When Clara, the Hong Kong wife of a Taiwanese, went to the immigration office to apply for her residence permit, the officer asked: “Is yours a fake marriage?”
It was one of many unpleasant surprises she has had since arriving in her new country.
“The culture gap between here and Hong Kong is very wide. It has been a big shock. My husband said that Taiwan was a good place to live. But there are many subtle problems.”
Clara is well educated and works in a financial institution. She and other Hong Kong people who have chosen to settle on the island describe a society that looks and sounds similar to the one they left but is, they discover, very distinct.
The island is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Hong Kong citizens. In 2012 and 2013 respectively, it attracted 907,000 and 787,000 Hong Kong visitors. They come for its cuisine, shopping, hot springs, beaches and mountains, museums and, above all, the warmth and humor of its people.
Most leave with an impression of a society that is softer and more humane than their own and where people have more time for each other. For those considering emigration, it seems to have a great deal to offer, especially since it is a Chinese society that uses Mandarin as the main language.
What is more, the Taiwan government welcomes migrants from Hong Kong, offering them terms for migration more favorable than for people from the mainland; it allows them to become citizens, provided they meet certain criteria.
But the reality is more complicated, say Hong Kong people who have taken the plunge and moved to the island.
“Taiwan is more traditional. The wife must listen and follow the husband and her mother-in-law,” Clara said.
Kia Peng, who moved to Taiwan in 2012 and opened a coffee shop with her husband in the university district of Taipei, said: “Confucianism is strong in Taiwan – men are better than women and older people are more important than younger ones.”
Dominic Ng, who has lived in Taiwan since 2001 and is managing director of CTX Special Risks, said one reason is the fact that, previously, men had to serve in the military for two years. “They get used to respecting their seniors, as they did in the army.”
Clara said Taiwan people do not have an international mindset. “They do not always welcome outsiders; tourists are fine but not new immigrants. A person told me that I was stealing their resources and that my Chinese was not good. He was looking for something to criticize.
They treat you better if you speak English. They are polite to westerners.”
Kia said one reason is the dominance of local news in the media. “The news is less and less international. To find such news, we have to watch BBC and CNN or arrange a satellite to watch Hong Kong television.”
Clara said this defensive attitude to outsiders is linked to a sense of inferiority. “They did not have this inferiority in the 1980s, when their economy was linked to those of Japan, the US and Europe. But now their economy is dependent on the mainland and many of these best jobs have migrated there. Those under the age of 50 are unhappy.”
Ng said Taiwan people resent the mainland for oppressing them. “They believe they are a country but that they have less and less international space.”
They also noted that Taiwan people could be inflexible.
While the Hong Kong government is fast and efficient, Taiwan’s various official departments are not well coordinated, Clara said. “To obtain an identity card requires a great deal of paper. The resources are very fragmented.”
The inflexible mindset has much to do with the practice of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), a concept taught in business schools to facilitate production and manage companies.
“This is good for running a factory and producing an item of a consistent quality,” said Ng. Taiwan people are good at this. But this is not a good mindset for services, in which Hong Kong is better.
Asked what advice she would give to people in Hong Kong thinking of migrating to Taiwan, Clara said: “They should think very carefully. Think of your economic ability and what job you will be able to do. Prepare for a very big culture gap and a big shock. And prepare for a big and not integrated bureaucracy.
“But, if you are retired, this is a good place – and live somewhere other than Taipei, where costs of living are lower.”
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