Taiwan!!The Amazing Cultural Treasure Island!
Taiwan has been in my life for as long as I can remember, even though I have never been there ever. Almost on every single TV shows, TV drama, music videos, books, movies, their culture seems to have conquered in every single aspect in Asia. This is a land of amazements, fascinations and incredible food. But I tried to lower my expectations this time before my arrival, so that I would be more impressed later.
As soon as I arrived at Taipei Taoyuan Airport, I was, frankly, a bit freaked out by the seemingly endless concave grassland burning underneath the brutal sunlight. It looks just like a secondary Chinese country-side city, or what we would call “xiàn”, with a slow economic development mainly based on agriculture. The airport-city bus is slow and old, well at least for a tourist coming from Hong Kong with probably the fastest airport transit in the world. As I swayed my way slowly towards the city, the scenery along started to make me worry, what is the fuss all about in Taiwan?
I think it takes at least three hours for a first-time comer to understand this place. This is not one of those modern, high-tech Asian country with escalators and fancy-smelling malls every other corner. Nor is this a disturbing, trashy beach-holiday type with the greedy locals trying to rip off every tourist that comes. The city itself is not impressive if you expect to see bizarre architecture or crazy Asians doing werid stuff. Taiwan is a place where nature, culture and the passion for life combine and perfects the quality of living for all. It amazes me how people can be so friendly, so polite and so happy all the time, with almost no judgement for anybody whatsoever. The things they appreciate are very simple. Good food, good air, and pure, simple happiness. This is shown everywhere in Taiwan. From the small diners that sell good quality food, the interesting cafés with plenty of delicate selections to choose from, the artsy, tastefully maintained bookstores on every corner, to the well-made, creative products that reflect their artistic sensations and the incredible night markets that offer an unbelievable variety of food, entertainments and goods. There is too much to tell about this place and I now understand why there have been an on-going reporting of food and culture in Taiwan ever since the creation of tele-communication.
-During the first two days, we only got the chance and the stomach space to go to one of them–Shilin Night Market. This is, according to a local friend of mine, the easy and more well-rounded one to start with. From all the TV shows and books I have read my entire life, I almost feel like I have been there multiple times in my dreams and I actually have accumulated a list of things I need to try at this place. The original Star Hao fried Chicken steak（大鸡排）, the grilled squid(the Taiwanese gave it a pretty name called “花枝”, translated to “flower branch”), the assorted rice balls on ice slush with black sugar dressing(古早刨冰）, and so much more. You never have enough room in your tummy for food in Taiwan. I am amazed by how creative and wholehearted they make their food. Sometimes the ideas are very simple, but they just excel in doing it.
-This is a place that reminds me so much of Myeong Dong in Seoul. Where you can find a lively neighborhood of youth and affordable products. Money can be easily spent here buying due to all the lights, billboards, music and smell that mesmerize your senses. But it is very interesting still to take a peek at some sub-culture of Taiwan.
-We stayed at an outstanding Hot Spring hotel in Beitou, a bit further north of downtown Taipei. This area is heavily influenced by the Japanese culture that dominated Taiwan for a long period of time and it is famous for the underground hot spring water that runs through the area. All the hotels offer rooms in tatami, bamboo surroundings and very delicate and considerate Japanese style services and design that pays extra attention to the combination of human behaviors, technology and nature. The public Hot Spring is very authentic and the quality of food they serve is top-notch. It was an extremely comfortable and enjoyable stay with a relatively reasonable low-season price of around 400HKD each person.
-Taiwan in teen movies is almost always in a setting of a gorgeous coast line with the main characters falling in love as they cycle towards the sunset that explodes like a box of paint in the sky. Thus, we decided to do the same. Getting off at “关渡guandu”, you can rent a bike for a very low price and cycle towards Tamsui on very nice bike lanes that goes along between the train line and the “淡江Dan River”. So much famous food and temples are on the way and there is almost a fascination every five minute on your journey. It takes about 2-3 hours(including the sitting around and random walk-ins at the attractions on the way) to arrive in the beautiful harbour of Tamsui. It is a lively coastal part of Taipei with seafood restaurants, cool shops and cute cafes. Sitting on the dock, watching the sun goes away with a drink, you will understand the true meanings and the simple happiness Taiwanese people pursue.
We are now in DAY 3 and sitting on the high-speed train heading south to the beach! I am also very amazed by all the infrastructures and transportation system in Taiwan. The city is relatively slow-paced but the transportation makes everything very easy and simple. And even the Lunch boxes on board are delicious.
Hong Kong and Mainland China are focusing too much on development and the need for materials. There are so many things we need to learn from the Taiwanese. Their dedication in making the best life, not necessarily with loads of cash, their love for all in every aspect, their high social trust in people, their interaction with nature in their daily life and the passion they have for the world they live in. The sense of belonging is so strong in this society and people are proud of their hometown for legitimate reasons. Unlike the patriotism that is being heavily promoted in China, people are proud of their nation not for their own good, but for the entire nation’s power, international status and their image worldwide. Therefore sometimes people wonder, is it Xi’s “China dream” or the people’s “China Dream” they are working on? Destroying the environment and nature and the social norms only to achieve these money goals should be reconsidered and the level of civilization should not fall behind the level of economic development. I always stand for the benefits for the image of China, but sometimes I do wonder, if democracy hinders the efficiency in economic development and the functioning of social institutions, then why are these people happier and prouder of their own country? Which “one China” is better in this case?
Gazing at the incredibly green fields, separated by a clear stream with shiny pebbles laying on the river bed and the blue sky that I can barely see in my hometown, I am confused. Taiwan feels very close to me, but yet very far away.