Hong Kong people who have migrated to Taiwan advise those who want to follow them to think very carefully.
They said it is hard to find a job, wages are stagnant and below those in Hong Kong and society here is different in many ways that they did not imagine.
“If you emigrate to Canada or Australia, you know they will be different from Hong Kong,” said Kia Pang who moved to Taiwan in May 2012 and opened the Canopy Café & Lifestyle with her husband Raymond.
“We think that, because we are Chinese, Taiwan will be the same. It is not.”
The number of Hong Kong migrants to Taiwan is increasing.
According to figures from Taiwan’s Interior Ministry, 64,218 people from Hong Kong and Macau received permission to settle or stay in Taiwan between 1991 and the end of September 2013.
The peak year was 4,624 in 2013 compared with 3,908 in 2012 and 2,995 in 2011. The previous record was 3,974 in 1991 in the aftermath of the military crackdown in Beijing in June 1989.
Driving people to leave are soaring property prices, political deadlock and the “mainlandization” of their city, with increasing numbers of mainland migrants and interference by Beijing officials.
Migrants see Taiwan as the one comfortable and welcoming Chinese alternative.
“It is hard for Hong Kong people to find work,” said Dominic Ng, managing director of CTX Special Risks, who has lived in Taiwan since 2001. “They have less and less competitive advantages.”
As Taiwan’s economic dependence on China rises, the importance of English has diminished and that of Mandarin has increased; many Hong Kong people are weak in this respect.
“Taiwan is very strong in IT and creative industries. There are many talented people here, but wages are low. Finance is one industry in which Hong Kong people have an edge,” he said.
The average wage for a person who has just graduated from university is NT$22,000. The average salary has not increased for more than 11 years.
This makes people reluctant to spend. “When we opened our coffee shop, no one came,” said Kia.
“People are conservative in their spending and we were advised not to canvas customers at the door. The main way I bring in customers is through Facebook. I write a report each day of my life, of what the man in the vegetable stall said. People are curious.”
In March 2014, Tong Gin-yip announced the closure of his seven branches of 13 Seats, a popular chain of meat intestine restaurants in Hong Kong, because of soaring rents and wages and the difficulties of retaining qualified staff.
He moved his business to the night market of Shilin, in north Taipei and has had to adapt the taste and style of his dishes to meet the tastes of Taiwan people.
“Hong Kong people absolutely should not have a sense of romance and idealism toward Taiwan and imagine that it is easy to open a coffee house or small restaurant,” said Tang.
“The market here is very practical. The customers decide if a product is good or bad.”
Kia and Raymond know this at first hand. She is a lifestyle journalist and he a photographer, neither with professional experience in catering.
In May 2012, they moved to Taipei and rented a shop space for NT$60,000 a month in a bustling district close to National Taiwan and Taiwan Normal Universities.
The first contractor they contacted heard their thick Hong Kong accents and offered to decorate the space for NT$3 million.
So Raymond did the design himself; they finally spent NT$1.8 million on creating the artistic space they wanted, including high quality imported furniture. “We could not open such a coffee shop in Hong Kong,” she said.
At the beginning, business was slow. Taipei has coffee shops on every corner, including chains like Starbucks with 240 branches on the island, cheap outlets for students who need somewhere bright to work and personalised shops like that of Raymond and Kia, where customers like to talk to the owners.
Gradually, through hard work, high quality coffee and cuisine and Facebook, they have built up a loyal clientele. Most are working women between 35 and 55.
They have two full-time staff, to whom they pay a monthly salary of NT$30,000, with an additional NT$5,000 for labor and health insurance and pensions. They distinguish themselves from other coffee shops by a distinctive design, layout and ambience and by regularly organising cultural events.
“Our expectations were too high and then went down,” Kia said. “Now they are stable, even though we have debt. We are increasingly happy,”
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