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Which city is better, Hong Kong or Shanghai?

I’ve lived in both and for quite a fair old while I always thought Hong Kong was much better. It was so far removed from The Grim Mainland© that it seemed a million miles from it, not just over the border. After moving to Shanghai I would find that I’d have to do the dreaded visa run every year. I’d fly down to Shenzhen , jump on the KCR and as the train headed into Kowloon it just seemed – oh I don’t know – more civilised.

I’d arrive in Central and immediately I was in another world. Everything looked clean and sparkly, the sun was shining and the skies were blue. The people in Hong Kong had nice clothes – they were wearing fashionable clothes. Real fashion, not that acid-casualty fashion found in Shanghai. Plus all their clothes seemed to fit them properly whereas girls in Shanghai were wearing off-duty stripper outfits two sizes too small.

Back then, there were 7/11′s everywhere in Hong Kong. I’d saunter in and out of them as I made my way to my very low budget hotel inbetween Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, picking up whatever alcoholic beverage took my fancy. Apple cider? Mmm, yes please. Wine cooler? Oh go on then. Pre-mixed Jack Daniels and Coke? Why not? In Shanghai’s misery-infested Lawsons, the choices were as sparse as the number of subway lines. There was TsingTao or Suntory. Usually room temperature.

Every year, I’d spend a few days in Hong Kong, savouring the ‘togetherness’ of the place – everything seemed to work and everyone spoke English. People would say excuse me and do you mind and crossing the road was not so taxing on the nerves as in grim old Shanghai. Jaywalking was, and still is, illegal in Hong Kong (I got an on the spot fine once), whereas jaywalking was just crossing the road in Shanghai.

I used to love the bars in Hong Kong. Real bars with great vistas of views across exotic South East Asian streets. The music was subtle and sophisticated. Waitresses – not bar girls – would smile warmly and chat with the customers in English with a casual Canto-accent. I can remember going into a bar in Shanghai back then and they decided to play nose-bleed techno at bowel-shaking levels to a crowd of three patrons. The girls working in the bar eyeing the customers with suspicion and fear.

Shanghai had no customer service at all, whereas Hong Kong could charm the pants off all customers and tickle it’s feet.

Then things gradually began to reverse. I think this happened, for me at least, around 2009 or so. I’d go to Hong Kong and things didn’t seem quite so chipper. I’d come back to Shanghai and it seemed more relaxed and quiet. Things in Hong Kong started to look trashy, high rise buildings looked dilapidated and dirty. The subway especially started to resemble something from Russia except there was crass advertising in every available space.

Shanghai now appeared to have pristine tower blocks that gleamed in the sunlight. The subway stations were like vast palaces – and all squeaky clean with just a modicum of advertising. The subway had lines everywhere and all clearly showing where you were going. In Hong Kong I still get lost on the MTR.

The last time I went to Hong Kong was the final straw. I was in a small restaurant (actually, ALL restaurants in Hong Kong are small) and from my tiny table I looked across the street straight into the apartment of an old man staring back at me. He had a look of deep despair on his face. I could see why. Who would want to live in a tiny concrete box centremetres from your neighbours and surrounded by traffic?

The next day I came back to Shanghai and the streets appeared like wide, spacious boulevards, tree lined and quiet. I arrived outside my complex and as I walked amongst the houses everything seemed quiet and peaceful. Hong Kong was like living in a clattering tin can being kicked down the street.

These days I like Hong Kong but to be honest living there now is out of the question for me. A lot of people complain about Shanghai but it feels a much more comfortable place to live.

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