Probably the first thing a visitor to China will notice on the way in is the pollution. Coastal cities are all right due to the close proximity of the sea and its winds, but some inland cities start to make flying into LA look like arrival at a national park in comparison. Hong Kong is a somewhat better in this regard, but that is not saying much. You will be able to smell pollution in the air, see it around you and a quick blow of the nose at the end of the day will show what did not quite get in your lungs—hint, probably not a bad idea all in all. Why so bad? Well I do not have a firm answer here, but there are a few things I do note.
Environmental awareness and pollution controls are quite secondary to pragmatic needs of work and eating. Expect to smell the nearly pollution control free exhaust fumes from cars/trucks/busses running on pretty much anything. Petrol is there, but diesel and compressed natural gas are quite common, especially in the ubiquitous VW/Peugeot cabs. Factories add there own aroma to the mix too, and doubtless have little if any scrubbers or other cleaning devices. Factory chimneys are not even to the same height we would expect either, so it comes down sooner.
Apartments (houses) typically have no heat and sometimes even no indoor cooking in parts of the country. So, people burn coal to cook (or do whatever) right there on their balconies. They are not supposed to do so mind you, but do it anyway. This is present in lower class housing, but indoor cooking and generally even heat are present in more modern/middle class housing so is less of an issue there.
There appear to be no/few curb inlets into the storm sewer system. So rain washes dirt off of buildings and into the street. It dries in place... leaving it to be tracked right back into first floor businesses, get on your shoes, clothes, etc. As a matter of fact, such places like restaurants have someone who tends to sweep a whole lot—at least I know I did at my in-law's restaurant. ;-) This appears to be not as much an issue in newer areas of big cities, but things are still much dirtier there than here. Note, when I mean dirty, I do not mean litter of which I saw quite little, but just smog, dirt, mud, grunge, etc.
Hmm, and while I am at it, there are few mature trees. You see, once upon a disaster, Mao said to chop down the most of the forests to make way for farms (around time of cultural revolution). The end result was a big dust bowl because there was no wind breaks anymore. Needless to say the county/foliage is still recovering from this today, and most wood that I know of, other than bamboo, is imported and then processed in country.
And a fun one, although I am not sure where to put this, but lack of diapers can be fun if you are poor. Sandal lovers beware! I did see some kids in smaller cities at the pre-potty trained stage with outfits that slit up the rear so they could 'stop, drop and go' in an emergency. Of course I have not got to talking about the oxen yet. ;-) I doubt this is common in Hong Kong however.
If it's not city, and it's not a park, it's a farm. Flat land to anything short of a near vertical mountain side is probably in use for growing or raising something. Have you ever read a book that made some claim that 'things just felt old?' I always thought that was an artistic license, not so. For me seeing some of the terraced farms around jagged, almost vertical mountains that do indeed look very much like those in the oriental paintings did it. I mean there was this reddish earth that just looked so old and well used. Seeing the oxen trundling along with a farmer or two around them, you just knew in your bones that some distant relative of the guy was doing the same damn thing, in the same damn spot, the same damn way long before Columbus (or perhaps even the Vikings) even sailed for the new world. It was kind of an odd feeling indeed. Most of China does not make me feel that way, but parts such as this do.
Water wise? Simple, do not drink it from the tap. No idea if they run sanitary and water lines on the same side of the street, but that is a big part of why you can't drink some countries tap water and can others. Both sets of pipes leak over time, especially if not maintained, and with them right next to each other well, eventually... Ewwww.
Also, plenty of lead based solder in use joining the plumbing. Yum. Yum. This is a good reason to run the water about 20-30 seconds to clear any concentration of lead that may have built up since last use. My wife still keeps asking why I do not do this every so often, even though I keep telling her we have not used lead for this here in the States for quite a while...
Baring special economic zones, or land set aside for the rare rich neighborhood, there is essentially no zoning as we know it. As a matter of fact, business, factories, and housing of all sorts are intermixed. This is almost necessary so that you can live fairly close to work and not have to worry about huge traffic congestion problems that a more segregated zoning would bring. My guess is that Hong Kong is less mixed, but that is just a guess.
For example, (in Shanghai) right next to my wife's cousin's luxury high rise is a corrugated tin shanty area and some sort of chemical (?) factory (mmm hmmm, yummy smells and such a neato variety of neon colored liquid discharge). Newer development of land tends to be more segregated in that one block or so is housing, the next commercial, etc. But it is still, generally pretty mixed up by (most of) our Western standards.
With the exception of the country side, where rammed earth housing is common, almost all buildings in a city are multistory concrete structures. Typically around 5-7 floors in small/medium cities (because any higher and you need to build an elevator which costs $$$). True skyscrapers are in the bigger cities (land is too scarce) or for upscale buildings. Barring such upscale edifices, the first floor is usually reserved for street-facing shops. Picture a bunch of wide metal garage doors that open onto the street with a business inside each and you pretty much have got it. My in-law's old restaurant is an example. Oh, and there is almost no wood construction, as wood is in scarce supply (see Mao above ;-) ).
Low class housing is pretty basic indeed. A combo kitchen/shower area (take a hose from the sink folks), family room and two bedrooms and a balcony (used for hanging laundry, sometimes cooking and so on). Figure 600-700 square feet. Oh, and note that I did not mention bathrooms, because... Da-dah, due to the joys of past communism, you may not have one. Instead you get to share a communal one (one for men and one for women) on each floor. Do expect concrete floors and block or poured walls. Do not expect heat. Now if you are styling in this sort of neighborhood, then you have a window mounted AC unit, or even a dual mode unit that also heats. Rock, rock on, you trend setter you. ;-)
I note that there is also factory housing as well. Company factory, company housing, company store. Hey, just like the early days of capitalism here. However, I have not experienced this particular form of joy, so I can not comment on it (for which I am probably grateful). Think something like a simple Archology and you are probably on target. Heck, some of them may be nice for all I know, but the pictures I have seen of housing remind me of those micro motel things.
Lower/middle class housing is bigger (700-800 square feet) and you have your own bathroom (weee!) And, otherwise, is pretty similar to low class housing and we are still talking essentially apartments here.
Upper class housing more like what you would expect here in the West, if a bit smaller (900-1000 square feet). Still, may not have built in AC and maybe no heat depending on how far south it is. Wooden and tile floors, no concrete block walls or ceiling, and joy of joys, a bathroom with a Western style flush toilet and a shower stall. Most even have a stacked washer/dryer unit, instead of the tub and a line on the balcony. Some few are even independent houses like we have here in the West, but those are even bigger and cost big, big bucks too.
Oh yeah, I did not hit bathrooms yet in detail did I? They deserve special mention as they appear to be at a cross roads of evolution in China. There are Western style bathrooms, but not in low class areas or many public facilities. Old style ones can be as simple as a hole in the ground that you squat over—the remains are periodically collected and use as fertilizer. Oh, and a good tip, do bring your own toilet paper, K, because it is not necessarily provided. Heck, you may have to pay a pittance for entry. Not sure, as I always avoided these places like the plague.
And, while I am ranting here, there is something else odd about bathrooms in China. The whole house can be as clean as you please (although not always), but the bathroom may not be. I remember looking at one hotel once. Nice Western style bed, clean room, wood floors and an attached bathroom whose floor could be a biohazard zone. I swear the greenish floor moved on its own. ;-) I think this is a cultural difference issue here personally, but could be wrong. In any event, if you do go and stay at a hotel, make sure it is rated okay for foreign travelers, unless this does not bother you. In which case bring some flip flops and throw them away before you go back home.
Architecture wise? Up scale stuff like commercial districts are a real treat. Far more variety then here State-side. I saw stuff ranging from Western, to Japanese, to Chinese, and probably more. If you like looking at buildings, you will not be disappointed here—Shanghai's commercial and financial sections are a real treat for example. However, basic housing/buildings are pretty drab and show all the attention to appearance that one would expect from a former communist country. Imagine Hong Kong to be somewhat better in this regard
Furnishings? Pretty much what you would expect, smaller TVs and so forth. Beds are hard with mattresses considered odd by many. Instead, an elevated board with some bamboo 'mattress' is not unusual to find. Only plus here I that it is relatively cool in the summer. Just remember that consumer goods/electronics/cars are very expensive in China relatively speaking, while food and basic necessities/utilities are cheap, but more on that later.
Public and mass transit plays a huge role. Trains are the preferred (well readily available at cheap rates anyway) method of long distances and are generally quite crowded, although there are a few of those super duper maglev trains which are a different story. Busses are more short haul or across town along with cabs. All the cabs tend to be either Peugot hatchbacks (in the country) running on CNG or VW Jettas (two models back) running on diesel (?). The veedubs are interesting in that they have lots of open mechanical bits on the inside of the doors that just beg to snag clothes or an inattentive finger. BTW, in the country side it is considered a high class job to be a cab driver. And, high class to ride one, even if only to go a few blocks for shopping. Although this is not really the case in the city where cabs have been common for along time and higher wealth levels allow a far number of people to have cars.
Personal transit varies. Relatively few people own cars overall. And if you do, parking and garage space are hard to find. For a while my wife's cousin had ot take a cab to get to their car. So why do it? Status I guess... Anyway, fuel of choice is variable but expensive with prices almost equal to the same dollar value here. I have seen stations with petrol, diesel, CNG, and alcohol. American (Buick especially) and German cars are considered good. Second tier is Japanese interestingly enough. Most (very numerous) Chinese brands are not considered as good. SUVs are looked down on as workman-like (this is changing) and cars looked up to. Engine displacement tends to be smaller, and it's a manual transmission world out there, but then again where else in the world is this not the case? Assume far fewer safety features and less luxury gadgets for the most part.
Road conditions vary, with highways (the ones I saw) pretty lightly traveled and usually in good repair. As a mater of fact, the Chinese are always telling me how this or that highway was a number one road (some international rating system?) and so on. I guess they figured that was impressive, and that American's are all into cars and driving and so would find this fascinating (in this case they were right about the car part anyway).
Local roads are pot luck, or perhaps 'pothole luck' depending. I saw cobble, asphalt, cement, stone, and dirt all in the same town, with conditions ranging from nice to 'amusement park.' But bigger cites where as nice, or even nicer, than here in the States, I imagine Hong Kong follows this model. However, if you get/rent a car, do get one with a tough suspension just in case.
Walking is popular, and pedal bikes abound as well—with a high theft rate though. And, in the smaller cities, I did see some rickshaws, ox carts (watch where you step), farm tractors, and even people with those wooden bars across their shoulders with pans/jars on each end all sharing the street at once. If you get the idea that it can be a bit of transport anarchy when driving in such mixed settings, then congratulations captain obvious, you are right. ;-) In-city driving can be slow in smaller towns because of this, with cabs constantly honking. And, as aside note, street cleaner trucks play tunes just like ice cream trucks here in the States do, except they favor playing the tune Happy Birthday. Presumably, it has different words/meaning in China as many tunes do.
I never did see any motor bikes, mopeds or scooters, although my wife says they are present in small numbers. The story goes they imported about 10,000 motor cycles to some great fan fare a number of years ago, but within 10 years all the riders were dead in accidents. My wife recounts this as fact, but I have no idea. In any event, it is generally walk/bike or car/bus.
They do use bikes a lot, even for deliveries. I once almost had a go in with an egg delivery bike rider whom narrowly missed hitting my wife and I. Apparently, his breaks either sucked, or he was afraid to use them. He lost some eggs anyway and became aggressive. We were all just standing there along with a group of pedestrians waiting to cross the street, so I did not feel any sympathy for "Mr. too lazy to go around." Oh, and its definitely not a pedestrian has right of way country. But nor is it a Car Wars arena—cross with caution.
Everyone talks about how hard Chinese work getting going at 6 or 8 AM and coming home about 12 hours later. Personally, I would not want a factory job, but beyond that I worked a lot harder in IT up here in the Mid-West. Sure, I only clocked 10 hour days on average, but I also did not take daily 3+ hour siesta/shopping/lunch breaks either. Pretty much everyone takes a big 'siesta' in the middle of the day and has their main meal, usually going out with friends, coworkers and sometimes family as locations and times permit an then maybe nap or shop. And yup, lunch is usually bigger than dinner. Since HK is pretty far southish (and hot), then I would bet this siesta is a 'for sure' regardless of time frame we play in. But I could be wrong.
Meal time is important for both enjoyment as well as casual business. Food is varied too. Off the top of my head I have eaten eel, turtle, snake, song bird (mmm crunchy) and a whole bunch of other stuff I forget right now. I have yet to try dog or rat but I do intend to do so some day. Forget supermarkets and canned goods for the usual stuff, they exist but for the most part you buy it fresh from various venders each day or so. And, leftovers are typically left out ala Russians, and not put back in the fridge—a hint to eat it fast?
Seasoning runs the gamut, with each province having its dishes, and level of hotness. For example Sechuan is considered the hottest, both for its food and the temper of its women—nick named the spicy sisters. At this point I can truly relate that some stereotypes have basis in fact. ;-) However, cooking in Hong Kong (AFAIK) is pretty mild on the whole, but I believe they have a big variety of food to choose from.
When you eat, meals are communal in that your group will likely have a bunch of bowls and everyone in your group either shares onto their plate, or just chopsticks it right on in. Other silverware is frequently available at more up scale establishments. Oh yeah, common nonalcoholic lunch drink with a meal is tea, not water. Since my wife and I are not drinkers at all, I can not comment on the booze.
Older folks (30ish+) have a serious don't waste food (or anything really) fetish, they were from a time when food was scarce for sure and everything was rationed. China is (AFAIK) generally a food importer, so there will probably always be more of this attitude than not. Just seeing me with crumbs on my plate when I say I am full still bothers my wife—even after about 10 years here in the States.
After work, in small towns, one goes home and eats a bit and then puts on ones best clothes and goes out for a stroll to see and be seen. After that, people tend to turn in. Did not see this happening in the big cities, they are more Westernized I suppose. Probably more along the lines of what we expect. But since both my wife and I are social geeks so we have no real clue here.
SOCIAL STATUS, FACE AND, PERSONAL BEHAVIOR
Seeing and being seen with the right people is really important. So is not losing respect in the view of others, i.e. keeping face. How you are treated will very quite a bit based on where people perceive you to be at in this social hierarchy, luckily foreigners are considered pretty high class by default. My guess is that one you are more unique, therefore being seen with you is a plus (i.e. the host has connections in strange lands or some such) and foreigners tend to have money which never hurts. Also, quite a few (although shrinking number of) Chinese seek to make it to America, so there is a curiosity over what we are all about. Now there are Chinese who return home, having not made it in the U.S. of A., but they are referred to as seaweed (washed back onto the beach?) and looked down upon.
Heck, just being American got all sorts of extra perks from the local government. A trip here, a meal there, free tickets to see the reservoir near my wife's home town. Needless to say Hong Kong will be much, much more cosmopolitan, so this will probably not be so big a deal there, and it was no where near as pronounced in Shanghai. But, I did get to see what rock star feels like when the government was driving us around to look at land. We went through the school district of the town and by god if the kids did not swarm up to and press against the sides of the car—at least after they found out an American was in it.
This perception may be strong enough to over ride traditional values to large degree. It teed my wife off, but more than once a passing mother would tell her daughter to look at that American and see if you could be his "interpreter." I use that term loosely, although that is what she told me they said. But, I am not so sure that is a 100% correct translation based on her reaction, and how other Chinese sometimes reacted when she presented herself as my wife. I have a strong feeling it was more along the lines of "sure that honey is your... ahhh... wife *cough* *cough*. Now lets talk business" as they dismissed her on more than one occasion. Not a good idea on their part, as I assure you I take that attitude rather badly as well. But, the important point for us here may well be that no mom would tell her daughter to be a uh... soiled dove?, but a mistress to an American? Now that is all together a different thing. Perception of reality, and not reality itself, are apparently king at times. Lest you assume all Chinese are that way, I would doubt it. For there is great variety there in all things include mores and culture and I do not doubt this would be bad traditionally.
On the down side, after some contact many Chinese consider Americans to be hypocrites. Mostly because we say we like this or that, but really feel the opposite. I am really not sure this is true on the whole, although there are parts of America where this is more common. I chalk it up more to cultural differences in how we deal with such issues as saying "grandma's fruit cake was really delicious (yuck)." In China it may not come up, or it gets deflected, in America we tell white lies. Although, I will say that in business if it comes to saving face, they will lie with a skill that would shame a stereotypical used car salesman. So, you best check every step of a biz transaction. Just find an acceptable excuse that does not cost face (more on this later).
Chinese tend to have a whole lot less respect for personal space then we do. This should be understandable given the population to geographic size ratio. For example, it was not at all unusual for me to pull out a map and have a few people come right up to look over my shoulder just to see what I was doing. Not to help mind you, although some did. Most just... well stood there and peer at me, I don't know what they were thinking really. My wife said it was rude, but they did not seem to think so. ;-)
I should probably go back to the idea that in China your worth and rights are indeed related to your social station. Education is very uneven and there is indeed the social effects of a cast system where by Joe Average Factory Worker is not worth/worthy of a whole lot in comparison to a successful business man. Therefore, everyone who is not a bum has good clothes and keeps them clean ( a challenge I am sure) and has a cell phone. And if you are a rich guy, then the latest trend is to have multiple families. Presumably secret from each other—damn, but that would tire me out.
And, while fortune/connections favor those who already have the dough. You can get ahead if you have ability, luck and/or make good connections. This success will transfer somewhat to your family. Presumably because you will be expected to financially help the less fortunate relatives thus raising their station as well, whether willingly, or just out of sense of duty. Although, I have seen richer relatives avoiding the poorer ones for pretty long periods of time when they wanted to.
Another key difference is that family usually has some sort of pretty strong ties. Usually grandma and grandpa raise the grand kids so that mom and dad can work. Then, in return, when grandpa and grandma need help, their children are expected to support/care for them in old age. A lot of this is pretty pragmatic really, especially considering that the government has about zero safety net for its citizens.
Oh, and finally queuing behavior. I believe that you can tell a lot about a culture by how and when they stand in line. Mostly, less line standing and somewhat less orderly then the US or Germany, but waaay more organized than say FSU counties where a line is synonymous for a randomly milling and jostling mob. Seat of the pants meter result? There is less day to day order and structure than in the US, but not by all that much.
RELIGION AND SUPERSTITION
Well, there appears to be very little organized religion in China in comparison to what we see here in the States. I saw very few temples and churches and so forth. People do not go en-mass (heh) to church on Sunday and so on. Obviously, individuals would be on case be case basis, but overall it seems very similar to most of Europe in that organized religion is either low or on the decline. As a matter of fact, other than one visit to a Buddhist temple, I do not recall the issue ever coming up at all despite numerous conversations with my family on that side of the world.
My feeling is that Western and Middle Eastern religions are going to be doing more of missionary work than the more established things they do here. And, they will probably put on a more friendly and tolerant face as well to attract converts. Since Buddhism is kinda a philosophy, it is harder to spot. I have little clue about number of practitioners, but presumably it should be fairly high for at least 'sometimes' practitioners.
Now superstition is another matter. It seems we get one or the other in most societies, and superstition is apparently a part of Chinese culture. Specifically, ghosts are believed in by quite a few and this is not seen as irrational. Heck, my wife a biologist, published cancer researcher, and someone whom was destined to come here and work with a Nobel prize winner has no problem with ghosts. As a mater of fact when the neighbor who lives below us passed away and our daughter was acting weird she suggested that maybe she was seeing his ghost and was scared or some such.
Another common superstition is that mentioning that you hope something bad is not going to happen is the same as wishing it would indeed happen. So saying, "Gee, I really hope that storm coming does not cause a tree to fall on your new house," is pretty much saying you hope it happens. This seems inverted from part of Eastern Europe where mentioning some positive desire about the future is seen as tempting the fates to take it away, but otherwise pretty close.
LANGUAGE & EDUCATION
Language is interesting. While Mandarin is standard, not everyone speaks it, or if they do, speaks it well. Nor are the dialects even that close. This really does produce a country where the various peoples have differences in a lot of ways, such as cooking and so on. In Hong Kong's case it is dual lingual with Cantonese and English being the two languages in question.
The Chinese written language is shared, and if I understand it, also the same as Japanese (or close enough to it for basic sign reading literacy anyway). But, sadly the traditional written form is a real bitch to learn with all those characters, so many are fairly illiterate or partially literate (if there is such a thing). There is a intermediate form of written language called pinyin (roman alphabet adopted to Chinese sounds) and even some stuff published in it, but even then that is for Mandarin only, at least as far as I know.
As an aside, from a practical standpoint, there are no yellow pages. Good luck finding things unless you know the town. When it came to us furniture shopping, my wife went alone to China, and I stayed here (work/house building timing issues). I sometimes had more luck finding things in Shanghai via Google/phoning the US branches of stores, than she had on the ground there. Meh.
Educationally, things are uneven. In some areas such as near Shanghai, kids are pushed very hard to learn if they are able, although not every one is. And, it is even more intense lately for those who do go the education route. There is school, then evening school scheduled after/around extra circular activities. Oh, and don't forget summer school.
Personally, as an educator, they are taking it too way too far. I am worried that the young kids that come out of that sort of pressure cooker are going to have issues of one sort or another, but time will tell. I should note that for the less bright (or those without means) education may stop earlier and be quite a bit less intense.
On the other hand, back where my wife's parents live, education is much more relaxed. Maybe too much so, as not even all the children attending school as they do here.
Regardless, education is considered an asset and is a ticket to better things. A degree from an American University is rated quite highly. I am not sure if degree forgery is a big issue in China as it is in say Russia, but I doubt it. I think it is more a prestige issue and that US Universities are thought quite highly of in the world.
Essentially China seems like, a loosely ruled feudalism, at least in my opinion. The national government controls the army (more or less) and some revenue streams, information, and appoints local government people. But after that the local and city government kicks in. One hand may very well not know what another hand is doing. Or, higher level directives may be ignored or interpreted widely (or selectively) if there is no visible result that would point such deviance out.
Subordinates can, and do, lie to their superiors to save face. However, bosses or higher levels of government can and do have there own informers (spies?) to check up on what is reported. And everyone plays the game accordingly at both at the 'what is said' level, and at the 'what they know (or do not know)' level. From a game perspective, if this is not an endless source for adventure, then I do not know what is. Note that this last stuff is beyond what I have personally experienced, but it is what I have read/heard of, and do believe it to be substantially true.
Now China is no Thailand, where everything is permitted for the right price, but it is a lot closer than here. Again it's all in how you go about it while keeping face. Take the guy out to a lavish lunch or slip him a gift (red letters with cash—very common to get good hospital treatment) just do it separate from your negotiations, etc. So long as what you are doing makes no big waves, is not emotionally agitating, is really not visible or has high level sanction, its all good.
Hong Kong is special in that it still has a fair degree of autonomy and a government structure that has been heavily influenced by the British. That includes more civil rights about free speech and so forth. Doubtless, a more fair local court system as well, although I am not 100% on that.
Although laze faire about most things, information control is paramount to the government. My wife still gets mad at me for saying that China has no truly free press. But, I think she realizes the truth of it. For example that recent riot that people were killed in. No news of it in China, not even a peep, I know because she just got back a week or two afterwards and knew nothing of it. Then again, rumor central runs rampant. I can point to times when we would hear of a province considering rebelling, or of 10,000s dead from SARs in hidden government run camps. The truth of the matters may never really be known to be honest but is probably(?) exaggerated.
Bureaucracy. All the government functionaries I have met were quite helpful, but sometimes confused. We had investigated building apartments in China, and forming a joint venture. But, man-oh-man, it is a truism that these guys invented bureaucracy and have had 7,000 years or so to perfect it. Not even they could figure out exactly what needed done for sure. They really were trying to be helpful, even going so far as to provide government cars and so forth to shuttle us around from office to office, bought us lunch and so on. But it was still a few days of head scratching for all concerned.
For what its worth, figuring a safe way to invest in Chinese real estate has got to be a veritable gold mine with rapid appreciation BTW. Doubtless a good source of income if you want a source of original cash for your PC. Just remember they tend to sell apartments more than rent them, but that the original builder has responsibility for maintaining the elevators (so far as I now) and maybe other stuff.
CRIME, THE LAW AND YOU
Again your status will have more than something to do with it, it is definitely flexible in the right circumstances. Although getting caught at murder, or some such, is gonna be a tough wrap regardless. Or so I imagine. They do not play around with punishment, nor at what we would consider fair and open trials.
As a foreigner, I am largely safe from blue collar crime, at least so long as I am not really stupid. The enforcement agencies take a really, really dim view of hassling foreigners, and such perps will get made an example of one way or another—I kid you not. This is because this would show of a side of China that they would rather you not see or broadcast—that face thing again.
However, such crime clearly does exist. Bike theft is common, and those upscale dwellings all get nondescript thick steel doors on them with serious bolts and locks as soon as the owners take possession. Not only does this show hiding of wealth, but the need to hide and secure it. Hence, such crimes must occur with at least some frequency. The lack of zoning may have something to do with this too. I will note that in poorer neighborhoods people did without such doors, although those I noticed were always fairly solid and in good repair in any event.
As far as corporate stuff? Copyright law is quite weak and innovators will be copied if they are successful with little recourse. For example Audi used to be a frequent knock-off in China. Some firms even had the same tooling Audi used! I imagine some even had the same emblems on them—lol. It's better than this now, but still there is little legal recourse. My guess is HK is much better in this regard. If we are going with the idea of HK being a sim-sense/BTL production haven, it would not do to have weak copy right laws
Oh, I have never run across organized crime, so have no clue how it is there. Another thing I am thankful for, but does not help the game at all.
Simple summary? A new pure raw and unadulterated capitalism rapidly consuming the last vestiges of communism. And I do mean raw, almost like back in the early 1900s or late 1800s. My wife calls it the "ugly duckling" stage of capitalism which I find an apt description. Everything goes, and over site, regulation and sometimes even safety are pretty minimal. My wife's sister in law lost part of her hand for in a factory for example. A machine did something she was tired enough not to be watching for and. . . chop. She got settlement from the company (the government does not want to support the unemployed, or be seen to be too stingy in a way that could cause malcontent), but it was small.
Also, if Chinese lie, it will be in business. Maybe, face saving because their suppliers are doing the same to them, but none the less watch yourself. Order X, and you may get Y. Want top end furniture, but neglect to specify the type of springs? They may get substituted with a cheaper version than what is on the showroom floor. Buy shampoo or cosmetics? Watch out because there are those who counterfit goods, and what is an identical bottle to a name brand may not be what you think. Want pirated software? Stroll down the street or too a flea market and $1 gets you anything. Heck, go to a software store and even they may well be just selling more expensive looking knock-offs—admittedly with prettier packaging and a manual. This is not to say crime/mis-represtentation is around every corner, but it is far more common than you are probably used to.
All your basics such as food, utilities and low/low middle sale rent are pretty cheap and in the case of utilities probably subsidized. I admit that rent is climbing fast in some parts of China. Otherwise, the dollar goes crazy far here for these sort of items. Although, if you are smart, you can actually do better clothes shopping here, at least if you know how to find your local final closeout stores. Pretty funny, to me at least, given that a lot of the stuff was originally made in China, but is cheaper to buy here than there.
On the other hand, big ticket items and luxury/consumer goods are taxed to a fair thee well by some method I am not sure of. I know that cars are about 2 times as expensive there than here. And, maybe almost 3 times if you want comparable quality. Electronics are also pretty expensive, although not as much as they were five or ten years ago. But it is still cheaper for me to catch a sale here on a laptop and then send it back. A fact a few of my relatives have taken me up on.
No offense, but my advice is not to buy Chinese for critical items. This is not to say they can not make good stuff, history shows that Wal-Mart type items are mostly okay. Buy boats, cars or industrial/safety equipment... Not so good an idea unless you are quite careful, and even then, your supplier cannot control the erratic quality from his suppliers no matter how honest he is. As I said earlier, when it comes to big ticket items, Chinese prefer Korean, Japanese, German and American made stuff leading to another funny thought. Rich as we are, we buy on Wal-mart or Marcs price goods to save a penny. The Chinese, whom are much poorer, buy on quality when ever they can.
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