Today marks the last day of the conference. 😦 Making up for the delay on this post with a bunch of pictures, sorry.
My first impressions of Taiwan…I love it quite simply. It’s everything that I love about Sichuan: the green, the slower pace of life, tasty food (that’s true of most places though), but with really awesome Japanese influence too. For one baseball is a thing here. The Japanese love their baseball. The architecture reflects Japanese influence it 70 years after occupation ended as you’ll see below as well. Finally, the place where our hotel was, Ximending, is often compared to Harajuku, the district of Tokyo full of funky styles, electronics, and snacky foods, and when you add in the huge amount of anime-aesthetic characters on the public signs I must say the comparison is an apt one. Keep in mind that I’ve only seen one city so far, so I’ll keep you up to date as my impressions change.
Little things that set it apart from the mainland are really nice as well. People only stand on one side of the escalator, they know how to qeue, there’s way less smog (although sometimes it does float in from the mainland apparently). These are just a few. Things are certainly more expensive though, and it won’t stop raining, so not to say it’s exclusively better than the mainland. Also people sometimes have trouble understanding my accent (and vice versa). Their experience with me is kind of if you we walking down the street, and an obviously Chinese tourist started talking with you in a pretty authentic southern drawl. I do kind of love the rain though to be honest.
I’m really not sure how to structure this post, as between coming to a completely new environment and all the knowledge that has been dropped on me over the last three to four days there’s so much to say and my brain is a little bit off-kilter.
I suppose I’ll start off with an introduction to Taiwan, as there was a lot that I didn’t even know before coming here. So the island has been inhabited for about 3,000 years, and is purported to be the origin of nine out of the ten Austronesian language groups that are spoken in the Pacific Islands and Madagascar. It was first occupied by the Dutch and the Portuguese in the 17th century, then when a fleeing Ming official tried to set up a kingdom there, the Qing crushed him and added the island to their empire. Japan had wanted the island for ages, but only succeeded in getting it after the Sino-Japanese war at the tail-end of the 19th century. People here referred to it as a “relatively benign colonialism” and actually really like the Japanese, especially compared to mainlanders, as the Japanese did a lot for the infrastructure and education systems of the island. One interesting anecdote to demonstrate this: on a bus on the way to the National Palace Museum, I sat next to an adorable old man and quickly realized that he didn’t really speak Mandarin. The poor guy kept trying to strike up a conversation, but seeing as I didn’t speak Taiwanese (what I assume he was speaking with another old man), he tried Japanese, and was super happy and smiley when he realized I spoke a miniscule amount of it. He tried to point things out to me as we drove, and I actually understood that we were passing Taipei high school, but then there were a lot of times he would just say something and add, “you don’t understand, do you?” And I would reply, “Yup, I don’t understand.” Bless his heart, he was so nice. It was a really interesting interaction, one that I’ll hopefully remember for a good while.
Anyway, the Japanese gave Taiwan back to the Republic of China in 1945, which let the government flee there after they lost the civil war in 1949 and have been here ever since. I don’t have the space or expertise to get into cross-strait relations (China-Taiwan relations), but I may come back to it in a later post. Overall, I love it. I’ll just say that today China and Taiwan operate under an agreement that there is only “One China” and that the two entities will agree to disagree on how they interpret that. As a result, taiwan only has 20- odd diplomatic allies, mostly from Latin America, and Beijing has recently been taking action to change that. Economic ties are strong, but a growing Taiwanese identity makes the prospect of reunification seem a bit far off. I may go more into cross-strait relations as I go through all the blog material I’ll be getting.
We were given the night off on the first day of the conference, along with 400 New Taiwan Dollars ($12-13) for dinner, so we went to the Shilin night market, one of Taipei’s most famous. Night markets, picture a bunch of stalls selling food and other things, kind of like a farmer’s market, but all prepared food, and at night. It’s pretty cool. And delicious, foods that stuck out were fried little crabs, dumplings, fried rice, a “big cake hugging small cake” which is a soft tortilla-ish thing wrapped around a fried cake with sweet flavoring, as well as a “big sausage hugging small sausage”, which is a rice sausage wrapped around a meat sausage and filled with the flavor of your choosing (basil in my case), which was amazing. Also shaved ice. I can’t emphasize how delicious this shit is. In my friend Brendan’s words, “[Mango shaved ice] is the best thing ever made. Fruit. Cream. Ice. Heaven.” And he didn’t oversell it one bit. Here’s pictures from the night.
After the conference ended, I stayed in Taipei for one more day and then went to Jiufen. If you’ve seen Spirited Away, this Japanese mining town, defunct since 1950, was the inspiration for it’s spirit city at the beginning, nestled into the hill and filled with tasty treats. Fortunately, unlike in the movie, eating these treats doesn’t turn you into a literal pig. I sadly couldn’t come at night, so this is what it’s supposed to look like. If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it now.
I sadly couldn’t go at night to see the above scenery, but still had a great time despite the rain that prevented hiking. I had some delicious grilled mushrooms, an ice cream burrito with cilantro and shaved peanut brittle, taro ball soup, and sweet cakes on sweet cakes for days. Finished the day with a pot of brown sugar ginger tea (a local specialty) over the view and came back to Taipei. That was probably the most memorable moment, as this progression of three pictures will show, all of the same vista, this fog cloud just came rolling in from the bay and enveloped us, absolutely surreal and magical.
Couple more pics of Jiufen.
Lastly, here’s a couple more pics from around Taipei and a great meal with my friend from UMass who happens to be studying abroad here this spring.