Cultural Contrast: NYC, HK, & CN
Sometimes the little things are easy to miss: the way signs are designed, the way everyone stands or doesn't stand on a line, to even how tableware is offered. These are the kind of differences that are just there, a part of everyday life, and easy to dismiss. But once those subtleties are discovered, it opens a new world of observation.
*Warning: Info heavy! But I am only going to scratch the surface of each since this is just for comparison's sake. I didn't realize how much I actually had to say...
New York City has the MTA. Hong Kong has the MTR. Guangzhou has the Metro. When land is wide and people aplenty, trains and subways are usually more efficient and effective at getting where one needs to be. Unless you are rolling in money or can have your transport fees compensated for, most people take mass transit when traveling.
Granted the MTA is old and there is only so much they can fix without making it a, even more, pain in the butt for the millions of daily riders. A girl can dream—hoping for contactless Metrocards, reliable "Next train's arrival" signs, and staircase exit numbers and directories.
Above Ground Station SignsNYC: White text on black, followed by colorful circles with either a number or letter. Many stations also have green globes or half green half white globes, usually on pillars, next to the black signs.
*Subway and train are interchangeable in NYC. No one uses metro here. Outside of the 5 boroughs though...those are all trains.
HK: 1) White text on navy, usually next to a maroon logo. 2) Navy text on silver, next to a maroon logo. 3) Maroon logo only.
*Subway and metro are 2 very different things in Hong Kong. Metro is almost exclusively the rapid transit. Subway could also mean an underground walkway that goes below a big multi-lane road.
GZ: All white text on red. Shows their logo, station name, and entrance/exit letter.
Station's Exit SignsNYC: Exit signs will only tell you what street the staircase is on and whether the staircase is NSWE on the block. It is pretty useless if one station has many exits that are close together. It is only helpful you know exactly where you want to go and where that location is in terms of NSWE to where that particular staircase is. To be honest, who knows that right off the bat or has the time to think of that in such a short amount of time?
HK: There are generally loads of directories to point towards exits which are lettered A to whatever. Each letter is typically associated with at least one specific nearby destination: street names, malls, schools, hotels, museums, etc. It is particularly useful if you have access to a phone map and can give yourself some context of the surroundings. The exit letters are only available on the inside of the stations or very discretely on the side of an entranceway.
GZ: Like in Hong Kong, exists are also given letters and corresponds to a local landmark. Unlike in HK, the exit letter is also posted on the entrance side of the metro. This is useful if you have to meet someone at a certain station and can then name a specific entrance letter versus "the one on so and so street, you know next to the shop".
Transit Card/FaresNYC: Pay per ride Metrocards, weekly cards (1 time pay for 7 consecutive day use), or monthly cards.
The fare is standard no matter the distance. Allowed 1 transfer to a bus or from a bus within a 2-hour period. A Metrocard costs an additional USD $1 and can only be used for the MTA. It can only be swiped to take the subway or inserted to take buses, it is not needed to re-swipe when leaving the station.
HK: Round trip station-specific tickets or the Octopus card.
The fare differs depending on the distance traveled. An Octopus card requires an HKD $50 refundable deposit and an initial HK $100 stored value. Possible alternatives to the card are ornaments (phone charms, key rings, watches etc.) and special phone SIM cards. All versions are contactless and can be used across multiple modes of transit (subways, buses, taxis), public payphones, vending machines, and convenience stores. Unlike in NYC, the smart chip enabled card or charm needs to be tapped when both entering and leaving.
GZ: Single-trip token ticket, 1-day pass, 3-day pass, Yang Cheng Tong Smart Card.
The fare differs depending on the distance traveled. (I believe) The single-trip and day-passes have no deposit fees. The Yang Cheng Tong requires an RMB 30 refundable deposit fee. All are tap-only and can be used on multiple transits and at some consumer stores, needs to be tapped when entering and leaving as well.
Transit Operation TimesNYC: 24 hours. Trains and buses at off hours are just more sparse.
HK: 5:30 AM to 12:30 AM.
GZ: 6:00 AM to 11:30 PM.
Platform SafetyNYC: Barrier-less. The only thing keeping you safe from an oncoming train is yourself and your senses. Pushing, whether accidentally or not, is a thing. "Be careful of the oncoming train traffic. Standing on or at the yellow platform edge strip is dangerous."
HK & GZ: Most stations, outdoor and indoor, have a glass barrier sliding-door mechanism. Floors have arrows to direct the waiting crowd.
Platform EtiquetteNYC: If you're lucky, people waiting for the train will be nice enough to step to one side when the doors open. It is more normal for people to do whatever they want and have a "me first" mentality.
HK: People in Hong Kong mostly follow the arrows and allow space for alighting passengers to first leave. When it is peak rush hour, the HK MTR even has uniformed attendants directing traffic: how much more people can go on safely, which doors are less crowded, etc.
GZ: I can't say for sure what Guangzhou is like since I took the train at off-peak hours only a couple of times.
Escalator EtiquetteNYC & CN: If the waiting situation is any clue, the escalators are also a "do whatever" kind of style. Most of the time it is zig-zagging, on rarer occasions it might be some kind of an off-to-one-side situation. Apparently, some reports say this is actually more efficient and doesn't force a crowd at the starting point.
HK: Being on escalators in Hong Kong was a little weird at first. It is easier to follow the crowd and step to the right side when I was one person. When I was with someone else, we were more than likely to stand next to each other and effectively block the walking zone. Once I got the hang of it, standing ahead of my companion and following the local mannerisms wasn't too difficult.
As someone who usually waits for people to get off the train first in NYC, I thought to allow a walkway was a neat idea. It is good for those really in a rush. But I do see where the studies come from when they say the single-file system is slower and potentially more dangerous. Just stay put and let the moving stairs do its thing!
Elevator NumberingOther than the fact that some Chinese elevators don't have a specified 4th floor, because 4 in Chinese sounds similar to the word for death, I found Hong Kong's floor labeling situation very difficult to adjust to.
NYC & CN: Most street level floors start at 1 and ascends. I want to say a majority of the underground levels become B or B1, B2, and so on. But don't quote me on that because not many places have multiple underground floors.
Most elevator sensors in NYC are pretty forgiving if anyone is anywhere near the doors. Of the ones I rode in China, I felt like most were unforgiving. Unless the button is pressed at a precise moment, a hand or anything else placed between the closing doors be clamped on.
HK: The street level floors in Hong Kong all begin with G for Ground level and continues to 1 and above. I can't count the number of times I or my mom or Aunt pressed the 1st floor button wanting to go to G. I remember the first time I asked for directions in a mall and was directed to go to the 1st floor but upwards, my brain had to do a double-take.
Internet Speed & AccessHK and NYC are more or less equal in terms of access. Nothing is particularly forbidden unless a company or specific place limits certain sites and apps for their own business benefits. The major difference comes in the internet connection speeds. I cannot say what the specific numbers were; browsing the internet in Hong Kong, whether at the airport or in most hotels, just felt faster than in most places in NYC.
China is a whole different beast. It is no surprise that it has the worst accessibility, maybe second to North Korea. Most websites and apps that non-China based humans frequent are unloadable. The minute I crossed the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, China, the cellular provider ends and so does the connection to the world (quite literally). Surprisingly, notifications still came through but it was impossible to actually load the app. WeChat and local phone calls were the only forms of communication I had there and even that required a new China SIM card.
I have heard that if your service provider at home has a global plan that covers China, it is possible to access everything. Otherwise, the VPN route wasn't necessary for me since I never stayed in China long enough to need the internet constantly on any given day. Internet speeds in most of the hotels, up and down China, big and small cities, were either at a bearable average speed or too slow to handle. It was less frustrating to turn on the TV to pass leisure time.
Smoking CultureI know, it is impossible to find anywhere where cigarettes and nicotine do not exist. But at least in most developed/major cities where someone can smoke a butt is well regulated. If the sign says "No Smoking" or you'll pay a fine, it means it. If there isn't a sign, at least it is a widely followed practice to not puff inside.
The level of bearableness goes from most to least: NYC, HK, and then CN.
NY & HK: People seem to follow the rules and etiquette well. It just felt slightly less tolerable in HK because of the number of smokers in such a small compact space.
CN: While there do seem to be laws to control smoking, it didn't seem to be heavily enforced wherever I visited. Hotel rooms and hallways reeked of lingering cigarettes scent. Many restaurants that we ate at, especially in Taishan and Guangzhou, allowed customers to smoke...inside...at the table. Heck, ash trays were norms and burnt holes were abundant enough to be design elements on the table clothes.
Hotel FacilitiesNYC & HK: Lobbies are commonly found on the street level floor of most hotels. No matter if the hotel spreads out height-wise or width-wise, the next closest and most common facilities to the lobby are the restaurant(s), gym, conference rooms, and any other extras. The guest rooms typically occupy the upper or outer perimeter. Hotels are places where visitors not only sleep in but for some to dine, wine, and relax at.
CN: I found the facilities at hotels in China very interesting. Unless it is a Western brand chain or luxury Chinese brand, gyms and conferences rooms were pretty non-existent. Restaurants were a must and "fanciers" hotels had multiple. Many of the hotels had karaokes in the same building or in a structure right door. In the China-based budget hotels I stayed at, thin walls and windows plus late night music blasting plus cigarette smell made for very terrible sleeps.
(Chinese) Restaurant Table SettingNYC: I think I'll just apply this to most Chinese (especially Cantonese) restaurants in the USA and maybe Canada. The typical tableware that customers all get is a napkin, a plate, a teacup, and chopsticks. If you order rice or anything that is liquidy, bowls and spoons will be supplemented.
It is common practice to wipe down the tableware with the napkin before reaching for any food. Customers are expected to eat off the plate. Waiters, who are usually also bus boys, will come around periodically to replace dirty/filled platters with new ones.
HK & CN: Bowls and spoons are included in the tableware set. Rather than to eat off the plate, food is expected to be placed in the bowls and scraps/bones on the plate. There is less of a need to collect and replace dishes.
The biggest difference I had to adjust to was the cleaning of tableware with piping hot water or tea before eating. Even if the set is distributed in sterilized plastic covering, it is always re-sterilized with hot liquid for good measure.
Dimsum OrderingNYC: Dimsum is a must eat whenever my family travels anywhere. The first breakfast meal my parents looks for is to go yumcha. Even in the USA and Canada, I think New York City is one of the few, if not only place, where dimsum is still served in push carts. Most places elsewhere have everything cooked to order via a checklist system. I personally prefer the carts because I like to see what I am going to get. I can still make some kind of judgment even if I don't know what the name is.
HK & CN: The checklist system is probably a more efficient method. Most food is cooked to order and minimizes the amount of stuff that sits out. Restaurants could hire fewer people to walk around to push the carts. More tables and chairs could be put out to make up for space not needed by the steamer on wheels.
Unless the menu has photos thought, which they rarely do at non-tourist spots, it is difficult for non-Chinese reading customers to order. I guess it adds to the fun of trying local spots, eh?
Dimsum CultureNYC: While Cantonese restaurants serve dimsum every day of the week from opening until around 2 PM, the restaurants are busiest from 11 AM until 2 PM. Customers who frequent early in the morning are the every-dayers and retired folk. Numbers are given out by the host when rush hour hits. Sometimes the numbers make sense, typically it doesn't. It is most beneficial to know someone working there.
HK & CN: The homeland of dimsum and yumcha, of course, offers it every day of the week. The time ranges people visit and the restaurant service times were unfamiliar. A majority of people prefer to go for early morning dimsum (before 10-11 AM). Then there seemed to be a sort of second dimsum session in some places during the lunch/early afternoon hours where prices are slightly different. I even went to a restaurant for late night dimsum for dinner once and heard my mom's friends say they wanted to meet for late night dimsum after dinner (past 9-10 PM) as well. That was a concept completely new to me.
I have heard of all-day dimsum only establishments before, i.e. Tim Ho Wan and Nom Wah. But Cantonese restaurants that also had dinner service who ended their nights with dimsum felt slightly bizarre. Almost wrong, but somehow right; they have to prepare for dimsum service the next day anyways, I guess?