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Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan
Luang Prabang, 06-Jan-2005
We had decided to head to Northern Thailand and Laos for the Christmas and New Year season in order to avoid the crowds on the Thai islands. What a fortunate decision that turns out to have been! I will be writing about our experiences in Thailand in the next update, but in order to maintain the chronological order of events this is our travel update on Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
It had been 12 years since I last set foot in Hong Kong. Back then, in 1992, the territory was still under British rule. In spite of the Chinese flag now flying over Hong Kong surprisingly little has changed in its commercial culture, it is still a bustling city where you can get whatever you want 24 hours a day.
The skyline, which in 1992 was already quite impressive is now even more so. The Bank of China building, which at the time was the tallest is now dwarfed by even taller buildings. Hong Kong has not stopped, it has grown. Hong Kong is also the biggest investor in mainland China, creating an interdependence between the two.
Fortunately none of the Chinese media restrictions apply to Hong Kong, instead the Hong Kong media is accused of applying self censorship. But at least the Internet is unhindered by Chinese censorship and even the Falung Gong, using very graphic photos and films, loudly protest Chinese atrocities against its members on many street corners.
The former Portuguese colony of Macau, just across the Pearl river delta, has its own little economic boom going on, mostly on the back of legalized gambling.
Fortunately Macau has some other attractions that make it a pleasant side trip from Hong Kong. These include some colonial architecture, a more relaxed atmosphere and an excellent cuisine. The latter being a blend of Chinese and Mediterranean cuisine.
Our Chinese travels began and ended in Taiwan. The capital, Taipei, has what is currently the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101. It has 101 stories and is 508 meters high. It was not yet opened when we visited, but it will soon be overtaken as an even taller building is being built in Shanghai.
On our return trip we planned to visit Taroko Gorge but got hit by a typhoon yet again, this time by typhoon Nanmadol after it had wreaked havoc and claimed many lives in the Philippines! We got stuck in the town of Hualien, where we spent the rainy days in Internet Cafes. This gave us time to write our previous travel update.
When we thought the weather was finally getting better, we tried to visit the gorge, only to find out that the roads were blocked by boulders and rock slides caused by the heavy rainfall.
We had to wait another day for the roads to be cleared in order to be able to visit the gorge, before hurrying back to Taipei to catch our flight to Bangkok.
There was once a plan to build a hydroelectric power plant in Taroko Gorge that would have destroyed the gorge (much like what happened with the Three Gorges in China), but this plan was fortunately defeated. After all the Taiwanese government, unlike its Chinese counterpart, does need to take account of public opinion.
The gorge itself is of marble and granite. Not surprisingly Hualien is a mayor export center for this kind of stone. In fact marble seems to be so cheap here that many sidewalks are made of the stuff!
During our last evening in Taipei, we visited the Hwashi Night Market, also known as Snake Alley. It was rather gruesome as we first saw a video of someone skinning a snake. It was was still alive while a cord was tied to its head with which it was then hung from the ceiling. Then an incision was made below the head from where its skin was pulled off. The snake twisted from what must have been agonizing pain! A little later scissors were used to make incisions in the veins for the snake's blood to flow out into a jar. Supposedly snake blood is an aphrodisiac. They seriously thought that we might buy some after seeing that video!
In another shop turtle heads, freshly cut off lay twisting, while their headless shells lay motionlessly bleeding beside them.
We were disgusted.
We left Taiwan as the election campaign was in full swing. Taiwan is a fully democratic country, but has no seat in the U.N. thanks to Chinese bullying. Only some 20 small countries have had the guts to recognize Taiwan, though they seem to be getting handsome development aid from Taiwan in exchange.
President Cheng of Taiwan is the first president to speak Taiwanese instead of Mandarin. This underscores his desire to make Taiwan formally independent. Taiwanese is related to Fujian. Fujian province is where the first wave of Chinese immigrants to the island came from many centuries ago.
In all the Asian countries we have visited so far, a very pleasant aspect of life is the level of service. Many shops are open till late in the evening or even 24 hours. A pleasant change from all the shopping hour restrictions that we have to live with in most European countries.
I sometimes wonder what will become of Europe when I see all those hard working Chinese!
In the long term though there is an obvious way in which we will benefit. Take the aging population in Europe. One of the problems that this will create is that of future pensions.
Those countries that have asset backed pension systems, such as The Netherlands, The United Kingdom and Switzerland, save and invest now in order to be able to spend in the future, by selling those assets. But when there are not enough young people to buy those assets when you retire, those assets risk becoming worthless. No prizes for guessing who will have the money to buy those assets from us when we retire: the Chinese.
Do not ask me, what will happen to pensions in those countries, such as France, Germany and Italy, that do not capitalize pensions but instead tax those who work to pay for current pensions. They will not have anything to sell to the Chinese when the time comes and not enough people will be working to pay for all those pensioners...
If you would like to be notified or no longer want to be notified of our travel updates please e-mail me.
e-mail Otto de Voogd
To my knowledge the information provided here was accurate at the time of our visit. However time passes and things can change.
All ATMs that I tried to use in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan worked with my bankcard (Maestro).
Macau: English language travel books: PageOne in Taipei 101 mall on the 4th floor. There is really a lot of choice! It is always good to be able to buy your travel guides for the next destination so that you don't have to carry them from your own country while you do not yet need them!
Hong Kong: English language travel books: Swindon Book Co. 13-15 Lock road. Has a reasonable selection of guides.
Taiwan - Dollar, 1 USD = 32.87 TWD, 1 EUR = 42.60 TWD
Taipei: Kuo Kuang Motor Transport Company Ltd.
Hong Kong - Dollar, 1 USD = 7.78 HKD (pegged at 7.80 HKD), 1 EUR = 10.08 HKD
Chinese visa: We got ours, at Shoestring travel, 27-33 Nathan Road, Alpha
house, 4th floor, Kowloon for 440 HKD per person (in 2 days). The single entry
visa is valid for 1 month from the day of issue. There are also double or
multiple entry visas, and there is a next day visa available, all at higher
Kowloon: The Great Wall Guest House, Mirador Mansion 7F, D2, 54-64 Nathan
Road: 200 HKD for 2 persons. Better quality than the other guest houses we
Macau - Pataca, 1 USD = 8.00 MOP, 1 EUR = 10.57 MOP (the Pataca is pegged to the Hong Kong Dollar at 103 MOP for 100 HKD). You can use HK Dollars everywhere in Macau as if they are equivalent to Patacas.
Macau: Hotel Ko Wah, No71 Rua da Felicidade 3/F: 150 MOP (discount rate)
quite noisy people in the corridor at night and in morning.
Taiwan - Dollar, 1 USD = 32.87 TWD, 1 EUR = 42.60 HKD
A train schedule can be bought from the 7-eleven at the Taipei station.
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