For one week in October, China is in complete disarray as travelers take over every airport, train station and bus stop. This is all due to China’s seven-day national holiday called Golden Week. While some of my peers bravely decided to stay inside China during this chaotic week to travel through the country’s more mountainous and scenic cities, a handful of us secured our residence permits so that we could exit the country and travel to places like Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Japan. I spent my week in Tokyo and Taipei.
Upon my arrival into Japan, I could immediately tell how different it was from China. While Shanghai is definitely one of the most modern cities in China, Tokyo seemed to blow it out of the water. There was fast, reliable Wi-Fi at every corner of the city, and no firewall-blocking access to certain sites, a great change in pace from VPN-necessary China. Efficiency is clearly taken very seriously, as many restaurants have a vending machine ordering system rather than actual servers who take your order. There were many, many trains — yes trains, not a subway system — that ran like clockwork and could always be counted on.
What I found most interesting was that even when trains were packed at rush hour, there seemed to be some order to the chaos. In Shanghai during rush hour, there’s a lot of pushing and shoving and line-cutting, but that didn’t seem to be the case in Tokyo. Although yes, at times, the trains were so packed that I thanked my tall genes for allowing me to breathe the air above, the trains were also very quiet and everyone remained calm.
But China does have one thing up on Tokyo: the cost of food. After being in Shanghai for a month, I got really used to spending very little on food, usually around $2 or $3, so the cost of meals in Tokyo, which was about the same as in the United States, seemed crazy to me. To be fair, though, I was eating some top-notch ramen and curry. If your sight-seeing in Tokyo doesn’t involve food, you’re doing Tokyo wrong.
Like Japan, Taiwan is known for its food, and there’s no place better than a night market to try some 小吃 (xiao chi), or snacks. Having spent a majority of my summer in Taipei, I knew exactly which foods I was returning for: scallion pancakes and shaved ice. And what’s nice is that the cost of food in Taiwan is about the same as in China. But that’s about all the two countries have in common.
Some of the many differences between the two countries include that Taiwan uses traditional characters and China uses simplified characters. Taiwan is much cleaner than China (you can’t eat or drink on the subway), which is actually pretty surprising because you’ll rarely find a trashcan. Like Tokyo, Taipei also seems more modern and efficient.
However, my absolute favorite thing about Taiwan is how small it is. You can hike a mountain and go to the beach all in the same day. Taiwan is truly the hidden gem of Asia: it has the best food, the most beautiful landscape and the kindest people.