Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Katy's TAIWAN Adventure

I really think that I'm going to start a second blog for Taiwan. It's a new year, in a new country and "Katy's China Adventure" just doesn't seem like the right tag line for it.

I've said, in the past, that maybe my new Taiwan blog will be more "touristy" - not as personal as this blog has been .... but I don't know now if that's really how it's going to turn out. Feelings are important. Opinions are interesting. Reading several different sources on a topic can be helpful and fun. Like with the news: You watch CNN but you also watch MSNBC... or maybe you watch FOX NEWS- "seriously" if you are a Republican or more... "tongue in cheek- looking for comedy bits" - if you're a democrat. ;)

To be an encyclopedia like Frommer's Guide or Lonely Planet.. isn't really what I'm after. I'm after stories and feelings and "shooting from several angles" - different points of view.  So we'll see...

FOR NOW I wanted to blog a little bit about my time in Taiwan because I figure after being here SEVEN MONTHS (!!!) now I've had enough time to get into habits and to see patterns in everyday life. My days of "being a tourist" are over.

Soooo here's a little list of things that I love in Taiwan and an (even smaller) list of things that frustrate me/things I don't like so much.


1. FRESH FRUIT - fresh fruit is everywhere in Taiwan. Whether you eat it straight or in a smoothie or on top of a bowl of "nui nai bing" - milk ice - it's guaranteed to be fresh and delicious. I'd say that summer is the best season ... lychees, mango, dragonfruit, star fruit, watermelon ... etc. etc. But even now (December) fruit is everywhere- apples, bananas, mini-bananas, mini mangos, etc.

2. OUTDOOR FOOD/NIGHT MARKETS - if you live in Taipei, chances are, you can find a variety of bbq-ed meats, noodle soups, dumplings, fried chicken, etc. waiting for you just a hop, skip, and a jump outside your doorstep. Many neighborhoods in Taipei ( including mine- Yonghe ) have their own night market that sets up shop every night. The most famous in Taiwan is the Shilin Night Market (off the RED LINE at the JIANTAN stop) .... but really... "neighborhood food" in general is pretty darn GOOD and CHEAP here. I was sad to find that my BBQ husband/wife team in my neighborhood that I've been buying from pretty much every two nights or so on the regular here in November, has CLOSED up shop for the season! It LOOKS like they have- maybe it's just ALL the RAIN we've been having has kept the fire out/ kept them away??  I'll have to go back and see... But I've ALSO found a new favorite breakfast spot- "Soybean Milk Magnate" - bing doujian - a big cup of cold soy milk, xiao long bao - dumplings, and dan bing- kind of like an egg omelette make for a pretty good breakfast.- even if it IS at 1:30pm... my usual wake up time. ;)

3. TRANSPORTATION - NYC, you know that, for so many reasons, you are the best city in the world, but don't get all full of yourself- cause let me tell you, you've STILL got room for improvement- re: the NYC subway system. The Taipei Metro ("The MRT") is an easy, often efficient, way to travel around Taipei. The MRT is CLEAN, the stations themselves on the whole are CLEAN ( I'm pretty sure almost EVERY one even has a BATHROOM - and it's a bathroom that's usually.... wait for it... CLEAN!), People are not allowed to eat or drink on the MRT or in the MRT stations in Taiwan ( this was a challenge/bugged me at first and it was a real exercise in... breaking that "coffee cup" habit ... making sure to get caffeinated and regulate the blood sugar BEFORE getting to the station). If you DO eat/drink- you will be fined something like $7,500 NT - probably about $250 US dollars. SO it's a good way to keep the subway clean AND if/when ( though I've never seen anyone eating/drinking) people don't follow the law, it's another way for the city to make money.  The high speed rail also makes it extremely EASY to get out of Taipei. Just take the MRT to Taipei Main Station and you can catch the high speed rail from there. I've taken it as far as Fulong... but it goes all the way down to the beaches in Kenting in the far south. The high speed rail is nice because it has big comfy seats and windows so you can sit, relax, and look out. If you catch the local train, it feels more like you're on a bus.... a very good possibility that you could be standing for half the ride at least.

4. HOT SPRINGS/BEACHES/MOUNTAINS - easy access to nature via the high speed rail.... beautiful nature.... whatever you like- swimming, hiking, etc... you can FIND IT and GET TO IT - fairly easily here. `

*also - cheap, amazing body/foot massages, and KTV ( of course!)*


1. Lack of passion, apathy, exhaustion? - maybe it's because Taiwan has been ruled by so many other countries in the past, or maybe because China is still such a bully and does not let Taiwan step on stage as a "lead player" in the UN, etc. today - but to me, looking around at the everyday lives going on around me, Taiwan feels like it lacks a pulse sometimes. I'm still not sure what gets Taiwan frustrated/upset. I'm still not sure what gets Taiwan excited ( besides Jeremy Lin ;) ... and maybe Jay Chou.). I KNOW that kids are often over-schooled and people are over-worked here. But in China they are too... and yet in China I saw/heard frustration, sarcasm, excitement- a variety of emotions. In Taiwan, people are VERY nice - it's as if no one wants to make waves, to bother anyone else... people DO care about their national identity. People DO care about being seen as TAIWANESE, not Chinese. I have one friend who has said that if China ever tried to truly take over and make Taiwan a province of the PRC- she and another mutual friend would move to the US or Canada. I heard another woman at a party say that "China is the last place I would visit" - when in a mixed group talking about going to places in Asia. Then another Taiwanese woman who I met at Elephant Nature Park in Thailand last year got almost visible upset just THINKING about China, physically shaking a little, as if she was trying to hold some something back while saying "Taipei is a really great city" "You should go to Taipei, next year". As if the mere thought of China upset her. So people DO care .... but it's really hard to see past the exhaustion and the apathy sometimes. I HOPE that the collective unconscious of Taiwan BELIEVES that they CAN and WILL get past this "identity disorder" that China and the world have thrown at them-failing to acknowledge their statehood in the UN. I hope that there PULSE RISES when they realize that there are people in their corner who believe in their freedom and who will fight for them - politically and/or militarily- people who will make calls to the UN, President Obama, etc. I want to see ALL SIDES of Taiwan's HEART. I know that I need/want to see more of the arts here too- local music, local art, local story telling. Don't let your fire burn out Taiwan... don't be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve.

2. Recycling- it's not that I don't LIKE recycling... I DO. BUT, where I'm living now, my apartment is not a "big, fancy apartment building"- it's cute- in a cute neighborhood- but it's in a small building- on the 5th floor of a 5th floor walk-up. So we don't have a "building recycling service". I've gotta wait for the trucks to come by playing their "ice cream man" music... and go outside and drop my bags in the truck. To be honest, I STILL don't know their schedule.... and to be even more honest ("shhh!"), since being here, 98% of the time I either drop my garbage/recycling in the garbage cans at my school in Banciao OR I drop it in the bins in one of the MRT stations. Next year, I'd like to live in a slightly more expensive building ( not really more expensive but "more expensive" means more utilities- like garbage service and maybe a kitchen and an elevator :) )

3. Architecture - to stand and be counted alongside its brothers and sisters -Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo stand apart from China, be considered among the "great Asian cities" , Taipei needs to update it's architecture. The temples ( and Taipei 101) stand out and are beautiful... but the everyday building architecture is, for the most part very grey, almost crumbling, and outdated. It would be good to breathe a little fresh air and LIFE into the backbone of the city.

Taiwan is a very unique, peaceful, Asian country. In my last post I talked about how "China's not all bad, etc.." but at the same time, that DOESN'T mean that Taiwan should be a part of China. Taiwan is definitely more "Southeast Asian" than "Chinese"....  almost Polynesian... there was talk recently about the tribal lineage in Hawaii being similar to that of Taiwan... traced back to Taiwan. Chinese is the official language of Taiwan but there are definitely a lot of subtle differences. At this point in time, both England and America have pretty good setup when it comes to the rule of law and freedoms for their people and yet America doesn't want to go BACK to its days as one of the " 13 colonies" and be A PART of ENGLAND. Both England and America SPEAK English as their "mother tongue"... but that doesn't mean that the people are the same. The same applies to Taiwan. The one frustrating thing about President Obama is his foreign policy re: China. From the outside, He looks very weak. (even if China owns 1/3 of our debt, that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your personality, your personal opinion/world view. I wouldn't! I'd be diplomatic and calm, but I wouldn't sacrifice my feelings and point of view in the process.) I'm so TIRED of hearing news on the Middle East and what the US thinks/feels about what's going on over there. The FUTURE ECONOMY is in ASIA.... this is where the next chapter is.

Taiwan deserves to have its fingerprint stamped into the history books. I would like to think that the whole "threat of re-unification" with China is very similar to the threat of overturning "Roe V. Wade" in the US -taking away a woman's right to choose. Every 4 years- every woman's blood pressure rises a little, anxiety and disbelief set in, and we hear a lot of old white men (especially this year)  talking about rape and birth like the "experts" that they AREN'T. BUT at the END of the day, we find that it's JUST TALK. That the PEOPLE don't want their rights taken away. The people vote AGAINST those who do not SUPPORT their INDIVIDUALITY. I think it will be the same with China and Taiwan ....

President Ma's current policy of the "Three No's" are kind of like Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding the military before President Obama could completely dismantle that policy and let soldiers serve openly in the military. It's a small step in the right direction, a softening.

Ma's 3 No's are -
1. No re-unification during his presidential term(s)
2. No "official" pursuit of independence/ recognized international statehood.
3. No use of force ( ya heard, China?!)

The people know who they are and what they want.... it is not up to any "outside" body to define them. They broke away from China during the Civil War. They did not want to be ruled by a communist regime and 60 some years later, that hasn't changed.  Taiwan is beautiful ... and I'm glad that I've seen both countries - especially going to China first. I feel like it's easy to get in the "just destroy it all! Level the country." mindset about China when you haven't been there. I know that my patience with China and my quickness to judge has increased since I've left. It's something to guard against. China has many positive, good people inside of it. It's fascinating and changing- for the better- however slowly. But I hope that its nationalism doesn't get in the way of its common sense. I hope it can get over itself enough to openly admit, not just whisper " I know, but I'm not allowed to say...." that TAIWAN IS A COUNTRY.... and has been for a long time now. Wo ai ni Taiwan!

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