Hong Kong: A Very Special Place, But Where Is It?
In my student days in the U.S., hitchhiking was a common way for young people to get around, and it was a very economical and interesting way to get from one city to another. It was common along major interstate highways to see individuals (mostly male) standing by the side of the entrance ramp with a cardboard sign on which their destination would be hand-written. There were safety concerns, of course, even then; but by and large it was a safer, simpler time, and such concerns seemed more manageable in those days.
Nowadays, you still see people with cardboard signs by the side of the road, and they are still asking for something, but more often money or work rather than a ride somewhere.
When I left my home in the Chicago area one year out of university, I hitch-hiked to the West Coast, from where I had purchased a one-way ticket to Hong Kong. When setting out, because no one seemed very clear on exactly where Hong Kong was, I made a hitch-hiking sign on which I wrote “Hong Kong.” The curiosity factor worked wonders, and I got a lot of rides in fairly quick succession. Some people asked if I was going the wrong way. It was the most effective hitch-hiking sign I’d ever made.
而香港的身份识别问题也不仅限于邮政编码。有一次我在美国的赫兹公司租车，帮我填表的柜台职员问我香港属于哪个国家。我还没来得及搭腔，她身边一位身着赫兹制服的同事就告诉她：“你傻啊！香港的国家是亚洲！”后来我加入了赫兹的金卡计划—— 金卡会员可以自动登记—— 就不用再为我的原籍国争论不休了。
That was the mid-1970s. Since that time, and especially surrounding Hong Kong’s 1997 transition back to China, Hong Kong has received a lot of international media coverage. “Asia’s World City”, as its promotional slogan goes, is one of the three leading financial centers of the world, one of the three busiest ports, etc., etc., etc.
Unfortunately a lot of people still don’t know where it is.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother Bob kindly sent me a FEDEX parcel from Chicago, which the clerk baulked over because, according to her, Hong Kong is not a city, it’s a country. She demanded to know which city within Hong Kong my address was located in.
This is not a problem limited to one air courier company. I’ ve had other air courier companies reject parcels bound for Hong Kong because the address lacked a postal code, despite the fact that poor little Hong Kong suffers from an absence of postal codes because it is too small in size for them to be useful here. This puts Hong Kong in a very elite group of tiny territories around the world which do not have postal codes.
Certain online shopping check-out forms will also automatically reject a billing/shipping address which lacks a postal code.
(“Dear Santa Claus: on behalf of me and my 7 million neighbors here in Hong Kong, can we please have a Postal Code? It would make life so much simpler and stop people from automatically rejecting us. We don’t need multiple postal codes. Just one big one will do. We’ll share it. Thanks so much. Sincerely, SBX”)
Hong Kong’s identity problems don’t end with Postal Codes, either. Once while renting a car from Hertz in the U.S., the clerk behind the desk who was assisting me to fill in the required forms, asked me what country Hong Kong was in. Before I could respond, the Hertz uniformed colleague standing next to her said “You dummy! Hong Kong’s country is Asia!” Later I joined the Hertz Gold Card program — the check-in process is automatic for Gold Card holders — so my country of origin needn’t be the subject of ongoing debate.
I’ve also had interesting discussions several times while purchasing fishing licenses in various U.S. states. This transaction, handled in sporting goods stores and sometimes gas stations, usually requires producing a valid driver’s license, so I volunteer my Hong Kong driver’s license, which is unusual enough that it often sparks a conversational gambit something like this:
“Wow. Hong Kong. We don’t get that many of those in here. You lived there a long time? You speak pretty good Japanese by now?”
I’ve also — on more than one occasion — had online purchase check-out procedures derailed because Hong Kong telephone numbers have 11 digits, which exceeds the number permitted in the computer field within the online form.
(“Dear Santa: P.S. Can you have Santa’s helpers make our new Postal Code by subtracting some digits from our phone numbers please? This would be a real win-win situation. Thanks again.”)
You know inflation is a growing problem when even your phone numbers are rejected as overly jumbo.
And if that weren’t enough, I once received my mileage plus update in the mail from United Airlines, addressed to me in “Hong Kong, Japan.” That was a long time ago, but it was kind of scary. Has anyone told the pilots?
Even allowing for the inadequacies of American education when it comes to international affairs and geography, I also think that image problems are at least partly the responsibility of the subject, which in this case is Hong Kong.
I, for one, have never been much of a fan of Hong Kong’s post-1997 slogan “Asia’s World City.” It’s vague and unclear. Asia has lot of big cities, many of which are world class and fairly cosmopolitan. Asia is also a huge region of the world, a bit like the Milky Way is within the universe. No one can be expected to find tiny little Hong Kong in that giant expanse, at least not without GPS.
It’s always seemed to me that Hong Kong’s unique selling proposition is that it is “China’s World City”, which takes nothing away from any other city in China, and underlines Hong Kong’s historic role in helping support China’s open door and reform. policy these past 30-some years, not to mention its role in Asian regional and global trade and finance.