The final leg of my Taiwan tour, back to where I started, the wondrous Taipei. This is a city I’ve always wanted to visit, and for good reason as it has a lot to offer. I was really impressed with the city, its large English speaking population (relative to other Asian countries), and even more amazing street snacks at bewilderingly low prices. Anyone who lives here can eat like king on very little, just the way I like it, and the best part is that its pretty healthy as long as you avoid the deep fried stuff. Everywhere I went was pretty clean, and people were all uber-friendly, proud of their work, and extremely helpful. I did all of the main touristy things such as the Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall, both huge and amazing, as well as Taipei 101, the world’s 2nd tallest building behind that behemoth they built in Dubai. And Shanghai is hot on their tail currently constructing the world’s ‘new’ 2nd tallest building, which will blast past Taipei 101’s 500+ meters, adding another 100 meters. These buildings are quite incredible, and though quite touristy, they offer amazing views of the city in a snap thanks to a turbo powered elevator that shoots you up 90 floors in just over 30 seconds. Here’s the view:
The other unique trait of Taipei is that you can be in the midst of the hustle and bustle one minute, then take a 30 minute train to the nearby mountains for some R&R, hot springs, and hiking. Here is a dandy little town called Ruifeng that is an amazing place to spend a day away from Taipei, case and point:
Taipei has almost anything and everything to do, from kite surfing in the harbor to my personal favorite, a multi divisional ice hockey league with loads of local players. If you go:
-Stay at a hostel called “Eight Elephants.” Amazingly clean and friendly place in a great location.
-Go eat at the Shihlin night market. The Shihda market is bigger but they just moved it into a fancy new strip, so the crowd and atmosphere is not as interesting or traditional, it’s more crowded, and has less to offer the food junkie.
-See Taipei 101, Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall, and also the Palace museum for an amazing collection of Taiwan’s history.
-Take some day trips to Danshui or Ruifeng (or loads of others) to try the local cuisine and see a bit more of the chill suburban pace of life.
-Try something crazy or just get lost in the city, and find your way home later. If you can think of it, Taipei probably has it if you just ask around a little.
But more than Taipei, I wanted to analyze a few differences between Taiwan and mainland China. Much debate has ensued over the years about whether Taiwan is indeed a part of China or not, and people are still quite divided on it all over the world. The Olympic committee recognizes them as one country, the USA tends to side with Taiwan as an independent state. So are they or aren’t they? Depends on who you ask. A mainlander will emphatically and undoubtedly say that Taiwan is China, and always has been despite what the history books say of its occupation by Portugal, Spain, and Japan to name a few. In fact, it’s predominantly Chinese culture stems from mainlanders who fled their motherland in search of a new home. Not to mention that natives from each side or their respective ‘lands’ need a passport and visa to enter the other. So what makes a country a country? My opinion on the subject doesn’t really matter, and they are obviously very similar cultures in most aspects, but I’d like to highlight something that was rather intriguing. I visited Taiwan at a rather unique time as they were in the midst of ‘voting’ for their new ‘president’ in what seemed to be quite a democratic process. Campaign signs everywhere, diehards with loudspeakers and megaphones propagating every their favorite candidates platform day and night, and constant conversations about who would win. Something that would never be seen in the mainland obviously with a 1 party system.
Here’s a great one of the Taiwanese presidential candidates Ma Ying Jiu on the right (who eventually won) and Chinese Chairman Hu Jin Tao on the left with yours truly.
Even the Taiwanese seem to be divided on the issue of whether they are truly a part of China or not. One of the hot topics of division in their political party system was whether or not they supported closer ties to the mainland or more independence. Can’t we all just get along? Anyways, here are some other little cultural differences I noticed:
1. Girls smoking everywhere in Taiwan. This is sort of taboo for girls in mainland China, but almost expected for men there.
2. Churches open to one and all in public.
3. No trash laying around everywhere.
4. Extremely sanitary restaurants and food stalls in Taiwan. I’ve seen too many questionable kitchens in the mainland.
5. Very little poverty in Taiwan (that I saw). Everyone seems to have a job and be relatively and contently middle class, which ironically is the bread and butter of Marxism. The Mainland has a rising middle class, but still a HUGE wealth gap exists.
My advice? Go check out Taiwan for yourself. It’s friendly, easy to get around due to its small size, and has loads to offer the multicultural enthusiast.