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Chieh-Ting Yeh

Translation: Han Han Says Hong Kong, Taiwan "Protecting Chinese Civilization"

Han Han

The below are translated excerpts from a recent blog entry (Chinese) by China’s most famous young writer, Han Han

Winds of the Pacific 

Taipei stood before me like a labyrinth, just like any other city to any other traveler. My companion needed a new pair of eyeglasses, so we walked into a shop near National Taiwan University. Instead of a cute Taiwanese girl, we got to talk to the storeowner himself. My companion picked out a pair, but we were told it wouldn’t be ready for a few days.

“Sorry but I’m only in Taiwan for three days, I need something now,” my friend said. The storeowner reached into the cabinet and pulled out a box of contact lenses and handed it over to us. “My apologies, sorry couldn’t help you, why don’t you take this for now?”

I was stunned. Our first reaction was—man, what’s going on, where’s the catch?   

We walked into another shop next door, where they promised to get the glasses done the next day. They also took my friend’s old lenses and put together a make-shift pair and told us to use it for tonight. Both were very ordinary shops on the street, but we left wondering if the authorities purposely arranged all this to impress us with a fake sense of Taiwanese hospitality. 

Another anecdote came when I took a taxi to Yangmingshan, a national park north of downtown Taipei. I had accidentally left my phone in the taxi. After friends tried calling the hotel and taxi company, the hotel told us that a cab driver was just there to drop off a phone left his in car. To tell the truth, I didn’t know how to react. I called him up to offer him a reward.

“What do you mean? This is how we always do it.” He said. He also told me that he just came back from a trip around the island with some friends, and plans to go to the mainland in the near future.

“Hey I have QQ and Sina Weibo accounts, what’s yours? We can keep talking online.” He asked. That moment, I felt like the two sides couldn’t be closer. “By the way I also have Facebook, I can add you as a friend!” 

“Sorry, uh, we don’t have Facebook in the mainland.” 

“Oh yeah, that’s right.” He said. “Sorry I’ve gotta go pick someone up, talk to you later.”

Maybe I am just lucky to run into really nice people. Maybe my experiences are just isolated incidents. If I stayed a few more days, surely I will see the decrepit infrastructure, the toxic forms of populism, the dissatisfaction of the people, the paradoxes in the society. There are no perfect places, no perfect institutions, no perfect cultures. Within the Chinese-speaking world, maybe it’s not the best, but we’ve got nothing better for now.

I don’t want to delve into the politics. As a writer from the mainland, I just feel lost. A pervasive feeling of loss. The society I grew up in spent a few decades teaching us to be violent and vengeful, and then a few more decades teaching us to be selfish and greedy. Our parents destroyed our culture, our ethics, our ability to trust, our faith and consensus, but failed to build the utopia that was promised. We may have no choice but to keep doing the same things. As a writer, I have to constantly worry about whether my words will step on some line somewhere. I assume people have ulterior motives when they treat me with warmth. Other than self-survival and competition, we have lost interest in everything else. This is how we have come to define ourselves.

Yes, I have to thank Hong Kong and Taiwan, for protecting Chinese civilization. Even when we have the Ritz Carlton and the Peninsula, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, wives of local officials with more money than their leaders, movie budgets 20 or 30 times theirs, the World’s Fair and the Olympics, but, on the streets of Taipei, I didn’t feel any bit of pride. Whatever we have, they already had; whatever we are proud of, their taxpayers will never approve; whatever we should be proud of, we’ve already lost.

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Chieh-Ting Yeh

Chieh-Ting Yeh was born in Taiwan but grew up in New York and Boston. He was active in Taiwanese American student circles and was part of the Harvard Asia Law Society. When he is not thinking about the relationship between Taiwan and China, he cooks and watches epic Japanese dramas. He is currently based in Silicon Valley.
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  • Sticktothetruth

    It seems to me that
    people like to continuously report the bad side of mainland China and totally
    ignore the good side of it. Didn’t you know that one swallow doesn’t make a summer?? Be
    aware that who you wanna be is mainly decided by yourself. AND the dark side of
    Taiwan & Hong Kong wouldn’t do so much better than that of mainland China.

  • Sticktothetruth

    It seems to me that
    people like to continuously report the bad side of mainland China and totally
    ignore the good side of it. Didn’t you know that one swallow doesn’t make a summer?? Be
    aware that who you wanna be is mainly decided by yourself. AND the dark side of
    Taiwan & Hong Kong wouldn’t do so much better than that of mainland China.

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  • Huey Ly

    Hi, I want to share something from the view of a Chinese-American experiencing living in China for the first time.
    I can see Han Han’s point regarding Hong Kong.  I grew up in the U.S. since I was 9 (I’m 34 now), so moving to China was a bit of a culture shock.  I have been living in Xi’an for about a year, but have visited a whole bunch of places around the country: Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Chongqing, Changsha, Hanzhong, Shenzhen, Macau, Hong Kong, and a few other small towns I’ve forgotten the names of. To me, the atmosphere in Hong Kong compared to the rest of China is almost night and day.When I’m in Hong Kong, which is about one weekend a month, I don’t have to dodge people spitting around me, walk around piles of trash and litter, smell the stench of urine in certain public places, fear for my life when crossing the street even though the “Walk” sign is on, fight to get on buses or subways, have taxis stolen, being cut in line, people smoking in elevators …. and a bunch of other things that can make it really annoying to live here sometimes.Bear in mind, I’m not trying to make fun or criticize (I grew up in conditions that are much worse), these are observations.  They’r annoyances as best, and you get those everywhere, even in the U.S.And yes, Hong Kong, like all other places, also have its share of bad stuff.  It just seems to me there are less of them in HK then the rest of China.Let me add a little story to illustrate my point.  I dropped my wallet on a public bus today in Hong Kong, but I didn’t realize it until I was crossing the border to Shenzhen.  I called the hotel I stayed at to see if I dropped it in the lobby.  When they didn’t find it I guessed that I must’ve dropped it on the bus, since I remembered having to take out the Octopus card to pay for the fare.The staff at the hotel called the mini-bus headquarter for me, I had no idea of what to do and I was already checked out and a long way away.  Well it turned out I did drop it on the bus, and someone picked it up and handed it to the driver.  The driver then turned it in at the office in the central station.  The hotel manager contacted me via email (I was in Shenzhen by this time, assuming that my wallet was gone for good), and he asked for my authorization to retrieve the wallet on my behalf since I couldn’t make it back in time.  They then send someone across town to the central bus station and brought my wallet back to the hotel.  I eventually made my way back to the hotel and got my wallet back, with everything still in it!I think, if this were to happen in Xi’an or any of the other cities I’ve visited, forget about it.So yes, I agree with the article.  There are certainly good-hearted people in Hong Kong.  I’ve never been to Taiwan, but I plan to soon.  It sounds like a great place.

    Huey Lyp.s. I want to end my comment in a more uplifting note.  I love my time in China so far.  I’ve met so many great people and have had so many awesome experiences.  Despite the annoying stuff mentioned, other redeeming qualities make up for it.   Strong family ties and bonds of friendships seems more abundance here than in the U.S.  Not to mention the festive quality on the streets at night, the sense of history and culture, beautiful landscapes (like Huashan), and a bunch of other things uniquely Chinese!  And oh!  Also, the food is great!

    Wheew that was a long comment.  I got carried away.

  • Huey Ly

    Hi, I want to share something from the view of a Chinese-American experiencing living in China for the first time.
    I can see Han Han’s point regarding Hong Kong.  I grew up in the U.S. since I was 9 (I’m 34 now), so moving to China was a bit of a culture shock.  I have been living in Xi’an for about a year, but have visited a whole bunch of places around the country: Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Chongqing, Changsha, Hanzhong, Shenzhen, Macau, Hong Kong, and a few other small towns I’ve forgotten the names of. To me, the atmosphere in Hong Kong compared to the rest of China is almost night and day.When I’m in Hong Kong, which is about one weekend a month, I don’t have to dodge people spitting around me, walk around piles of trash and litter, smell the stench of urine in certain public places, fear for my life when crossing the street even though the “Walk” sign is on, fight to get on buses or subways, have taxis stolen, being cut in line, people smoking in elevators …. and a bunch of other things that can make it really annoying to live here sometimes.Bear in mind, I’m not trying to make fun or criticize (I grew up in conditions that are much worse), these are observations.  They’r annoyances as best, and you get those everywhere, even in the U.S.And yes, Hong Kong, like all other places, also have its share of bad stuff.  It just seems to me there are less of them in HK then the rest of China.Let me add a little story to illustrate my point.  I dropped my wallet on a public bus today in Hong Kong, but I didn’t realize it until I was crossing the border to Shenzhen.  I called the hotel I stayed at to see if I dropped it in the lobby.  When they didn’t find it I guessed that I must’ve dropped it on the bus, since I remembered having to take out the Octopus card to pay for the fare.The staff at the hotel called the mini-bus headquarter for me, I had no idea of what to do and I was already checked out and a long way away.  Well it turned out I did drop it on the bus, and someone picked it up and handed it to the driver.  The driver then turned it in at the office in the central station.  The hotel manager contacted me via email (I was in Shenzhen by this time, assuming that my wallet was gone for good), and he asked for my authorization to retrieve the wallet on my behalf since I couldn’t make it back in time.  They then send someone across town to the central bus station and brought my wallet back to the hotel.  I eventually made my way back to the hotel and got my wallet back, with everything still in it!I think, if this were to happen in Xi’an or any of the other cities I’ve visited, forget about it.So yes, I agree with the article.  There are certainly good-hearted people in Hong Kong.  I’ve never been to Taiwan, but I plan to soon.  It sounds like a great place.

    Huey Lyp.s. I want to end my comment in a more uplifting note.  I love my time in China so far.  I’ve met so many great people and have had so many awesome experiences.  Despite the annoying stuff mentioned, other redeeming qualities make up for it.   Strong family ties and bonds of friendships seems more abundance here than in the U.S.  Not to mention the festive quality on the streets at night, the sense of history and culture, beautiful landscapes (like Huashan), and a bunch of other things uniquely Chinese!  And oh!  Also, the food is great!

    Wheew that was a long comment.  I got carried away.

  • Buruge

    Many years ago I went to Shanghai to Study for a semester at a Chinese university, while roaming the streets a few block off the Bund the screw fell out of my sunglasses, I spied a man who was selling sunglasses out of a small storefront and asked him in my less-than-perfect Chinese if he could fix them. He couldn’t as he was only selling them and had no repair facilities, but he closed his shop and guided me through a labyrinth of back alleyways to a shop that could. He waited with me while the shop owner repaired them at a cost of 2 jiao (.2RMB) and then guided me back to Nanjing Rd. I tried to offer him some money for his time away from his sunglasses stand, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He just smiled, shook my hand and said, “it was nothing.” There are good people everywhere!

  • Buruge

    Many years ago I went to Shanghai to Study for a semester at a Chinese university, while roaming the streets a few block off the Bund the screw fell out of my sunglasses, I spied a man who was selling sunglasses out of a small storefront and asked him in my less-than-perfect Chinese if he could fix them. He couldn’t as he was only selling them and had no repair facilities, but he closed his shop and guided me through a labyrinth of back alleyways to a shop that could. He waited with me while the shop owner repaired them at a cost of 2 jiao (.2RMB) and then guided me back to Nanjing Rd. I tried to offer him some money for his time away from his sunglasses stand, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He just smiled, shook my hand and said, “it was nothing.” There are good people everywhere!