration at the border between Macau and mainland China.

people exiting the Macau border control building in Zhuhai

Numerous people pass through the border for a variety of purposes. One of those purposes is very pragmatic.

Sometimes it is apparent that many people are openly carrying at least one of several items. For example, these three women were each carrying a box of instant noodles and a box of cigarettes:

three women each carrying a large box of noodles and a box of cigarettes

While some people may be bringing these items from Macau for themselves or to give away as gifts, it is clear many have another goal in mind -- selling them as part of a large grey market in mainland China.

For example, some people will sell their box of cigarettes to buyers on the other side of the street from Gongbei Port:

buyers near the Zhuhai-Macau border waiting for people selling boxes of cigarettes
People with larger colored bags are just some of the buyers that can be found in this area.

Though at other times, people can sell their cigarettes immediately upon exiting the Gongbei Port building:

numerous cigarette buyers at the exit of the Macau border control building in Zhuhai, China
Buyers (in this case all have plaid-patterned bags) quickly clear out if people with the appropriate uniforms arrive.

Especially for selling other items, some walk a little further and head down an alley with a warehouse-like building including many individual "stores". The sales patterns can vary from day to day. On one day there was a store where people could sell a brand of Japanese instant noodles (出前一丁) without waiting in line. However, people carrying another item had to stand in a long line:

people waiting in a line in Zhuhai, China

In Chinese I asked one of the men apparently working in the area, "What is this?"

He replied, "This is nothing."

I did not feel the need to continue the discussion since it was already clear that this "nothing" was in fact people selling a highly desired item in mainland China: Merries diapers from Japan.

Merries diapers from Japan

Why do these items need to be brought from Macau? Due to their status as special administrative regions, both Macau and Hong Kong sell goods that for a variety of reasons are not available (or as easily available) through official channels in mainland China. However, in some cases a grey market sales network in mainland China exists as I previously described for the iPhone 4S. The border at Macau and Zhuhai is particularly convenient for transporting some of these goods since both cities have urban areas immediately adjacent to the border. Not surprisingly, many of the stores in Macau near the border sell the very items that are most desired by mainland Chinese.

There can be a variety of reasons as to why these goods are in particular demand. For some, such as the diapers, it is due to the perceived safety and quality of equivalent products made in mainland China. The article "What Chinese Shoppers are Buying Online" on Forbes discussed this issue:
Recalling the terrible fall 2008 mass poisoning incident when six Chinese babies died and hundreds of thousands of children were sickened by melamine-tainted milk, it is no surprise that Japanese-made infant powdered milk is among the top-selling products. Some Chinese believe that direct Internet sales and home deliveries of powdered milk products would ensure that the contents had not been altered...

Also in the “baby” category are best-selling Japanese diapers, including the Kao “Merry” or Unicharm “Moony” brands (128 yuan/US$19)–again, priced higher compared to local brands. Chinese parents believe that the diapers contain no harmful chemicals that cause allergies or rash, and the materials are top-notch, preventing spillage.
And it is not just Chinese who are concerned. Some foreigners residing in mainland China have also turned to the Internet to purchase baby supplies produced elsewhere (see here for one perspective).

Based on what I saw, it appears that due to customs' restrictions people are very limited in the number of items they can bring to Zhuhai (I rarely saw people carrying more than one package of the above-mentioned items). However, last August Dan Harris on the China Law Blog commented that the situation was far more flexible at another border at that time:
An interesting thing is happening on the "border" between Hong Kong and China.


Let me explain.

Like virtually all countries, China has various limits and duties relating to what can be brought into the country. China is generally quite good at enforcing these limits and duties.

Except for quite some time now it has been looking the other way when it comes to food imports from Hong Kong. If you go to the border between Hong Kong and China, you will see what I mean. There you will see many, many people bringing back into China massive quantities of baby formula and the customs people are doing nothing. Nothing. The same is true for all sorts of other packaged foods being brought into China.
It is not uncommon for the various border "policies" to change (sometimes without official notice) so this difference comes as no great surprise.

There appear to be several other fascinating aspects of how the various grey markets seen at the Zhuhai-Macau border operate such as people being typically paid in Macanese currency, sellers reportedly making multiple trips in a day across the border, and variations on which items are "popular" from day to day. I will refrain from commenting on them, since I am still fuzzy on a number of issues. Regardless, it is striking that a grey market can apparently thrive for items such as instant noodles that need to be carried one by one across two immigration checkpoints.

So, like the Shanghainese reader who expressed an understanding for Macau's and Hong Kong's borders due to concerns over protecting cities' cultures, there are other mainland Chinese who may have their own reasons to appreciate the borders. While some mainland Chinese are not supportive of the policies which restrict their travel within China, for others the borders combined with special rules for Hong Kong and Macau provide an opportunity for profit.