Hong Kong and Taiwan: A Different Kind of China
Taipei City, Taiwan
10/23/13 - 10/25/13 and 11/06/13 - 11/11/13
My first time to Hong Kong came on a whim. I wanted to go to Hong Kong, but I thought I wouldn't get there until later in my trip. However, an opportunity arose to go there a little bit earlier than I expected. A friend of mine named Vasiliki, who I had met in Beijing, was on a tour through China and her final stop was in Hong Kong, before she returned home to Ireland. She invited me meet up with her, so I thought, why not? I could use a little vacation from China. I decided to splurge a little while I was there, so I got myself my own room at a decent hotel on Hong Kong Island. After sharing dorms rooms for so long, it was nice to have my own space for a change. Plus it had excellent WiFi! After suffering through the crappy internet in mainland China, where a whole bunch of normal website are blocked and is super slow and erratic everywhere, it was so nice to have a strong connection. It gave me a chance to upload some photos.
I was only there for two days, but I made the best of it. Vasiliki and I met up at the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade and watched the nightly laser show on the famous Victoria Harbor skyline. The skyline is quite stunning, especially at night. The next day, we made it up to the Peak, to get some amazing views of the skyline from a different perspective. The views really are amazing. The city itself, is quite fascinating, because there is so little land that instead of building out, the city is building up. Taking the Peak Tram to the top of the peak is somewhat surreal. The mountainside is so impossible steep, yet here are all these skyscrapers towering over you as you ascend the mountain. They are all perfectly vertical, but going up the steep mountainside, skews your perspective a little, so the angles look all wrong. I felt like they were going to fall over at any point.
Later, that evening we met up with Vasiliki's tour friends, who were going on a pub crawl. I wasn't really planning on going along, but somehow I ended up joining in for the first few bars. The thing is that they didn't ask for money for the pub crawl until the third or fourth bar, so once they asked for money, I just left. I didn't take any "free" shots, or anything, so I didn't feel obligated. I didn't have enough money to pay anyway.
The second time through Hong Kong, I was only there for one night, as I was flying to Taiwan from there. This time I stayed in a nice guesthouse in Kowloon on Nathan Road. The guesthouse was on the 11th floor of an apartment building. It was a little sketchy walking into the place, though. I felt like I was walking into an apartment building in the projects of Chicago. However, the guesthouse turned out to be a wonderful place. The owner was very nice and helpful and everything was very clean. And it is also where I met Tony. Tony is a middle-aged Scotsman, who worked as a security guard and as a stunt double/extra in movies. He was really one of the nicest guys I have met on my trip. He told me about finding work in Hong Kong as a stunt double and how different it was than in the UK. He was living about six months out of the year in Hong Kong and six months in Scotland, going back and forth all the time. He told me about a restaurant around the corner that looked like a dump, but had amazing and cheap food. He, also, told me all these stories about the hookers in the area and how they never bothered him, because he would speak to them in Cantonese and he was around so often that they thought he lived there.
I had gotten in to HK around mid afternoon, so eventually I found my way down Tony's recommended restaurant for dinner. And it was definitely not a place one would see many travelers. The place was made out of wire and corrugated metal and had a dirt floor. There were dead ducks and chickens hanging around the "kitchen", which was just separated from the "dining room" by a cage-like fence. And on top of that, the cook walked around with his shirt off! Despite, the strange atmosphere, the food was really good!
The next day, I got up really early to catch my flight to Taipei. I hadn't planned on going to Taiwan, it was a spur of the moment decision. I thought it might be an interesting place, however, I was sadly disappointed. To me, Taipei was just another Asian city. I think the most interesting thing about the place, was it history with China. For those of you who don't know, Taiwan was once part of China and after the Chinese Civil War, the Mao's Communist party took power and the former government fled to Taiwan. Taiwan, otherwise known as the Republic of China or Chinese Taipei, has, in the past, claimed all of China as it's own, but that claimed has waned over the years. Nowadays, there is a little tension between Taiwan and mainland China, but most seem fine with the current status quo, as mainland China continues to hope for reconciliation.
A few things I did do, however, was go up into the second tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 and I rented a bike one day and had a pretty nice bike ride around the beach. However, on the last day, I wasn't interested in doing anything touristy, so I went to the downtown cinema district and walked around. This area was actually quite cool, mostly for the people watching, because it was really crowded. Apparently, I saw some Taiwanese movie stars, because I saw a stage erected and a bunch of screaming fans trying to take some peoples pictures. I had no idea who they were, but it was still interesting to see. After walking around for a bit, I ended up going to see Thor 2, which I thought was actually decent. I enjoyed it and it was certainly better than the first one.
In my view, Hong Kong and Taiwan are vastly different places from mainland China. However, the Chinese Government in Beijing considers them both a part of China and even though Hong Kong is technically a part of China, it is a special zone and has it's own laws and government, while Taiwan is basically a sovereign nation, with its own government and military and it considers itself the "true" China. The political situation between Taiwan and China is very complex and, at times, hostile. The biggest difference that I noticed, however, was the difference between the people. I noticed that the Chinese people of Taiwan and Hong Kong were more individualistic. They had a better sense of their freedoms and so there was more personal expression. This could be seen in the various ways of dress and the many different personal styles that people chose to evoke. In mainland China, there was a sense of conformity, so not many Chinese personally expressed themselves. Most dressed in a similar fashion and there wasn't much variation between each individual. The younger generation, though do have more personal freedom, so there was a little more personal expression in them, but compared to Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese it is much more subdued.