Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Reflections

I really enjoyed this trip to Asia even though it was a lot different than what I had imagined. Taiwan was a lot more chaotic than I remembered and having never been to Hong Kong and Singapore, I didn't have a lot of expectations. The interesting thing is that all three places are inhabited by mainly Chinese people; Taiwan and Hong Kong is almost all Chinese and I heard that Singapore was at least 70% Chinese. However, I could see a lot of differences between each culture/society. If I had to compare, Singapore and Taiwan would be at opposite ends of a spectrum with Hong Kong in the middle.

Arriving in Taiwan, I was surprised at how run-down and dirty everything looked. Maybe I'm too used to "The O.C.", especially Irvine but the buildings in Taiwan (except for new skyscrapers in Taipei) looked really old. In addition, almost every building has a huge cylindrical metal tank on the roof. Silvia told me that it's to store water for time when the water system breaks down which happens quite often. Another thing I noticed that there are very few public trash cans, even in Taipei, so often we had to hold our garbage (food wrappers, tissue, etc.) while walking around (this is one of Shirley's pet peeves too). Finally, there seems to be a general disregard for traffic rules, especially outside of Taipei. I'm not sure why this is but I've also noticed that people are very impatient, even when walking; we got yelled at several times when we paused on the sidewalk. The night markets are really cool though... not like in the U.S. where everything shuts down early. I'll probably gain a lot of weight if I lived in Taiwan. :)

In Singapore, I really didn't see very much since it was work, eat, and sleep for the three days I was there. What I did see was that the city is very clean and people seem to follow traffic rules. The people I met were nice and quiet, especially "the girls" working at Broadcom. However, I don't know if there's pressure to conform to society norms like in Japan which creates all sorts of weird underground stuff to relieve that pressure. If I get to go to Singapore again, I'll need to get there a couple days before work so I can see the rest of the island.

I really liked Hong Kong. The buildings seem just as run-down or even dirtier than in Taiwan but things seem less chaotic. Maybe it's because of 99 years of British rule or Hong Kong is a more cosmopolitan city than Taipei. There is also a lot more English spoken in Hong Kong which is a plus for me with my crappy Mandarin. The food is a toss-up; the dim sum was really good in Hong Kong but I didn't see anything like the night markets in Taiwan. I was a little nervous walking around at night since there was a lot of people standing around our hotel. I found out later that we were next to a large building that had many Pakistani people living there. Without A/C, it's probably cooler to hang out on the sidewalk than to sweat indoors.

It felt weird driving to work yesterday after not driving for over two weeks. In Singapore, we either took the taxi or were driven everywhere. In Taipei and Hong Kong, we used the public transportation which were convienent and cheap. The downside is that it took a long time to get anywhere. Even going about 3 miles--4 stations with one line change--takes about 1/2 hour on the MTR. In the U.S., I would jump in my car and it would only take 5 minutes. Of course this is not an option in Asia with traffic, parking, and $5/gallon for gas, but the freedom of having a car is hard to give up.

2 comments:

closetmusician said...

It's funny that you thought Taiwan was run-down and dirty, I actually had the totally opposite impression when I went back this time, after not having gone back for 8 years. Perhaps I had really low expectations since 8 years ago it was way worse than now, so I was pleasantly surprised. And since you came from Singapore, your expectations were naturally high.

I was actually very impressed w/ the MTR system, I thought it was infinitely better than the terrible bus system I had to take when I was a kid, and I thought it helped to make the traffic a lot better (not great, but better). I actually thought the streets were really clean compared to when I was a kid, and people were amazingly orderly. E.g., every MTR station I went to, people actually lined up to wait for the subway. I mean, line up? in Taiwan? That's absolutely unheard of! I was so incredibly impressed.

Then again, I was staying at the Grand Hyatt in Taipei, near probably the more modern business center of Taipei, so my perception may be a bit skewed.

But then I went to Danshui, and I was very impressed, they've done such an incredible job of cleaning up the river. I mean before the river smelled so bad you couldn't even walk next to it. I also tried going to the old fort which was closed, should've warned you guys. :) I thought Danshui's sunset was really, really beautiful, we were sitting in a cafe drinking some tea watching the sunset. But then again, I was also missing Janice terribly then, so I was probably skewed once again.

Nonetheless, I thought the island has showed so much improvement, and potential for more improvement, it really gave me some hope. Well, usually until I turn on the news or open the newspaper, then seeing the politicians speak always nauseate me again. Ironically it seems like the commoners, the lao3 bai3 shin4 have always been the life blood, the spirit, of Taiwan. And the politicians always seem so damn out of touch, but then again that's the same everywhere I suppose.

Alright, time for me to get off the soapbox and go to bed.

totochi said...

Hmm, I was worried that my post would seem too negative about Taiwan...

Yeah, even though there was some trash and the water smelled at Danshui, Shirley said that it was A LOT cleaner than before they built the MTR station. I also read that the rivers running through Taipei used to be open sewers (kinda like China) before they cleaned that up too. I guess I don't remember anything from before and probably unconsciously comparing to Singapore or Irvine. Can't trust the memory of an 8 year-old.

I liked the MTR system too and most of the time people lined up although I got shoved aside during rush hour. I wish more people would use deodorant though...