Today, I went to buy a cup of coffee in a Hong Kong Starbucks. I tried to use a Shekou Starbucks “buy one get one free coupon”, which is valid in any Starbucks throughout Guangdong and Fujian. Nevertheless, the HK Starbucks did not accept my coupon because Shekou is in neidi (the interior). So I asked if Hong Kong was part of Guangdong — after all, the SAR speaks Cantonese and is justifiably proud of its Cantonese cuisine. The barista politely asked for my understanding because with respect to these kind of campaigns, Hong Kong is different from neidi and thus not part of Guangdong. However, when I asked if I could pay for my coffee using Chinese yuan, the answer was not only yes, but also that change would be given in Hong Kong dollars based on a one to one exchange rate. Thus, not only would I loose the exchange rate for the price of the coffee, but would be literally short-changed in the transaction.
Now, those of us who live in the Pearl River Delta are no doubt aware of the One Country, Two Systems policy, which in theory is designed to give Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan (at some imagined future date) a certain level of autonomy under a Mainland (Party) government. In practice, however, One Country, Two Systems is and integrated economic system, in which territorial identities create another site of unequal exchange. The most obvious example has been wage differentials between neidi and HK, Macau, and Taiwan. However, as the price of cup of coffee shows, at the level of everyday consumer consumption, these differentials also come into play because every small shop in the Delta has the potential to become a money changer.
In a related update to an earlier post on transferring Chinese yuan into accounts outside the country, a friend told me that the easiest way to get money out of China by way of Macau was to purchase chips in neidi and carry them across the border, play a while, and then exchange remaining chips for Hong Kong dollars.