What Tijuana and Zhuhai have in common.

[UPDATED: With apologies to everyone who emailed to point out that I’d mis-spelled Tijuana in the title! It was a long day … I’d spent hours at the border.]

Below, a photo of the Macau side of the border crossing into Zhuhai, China (for those not familiar with the region: despite the fact that China has sovereignty over Macau, the border is still treated as international). I took it late this afternoon, when – it seemed – the entire population of Zhuhai was trying to get home in time for dinner. Quite honestly, the photo doesn’t do justice to the size of the crowd. The image would need to be expanded to the right, by a third, for a complete, er, picture.


From what I could tell, most of the people in the line were Zhuhai locals (that is, locals who live on the other side of the border with Macau). And most of them were carrying shopping bags from shops that – presumably – one can’t find in Zhuhai. I suspect that many were also carrying luxury goods that – due to China’s high taxes on such items – are much cheaper to buy in Macau and Hong Kong.

What was most striking to me about this massive late Sunday afternoon migration was how much it reminded me of border crossings along the US-Mexican border. On Sunday afternoons, those crossings are often jammed with Mexican citizens returning from shopping trips in the more developed US, their packed trunks weighing down the rear ends of their cars. There, as in China, citizens of the less developed country spend weekends shopping in the more developed one (and running businesses largely based upon their ability to make such trips). I realize, of course, that there are differences, as well.


  1. Eric – it’s a place in my mind that I only go when I’ve spent too much time standing in hot Chinese border crossings!

  2. Last time I went to Zhuhai was around 2000 a ferry from HK then returned via Macau. I don’t recall any queue back then. On Zhuhai side, there was Lover’s promenade by the sea, a few seafood restaurant and a start-up in a newly built office building next to a hotel – the hotel definitely catered Japanese businessmen. Your picture shows how much had happened in the past 10 years. amazing.

  3. I wonder if, like the SZ-HK border crossing, the rules for visas for Mainland visitors to Macau have been relaxed in recent years. When the Shenzhen Wan bridge first opened up in 2007, it was still pretty difficult for a Mainlander to get avisa to go to HK. I could be through immigration, both Chinese and HK, in less than 15 minutes because there were no lines. In the months that followed more and more visas were available to Shenzhen hukou holders, thereby allowing for more tourism and shoping day-trips from the Mainland. It wasn’t long before there were crowds and crowds of people. Just this past October holiday week we were at the Shenzhen Wan border and it looked just like your picture above.

  4. Actually, I am not surprised about this situation. Almost 2 years ago I took a ferry from HK to Macao using my US passport and I had to go to this line. I considered myself lucky to get thru in about an hour. Most of the people go thru are mainlanders but if you have an HK ID or Macao ID there’s no line to get thru.

  5. Cross-border hand-carry delivery/shopping (sorry for the mouthful) is big business. HK colleagues tell me that since the milk-taint scandal, there is big business in hand-carrying imported goods back and forth the border. For example, you can visit (or call) a store in HK, pick out your goods and pay for someone to hand-carry them across to Shenzhen and they will ground-ship to your Mainland address, reducing your overall delivery costs which would still cheaper than paying imported prices. Last I heard, they’ve imposed restrictions on the number of milk powder containers one can carry across the border. One can’t help but marvel at their creativity.

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