In this age of media tsunamis and the resultant information famines, nothing beats the primacy of first-hand experience to be informed of the ways of the world. Taiwan is the next stop in my travels around Greater China, after having breathed in the cities of Beijing, Chaozhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Xi’an, along the SARs of Macau and Hong Kong.
Each city has imbued in me valuable lessons of the Chinese mind, and Taiwan is no different.
Taiwan quite simply can be seen as a case study of a democratised and liberalised Chinese people that were never colonised by western powers – a must visit to widen my understanding of the Chinese spectrum.
Formerly known as Formosa, Taiwan was rather unfairly (like arguably all the treaties during China’s century of humiliation) ceded to the Japanese Empire by the weakening Qing Empire of China (Treaty of Shimonoseki) after the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895.
Today of course, Taiwan stands at the contention of the two-Chinas dichotomy, and often used as a proxy chess piece by the US. Governed by the ‘losing side’ of the Chinese civil war, it is a useful study of what China could have been.
Day 1 was taken up by an activity that few Taiwanese would dispute as a favourite activity – eating. Time to get the touristy stuff out of the way first.
- Greeted at Taoyuan Airport 台湾桃园国际机场. Opened in 1979, it was formerly known as the Chiang Kai Shek International Airport until its name change in 2006. Currently it is the 15th busiest air-freight hub in the world.
Boasting a land mass of 36,000 km2, the 23 million inhabitants of Taiwan are made up by 98% Han Chinese. There is a higher concentration of Han Chinese here than the Chinese mainland (91.5%). And one of their favourite drinks? Bubble Tea. Originated in tea shops in Taichung during the 1980s, Bubble Tea is a staple in Taiwanese culture and common worldwide today. The Bubble Teas I get in Melbourne stand absolutely no chance against the fragrant stuff one can get here.
Outside Taipei Railway Station (臺北火車站), a reminder of filial piety. The station handles more than half a million passengers daily on a combo of conventional rail, metro, and high-speed rail services.
Unlike any of the mainland cities, I feel safe crossing the roads here. Motorists (largely) follow traffic rules and pedestrian crossing lights. Bikes are an extremely common occurrence in these parts. The number of automobiles per ten thousand population is around 2,500, and the number of motorcycles is double that at about 5,000.
It helps to have traffic wardens around to guide automobiles, motorcycles and pedestrians. Thumbs up.
Food is everywhere in Taiwan. Visible to the eye, sensory to the nose. Everywhere one turns, there is either a food stall or a sign pointing to one. For the world's 23rd largest economy with a $423b GDP, the Taiwanese are certainly a well-fed people.
And like Singaporeans, they love queueing up for food, and things in general. In this case, it's for cheesecake. On average, it's a 15-30minute wait to get their hands on Uncle Tetsu's cheesecake, which boasts cheese from, well, Australia.
Bookshops are dying around the world. The closing of Borders for one has impacted me significantly both in Singapore and Melbourne. Having a spot to contemplate the world through the printed word amidst shopping centres to me can be a great thing. If books shops were to take a leaf out of Taiwan's Eslite chain (http://www.eslite.com), I'm sure they might stand a chance against the digital form. Eslite is a reading paradise. Not just an experience. A must visit for any visitor to Taiwan who cares about the immortalization of knowledge through the written form. To top it off, they've actually got a 24-hour bookstore in operation.
Filed under: Bob's Opinion, Taiwan