January means journey. We think there’s no better way to start the year than travel and take advantage of the “non-peak” season between yuletide and the Lunar New Year.
For a change, I spent two lovely weekends in Taiwan and Macau, both part of the Greater China region and just a spitting distance from the territory, which explains why they are popular destinations among Hong Kong people.
My early morning flight to Taiwan last Thursday took more than an hour, but time flew because I met so many friends and ex-colleagues I haven’t come across for years.
Taiwan authorities have been exceptionally generous in hosting a wide range of tours for different constituencies in the run-up to the general elections, a way of letting other people sample the island’s fresh air of democracy.
Many Hong Kong people – reporters, commentators, teachers, students and politicians – took the bait because it was indeed something we could not buy no matter how well off we were.
Democracy is like drugs: once you get hooked, you’ll want more. I am sure many of you would agree with Winston Churchill’s dictum: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”
In recent years, many Taiwan and Hong Kong people find that democracy, or fighting for it, is the best way to fend off Beijing’s growing assertiveness.
Like the rest of the world, we are scared and try to stay away from mainland tourists. We are scared and also try to stay away from the street food in China (but not Taiwan).
Besides, we cannot live in a Chinese city where there’s no Google or Facebook (or Apple Daily, for quite a few people I know).
More importantly, we can’t read books about the scandals involving Chinese leaders in China, but we know how important it is to respect the rights of those who write and distribute those books, and ensure their safety.
It is perhaps this common thought that draws Hong Kong and Taiwan together. For example, both played up the story about a 16-year-old singer who inadvertently raised the Taiwan national flag, which may have displeased China and helped the Democratic Progressive Party trounce the ruling Kuomintang in the recent election.
Some people may dismiss Taiwan politics as a contact sport with lawmakers engaging in fisticuffs in the halls of the Legislative Yuan, but there’s no denying that democracy is alive and well on the island.
In fact, the poll victory of DPP standard bearer Tsai Ing-wen may signal the rise of soft power as the best way to fight for democracy. Let’s just wait a few more years and see if this theory works.
Macau has undergone a lot of surprising changes, too.
When we arrived at the former Portuguese enclave on a Friday evening, the immigration queues were virtually empty and we got through in no more than a minute.
The same thing happened outside the ferry terminal: We no longer had to wait half an hour for a taxi – thanks to a sharp drop in arrivals from the mainland.
That puts the casino city back to where it was in the pre-casino deregulation era. Walking past the almost empty Grand Lisboa baccarat tables and slot machines both on Friday and Saturday night, we were shocked by the eerie quietude of the place.
That may augur ill for Macau investors, but probably the best scenario for tourists looking for a quiet place to spend the weekend.
It is certainly much more fun to explore the non-casino part of the city on the Macau Peninsula, than visiting the two latest gaming facilities – Macau Studio City and Galaxy Macau Phase Two in Taipa – both of which are badly in need of visitors.
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