Why are so Many Hongkongers Moving to Taiwan?

By Nick Westra / 1 October 2017 / SCMP

The cha chaan teng (tea cafes) started by Michael Lee in 1999 could be carbon copies of those that punctuate street corners in North Point and Mong Kok. Staple foods like century egg and pork congee, pan-fried radish cakes and French toast with thick slabs of butter are dished out around the clock to customers in Art Deco seating areas adorned with posters dripping with nostalgia for Hong Kong, the city after which the chain is named. But one thing is out of place: the cafes are 800km away, in Taipei.

Lee, who is from Hong Kong, attributes the chain’s staying power to its authentic Cantonese style. Refusing to cut corners, he even carried fresh yellow lemons back from Hong Kong after opening his first cafe, rather than use the green ones native to Taiwan. Lee now has three cafes, serving a combined 1,500 customers per day.

Once a year, he returns to Hong Kong to visit family and keep up with the latest trends in Cantonese cooking. After first arriving in Taiwan in 1983, however, he now considers the island his home.

“The first few years I really missed Hong Kong, the food, my friends, everything,” Lee said. “But it’s been long enough now that my heart stays in Taiwan.”

Moves like Lee’s are becoming increasingly popular. In the 10 years up to the end of 2016, Taiwan granted permanent residency to 6,652 people from Hong Kong and Macau. One in three of those residencies were granted in the final two years of that period. Visitors from the two Special Administrative Regions have also surged, increasing nearly fourfold from 2006 to more than 1,350,000 in 2015.

For all its economic dynamism, Hong Kong has become burdened by rising living costs, increasing influence from the mainland and deteriorating environmental conditions. The Umbrella Movement protests of 2014 highlighted residents’ concerns and some are now ready to leave altogether. A Chinese University of Hong Kong survey in September 2016 found nearly two in five Hongkongers would leave the city if given the chance. The most desired destination was Taiwan, followed by Australia and Canada.

Taiwan offers a level of familiarity to many of those seeking greener pastures. Like Hong Kong, it is steeped in Confucian culture, offers a robust culinary scene and uses traditional Chinese characters, although most people speak standard Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien rather than Cantonese. Read more…

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