I recently made a week-long trip to Hong Kong and coming back to Taiwan, I now realize there are several quite substantial differences between the two places. While this isn’t exactly news to anyone who’s spent much time in both places, the strange thing is the last time I went to Hong Kong and Taiwan, I really thought of them as very similar. The two share some similarities such as using traditional Chinese characters for reading and writing, boasting high-tech subways, hot, steamy weather and mountainous terrain and having virtually ethnically homogenous Chinese populations. But they also have differences that aren’t so apparent. What might be strange is that I think that Taiwan is possibly a better place than Hong Kong especially in terms of social behavior. I should point out that I’m talking about differences other than the linguistic and obvious one of Taiwan mainly being Mandarin (or Taiwanese)-speaking and HK Cantonese. Also though I’ve visited other parts of Taiwan, I’m only familiar with Taipei and my Taiwan opinions are basically of Taipei.
The few differences I observed from my brief observations are:
1) HK people may be more rude or less polite than (Taipei) Taiwan, especially in things like line-jumping and rushing for subway seats, and certainly talking loudly in public. Of course, the fact that Cantonese tends to sound pretty coarse while Mandarin sounds so lyrical and pleasant, at least to my inexperienced ears, might play a role in this.
2) While Taipei is quite dense with its small streets and packed neighborhoods and storefronts, it is still quite open and much less crowded when compared to Hong Kong, especially Kowloon. The amount of tall residential towers, many of which have well over 20 stories and often closely clustered together, in many HK urban areas and the knowledge that the population is around 7 million really impress upon me the high density and make me more sympathetic to why some of my HK family don’t miss HK that much.
3) While both are predominantly Chinese societies which practice a lot of Chinese culture such as language, writing, religion and holiday celebrations, Taiwan seems to be more lively and more cultural. I know that HK is obviously more international and Western-oriented due to its heritage as a British colony, but Taiwan/ Taipei seems to have more spirit, such as in its night markets, its countless foodstalls and stores and its politics. Sure HK has its tall towers, its vast shopping districts and its own unique Cantonese/Western vibe, but the fact is that HK has never been its own master.
My final observation in this post is that I think that many HKers, and I’m basing this heavily on certain relatives and acquaintances, are somewhat envious and/or jealous of Taiwan, especially its political vibrancy. On the other hand, I’ve found some Taiwanese to be dismissive or apathetic of HK, seeing it only as a shopping haven and gateway to mainland China but nothing else. The one thing that I wish Taiwan had from HK was the common usage of English not only in airport and subway signs but also official documents and English books. But of course, this would detract from Taiwan’s character.