by Jonah Adaun, CHINA
First of all I would like to begin by saying the two weeks I spent in Hong Kong (HK), Macau and Shenzhen in March 2017 were the best travel experiences I’ve had in my entire 30 years of life – so far! I write this blog to share my recent experience of travelling to China as a black man (African born in Kampala, Uganda and moved to London from the age of 7 if that helps) and hope it will encourage other curious people of colour to visit this fascinating land!
I spent a total of eight nights in HK. If you love shopping (designer fashion, electronic gadgets, computers, etc) then I can’t think of a better destination for you…well except Amazon of course. HK is a really international city-state/country. I encountered: Indians, South Africans (white ones only – more about this later on!), French, Germans, British, mainland Chinese, South Koreans and many more.
However, despite frequently travelling to central areas like Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) and HK Island, I’m 99% sure I can count all the black people I saw on one hand – OK maybe two hands if I’m being generous. However, on the famous Lan Kwai Fong (party street in HK) I did see some black guys (most likely Nigerian guys from their accents), not in the clubs but rather on the way in – yes, as bouncers. I didn’t really get to talking with them except to ask where might be good to go on a Thursday night. Unsurprisingly, they suggested their bar / club. As a Londoner seeing diverse races on a daily basis is nothing to tweet about.
Lan Kwai Fong reminded me of the typical UK high street in many ways on a Friday or Saturday night and I almost felt at home. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that St Patrick’s day was celebrated in places as far as HK! There I met young French students, two American ladies and a small group of South African guys who lived and worked in HK for the airline Cathy Pacific. We got chatting with the American ladies (who were also on vacation) over a drink and the usual travellers’ exchanges – what do you do, how is it like ‘there’ in London/Illinois/Johannesburg etc. Time came for the ladies to leave but we continued the chatter and drinking with the young French exchange students.
Then almost ‘out of the blue’ one of the South African guys asks me “…how did you get a British passport?” (I had told him I was born in Uganda) and “…is it a real document?” [implying I might really be an illegal African immigrant of some kind with a counterfeit British passport] …I know you guys… [followed by a fake laugh that suggested he had figured it all out].
His second question revealed the spirit behind the first. I probably shouldn’t have entertained this conversation with him. However, having recently visited the British museum in London for an exhibition documenting apartheid through South African art, I somewhat felt I could enlighten my ‘white South African brother’. To cut a long story short, after trying to prove my bona fide ‘Black-African Britishness’ – even using my British passport and UK driving licence from my open wallet, I gave up. I was frustrated and furious that I somehow could not convince him I was his ‘African brother’ and that the powerful lingering psychological legacy of apartheid still has a hold on many South Africans (white and black).
I managed to brush this experience off and decided I still had much to see and do during my vacation. After all, my encounters with Hong Kongers had all been pleasant despite my inability to speak Cantonese, except the thank you – 唔該 (m̀hgòi) – my friends taught me. Master this as you will need it to get the attention of a waitress/waiter in a HK restaurant or eatery.
Macau, a.k.a. “The Las Vegas of Asia”
I only spent one night in Macau and two and a half days sight-seeing and being a ‘proper tourist. Yes, I tried my hand at gambling at the Venetian House casino. I lost 500HK$ (about £50) on the Russian roulette type wheel in the space of a few mins but thankfully bowed out before further damage – despite nearby (predominantly mainland Chinese) onlookers encouraging me to restock my gambling chips. Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) like HK and formerly a Portuguese controlled territory until 1999. This is obvious by the architectural influences and Catholic churches. Not to mention the Portuguese language that is written on the road signs.
Shenzhen a.k.a. “Asia’s Silicon Valley”
Get used to the “stares” that make you all the more aware that you stand out from the crowd! I must stress that the “stare” and attention that one will no doubt get as a POC is not negative. YOU ARE SIMLPY NOT AN EVERYDAY EXPERIENCE FOR THEM!
N.B. If you are a POC and figure out how to get Chinese people to pay for the photos they will no doubt ask to take with you, I’m sure you’ll make plenty of money!
Shenzhen was the highlight of my entire trip. This may be due to my brother, who lives there, and his friend, being able to show me around, or the fact that I literally didn’t know if they would let me into the country using a Special Economic Tourism Visa. I applied for this at the HK Lo Wu port where the Chinese official can decline your application with just a quick skim through your passport. Yes, I’m afraid having a British passport doesn’t guarantee you a tourist visa in China. Instead, where you are born, countries visited or granted a visa are important. TIP: if you have previously been given a visa to China, take this as proof with you when you apply – GOOD LUCK.
But once you get in and discover what Shenzhen has to offer it makes it all worth it. Firstly, the food is amazing and comes from all over China. Many Chinese have relocated there and so have plenty Hong Kongers too! You will see ‘police’ everywhere – I assumed to keep the order and make sure no one drops any litter on the streets. To a Westerner it might look like a police state of some kind, but I now think they are just there for ‘full-employment’ labour market statistics i.e. no idle trouble-makers.
I have only scratched the surface of China and need many more trips to explore all of its intriguing aspects.