I haven’t posted for the entire month of March as I have been traveling quite a bit for work. But the traveling has given me the opportunity to provide my thoughts on some of the major Chinese-speaking cities in Asia. I’ll offer a quick summary of each city now and then provide greater detail in later posts.
Taipei. As I noted earlier, I spent Chinese New Year in Taiwan. I had been to Taipei as a child close to 20 years ago, but the city and the country have changed drastically since then. It seems to be where many cities on the mainland may find themselves 15 years from now – cleaner, more western, and more expensive, but retaining a distinctive Chinese culture. Taiwan is struggling to find its place in the world, after being derecognized by the United States in the 70’s, experiencing an economic boom with the other Asian Tigers in the 80’s, and being overshadowed in the late 90’s and 2000’s by China’s tremendous development. Taipei is a comfortable city -- a place where you could actually have an apartment, go shopping at Costco or Wal-Mart, and then buy groceries from the traditional market and visit the temple on the street corner.
Singapore. The city-state has a well deserved reputation of being clean and well run. It’s incredibly different from Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong. Everyone speaks English very well, despite the fact that the official language is actually Malay. It has a unique South East Asian flavor to everything, from the people’s accents, to the tropical flavors in the food, and the way people dress (although this may be more heavily influenced by the equatorial climate). My first reaction to Singapore is that it’s a city made up entirely of expats. The United States is a nation made up of immigrants. Everyone is originally from somewhere else, but has adopted the American lifestyle. Singapore does not seem to be as much of a mixing bowl. There are many expats from all over the world, who have moved there to work. However, some seem to stick out much more against the backdrop of the Chinese and Malaysian immigrants who perform the services that keep the wealthier immigrants living in comfort.
Hong Kong. This is the first city in Asia where I could see myself fitting in. It’s a very comfortable and western city. That’s not to say that I would like to live here for a long period of time, no more than I would like to move to New York City. However, fewer things are as starkly different from the West, and it’s manageable enough that I think I could know the city as well as a local after a few years. In many respects, it’s like Shanghai-light. A few friends happened to be in Hong Kong while I was there. They noted that it seemed a little dirty (they had just arrived from Tokyo), very crowded, and that the people were sometimes rude. I can’t wait until they see Shanghai where the subway crowds won’t even let you off the train as they push on to it. In any case, Hong Kong is an amazing city that I highly recommend for a few days. Like Singapore, it’s not very large in area, and you could probably see most of the highlights in about 48-72 hours. But if you’re flying through Hong Kong airport anyway, take some time out, check out the sights, and do some shopping.