The Jakarta Post
Forest of skyscrapers: A general view from Victoria Peak shows Victoria Harbour and the skylines of the Kowloon district (background) and Hong Kong Island (foreground). (Shutterstock.com/File)
The Chinese Embassy recently invited The Jakarta Post’s Kornelius Purba to go ona 10-day visit to Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai and Beijing. The following is his report.
We had almost paid for our hotel and airline tickets to Hong Kong when I received a WhatsApp message from the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta. It was actually an old outstanding invitation to visit China. I could propose the date of the visit and the destinations.
My wife wanted to celebrate my birthday in Hong Kong in January, because she has never been to China. Unintentionally, the embassy had given me a nice birthday present. My wife could join me on the winter trip, of course with her trusty wheelchair, which always travels with her on our overseas trips. Some friends said this was a second honeymoon for us.
Hong Kong is an international city and the residents are very cosmopolitan. They are reluctant to identify themselves as Chinese citizens. Hong Kong and Macau enjoy great autonomy from Beijing, with the latter being heavily dependent on casinos.
We flew from Hong Kong to Shanghai with China Eastern Airlines. It was a 140-minute flight.
Shanghai, which has a population of 25 million, prides itself on being the financial hub of China, being a cosmopolitan city and having produced many Chinese military and political leaders. This city was also the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Shanghainese reportedly think they are smarter, more open-minded and more sophisticated than Beijing people. They are often compared to New Yorkers. Shanghai residents are proud of their haipai style. According to China Daily’s Chen Weihua, the mentality of the Shanghainese is “that they are smarter and more sophisticated than the rest”.
Traffic is very much in order compared to other cities in China. Its restaurants, shopping malls and entertainment centers are also more internationalized.
After spending three nights in Shanghai we continued our journey to Beijing.
Super fast: A high speed train from Harbin to Qiqihar waits to pull out of the train station in Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang province. (Shutterstock.com/WaitForLight )
The Shanghai-Beijing high speed train was about to depart when I realized that we were in the wrong car. The porter put us in car 1, and we had to move to car 8, to business class.
The Jinghu train left for Beijing on time. The distance between the two major cities is 1,318 kilometers, and it takes 4 hours and 28 minutes to reach the capital city of China.
It is very difficult to compare the comfort and onboard service of this train with that of the Japanese Shinkansen. China defeated Japan to win the contract to build the Jakarta-Bandung high speed train, and the construction is still under way, although it is behind the original schedule.
I was a bit nervous because I could not contact Joyce (her Western name), our guide in Beijing. Our guide during our four-day stay in Shanghai, Mike, had provided us with a Chinese mobile phone number. But we could not use WhatsApp, because China uses WeChat, which has 980 million subscribers in China. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter also cannot be accessed here.
In Hong Kong and Macau we had no difficulties communicating with Indonesia. The problem only began when we arrived in mainland China. Very few Indonesians use WeChat.
“Welcome to Beijing,” Joyce welcomed us at the platform. She was accompanied by a driver and an assistant to help my wife with her wheelchair. Our host provided us with the same service throughout our 10-day stay in the four cities.
Joyce took us to a big restaurant for dinner. She ordered the famous Beijing duck for us. There were about 300 diners at that time. Their tables were full because they had ordered a wide variety of food.
The waiters first served dessert followed by six dishes. We started to eat.
“Where is the duck?” My wife asked me. I could not ask the waiter because they could only speak Chinese. Later, Joyce said in China the main course was served last. Here you must be ready with an extra-big lunch and dinner because people love to share and order various dishes. Our lunch, for instance, was enough for four people.
It was Sunday when we visited the Great Wall. The temperature was -13°C. My wife enjoyed the snow, but we couldn’t stay at the famous site for very long because it was too cold for us.
Next, we visited the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, locally known as the Xuanwumen or Nantang church. We wanted to attend the Sunday service, but we had to drop the plan as we had to wait quite a long time for the next afternoon mass.
There was no information on the orientation of the church. Chinese Catholics are divided between state-controlled churches, with the state appointing priests and bishops, and the “underground” churches that only follow the Vatican.
In March, a Chinese delegation reportedly will meet Vatican officials to end the divide after Pope Francis softened his stance on Beijing’s control.
Beijing and Jakarta have some similarities in terms of traffic jams, pollution and high living costs. Jakarta is more expensive than Beijing. The shopping situation is not very different though. Chinese-made products are not cheaper here than in Jakarta.