Singapore Adventure

Monday, April 24, 2006

One World Is Enough
by jima

"Which do you like better: Shanghai or Taipei?"


It's both a common and a fair question, for I've spent time in each city, worked in each, vacationed in each, eaten delicious and frightening food in each, and gloried in the non-Singaporean weather of each. [Pictured: incredibly frightening Shanghai street food (tofu, eggs, rice dumplings, and assorted fish balls) which I did not eat and hence lived to see my 39th birthday.]

Each city scrambles to put a better face on its "China", and there are many little differences between Shanghai and Taipei. Shanghai provides magnificent architecture, lovely Chinese gardens, and the blatant censorship I expect of a communist state. Taipei supplies incredible seafood, a best-in-the-world museum, and the expensive taxis I expect... of a market economy? [Pictured: the view from the 88th floor observatory of Shanghai's to the lobby of its Hyatt hotel, more than 30 floors below.]

Differences pale, however, next to vast similarities. Both Shanghai and Taiwan are sprawling metropolitan areas, densely populated with Asians who speak multiple languages and dialects, none of which I comprehend in the least. Both are reasonably safe and relatively clean. I'm glad never to have driven in either, as both have plentiful taxis and excellent mass transit systems.

The similarity that amazes me the most, however, is that neither city seems all that foreign. Two years ago, on my first trip to Taipei, I was wowed by its foreignness. I marveled at the scooters and the skyscrapers and the pollution and the food and the people and my inability to do something as simple as read. I returned home to Colorado and told Venitha we could never live there.

Today, Taipei is practically a second home, and this year, on my first trip to Shanghai, I was wowed first by the fact that I was in China and then by the contradictory fact that it wasn't any big deal. I use chopsticks with ease, I understand metro train systems, and I know to have my hotel's concierge write umpteen taxi destination cards for me. Venitha told me I should push for a short-term transfer to either city, just for a month or two in spring or fall, as she fantasizes about a welcome escape from the heat of Singapore.

All this ease has a price, however, and I'm saddened to find myself no longer awed by wet markets, no longer entertained to be the only Caucasian in a train station teeming with Asians, and no longer taken with by the beauty of Chinese characters.

Which do I like better: the ease of experience or the amazement of novelty?