Chatteris’ own Freya Wallace talks us through her experiences living in 台北 and 香港.
Having spent a year abroad studying in Taipei, and now living and working in Hong Kong, I feel that I am fully equipped to brashly compare the two with my limited knowledge of expat life in both cities. My experiences couldn’t have been more different; in Taipei, I was a pretty destitute student with a fair amount of time to explore. In Hong Kong, I am considerably less destitute thanks to the Chatteris income, however, slightly more constricted time-wise due to my job. Overall, my experiences have been pretty incomparable – both being incredible cities with so much to see, taste, and do – but there are a few similarities and some differences which I have discovered in my first few months of enjoying Hong Kong.
Let’s start off with the Mass-Rapid Transit (MRT) and Mass Transit Railway (MTR).To my perpetual confusion, Hong Kong uses MTR and Taipei uses MRT. As a dyslexic I say either one in either city and hope that it comes across as “frequent flyer confusion” rather than just general confusion! These systems are highly similar: lifts, platforms, lettered exit systems are all copied and pasted between the two cities. I’d give both transport systems 10/10 for efficiency, 10/10 for ease, 10/10 for everything in English.
Whilst I was in Taipei I was lucky enough to live five minutes away from a night market. Night markets are renowned as being authentically Taiwanese and are magical places to visit – you’ll find rows upon rows of stalls dedicated to every kind of snack food and dishes. My personal favourite was 煎餃 (jian jiao) crispy fried dumplings from a stall in the middle of Shida Night Market. These night markets are relatively food-focused, and whilst there are other kinds of stalls available, you’re only really visiting for one thing and one thing only: the 美食 (mei shi = beautiful food). In Hong Kong, the markets are far more diverse in terms of their offerings, from fake designer products to yarn, and from posters to drones, the world of consumer goods is at your fingertips in these markets. Want some fake AirPods? Head to Sham Shui Po. In need of a Chanel-print face mask? Head to Ladies Market. Looking for a Halloween costume in April? Head to the markets. With markets being a pan-Asian cultural experience, it would be exceptionally remiss not to enjoy whatever fare these markets have to offer.
Both Taipei and Hong Kong have cheap and delicious places on every corner, so much so that eating out is often more common than eating in. Thai, Indonesian, Korean, Japanese cuisines to name a few, are all deliciously and gratuitously available throughout both cities. Hong Kong has 點心 (dim sum= little pieces of the heart) and Taipei has their version 熱炒 (rechao), both which consist of dishes upon dishes of all sorts of tastes, textures, and culinary experiences. I would say that Hong Kong has some pretty authentic Taiwanese food, whereas great dim sum is slightly harder to find in Taipei.
To balance out the gluttony conveyed in the previous section, the next similarity is significantly healthier. The outdoors activities that I’d take part in on my weekends run along the same lines in both Taipei and Hong Kong. This includes hikes, swimming, beaches, and cycling, hikes to beaches, cycles to hikes… These are all variations on the same idea that you must spend at least some of your weekend out in the sea or up in the mountains in both places. Taipei has the benefit of being in the island of Taiwan – a much larger region than Hong Kong – and not only does it have the highest mountains in North-East Asia, but there are also two different climates on the island. This means that you can have your beach holiday in the subtropical south, as well as your jungle adventure in the North without having to cross any borders. That being said, whilst Hong Kong might not have the same land area, the sheer amount of beaches, hikes, outlying islands and outdoor activities to take part in is exceptional, especially considering it is all right on your doorstep.
Having discussed outdoors activities, we should now consider the weather. Taipei is rather unfortunately sat in a basin that collects pollution blown in from China – if you think the humidity in Hong Kong is bad, at its worst, Taipei can be like walking through polluted soup. Being on the coast, Hong Kong is considerably more breezy than Taipei, and rains a lot less. To be honest, I know very little about meteorological matters, but I can tell you that autumn in Hong Kong has felt like one gloriously long Indian summer.
Having studied Chinese at university, it was pretty wild to arrive in Hong Kong and not understand a single word. I’m pretty confident with my Mandarin, but I still desperately try to decipher the Cantonese dialect when I’m in a lift or on the MTR. Cue the Cantonese lessons and cracking out my old friend, the index finger, in restaurants. Although I haven’t quite grasped the language of Hong Kong yet, I have thoroughly been enjoying some Cantonese lessons, not just for the language but also the cultural information that comes along with it.
The final difference I’ve found in my experiences of these two east Asian cities is the lifestyle as a whole. For me, the major difference between expat life in Taipei and Hong Kong is the western lifestyle and home comforts that I have been able to find in Hong Kong. Here western food, appliances, books, cafes, and social life are all highly accessible. In Hong Kong, it is fairly easy to live the same life as you’d have in the west, just in an Asian setting. In Taipei, these kinds of things are available, but at a real premium, and they are a lot harder to find. I do now appreciate how this really pushed me to live a Taiwanese lifestyle whilst I was there. In Hong Kong, I like to think I make an effort, but it is incredibly easy to have your boujee brunch on a Sunday morning and end up in the company of just foreigners. That being said, it is very comforting to know that if I have a sudden craving for some camembert, I can just nip down to M&S and buy some.
To finish this off, I wrote a Haiku to express how I feel:
North-east city with island,
humid, aboriginal, subtropical to dense, diverse, cosmopolitan,
south-west islands with city.
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