Taiwan also known as the Republic of China
But never as Chinese Taipei if you have ever lived there, but more on that later.
For some reason the last day or so has had me thinking about Taiwan. Taiwan is where Jeff and I took the plunge to move overseas. We sold our stuff, packed 10 suitcases and headed to the Far East. Taiwan is where Jeff struggled to learn Chinese. Taiwan is where I worked for a local law firm before finding my calling as an in-house counsel. Taiwan is where the Vagabond Kids were born. Taiwan is where some of our dearest friendships (some still live in Taiwan, others back in the States, others around the world) were found and cultivated. So this week’s’ Fistful of Awesome is all about Taiwan.
So without further adieu here are five things that make Taiwan AWESOME.
(The Fistful of Awesome is a quote attributed to Jon Stewart of The Daily Show which I have co-oped to use occasionally as a way of highlighting 5 random things that I found interesting over the last few days).
No self respecting Taiwanese Citizen would go a day without talking about, thinking about and eating good food. Street food or high end doesn’t matter. It is all about the food all the time.
Taipei has a secret breakfast that is really not all that secret. If you have spent any time in Taipei and you are hungry for breakfast the way the locals do it… it is all about Yong He Dou Jiang (永和豆漿) (Soy Milk).
Traditional food still exists in Taiwan as well. My old office in Taipei was next to a traditional tofu stall and everyday the vendors would take fresh soybeans, create soybean milk, process them with some type of alchemy and the next thing you know there were paddies of homemade fresh tofu ready to go home with you for dinner.
Need a snack? There is no better place than Yong Kang Jie (we lived withing walking distance when we lived in downtown Taipei Taiwan). Even the NY Times agrees that Yong Kang Jie is where it is at! Yong Kang Jie is where the the original Din Tai Fung which now is a worldwide chain famous for its soup dumplings.
Thanks to Anthony for letting me steal his picture.
Oh I could continue on, but you get the idea. The food in Taiwan is off the hook!
There is something about the people in Taiwan. The locals and the expats alike. I can be snarky, I can be flippant, sometimes I can even be socially unacceptable. But the people in Taiwan are wonderful, open, kind and generally not out to “get you”. Even if you are a Laowai with limited social graces (yes I mean myself) the people of Taiwan are nice.
Thanks to Anthony for this great picture of his pretty wife Vanessa and Jennifer.
For example there is my friend Jennifer (in the picture above in the pink shirt). She is from Guam, married her Taiwanese American Husband and moved to Taipei when there she started an online bulletin board for English speaking parents in Taipei. Expecting a child? Don’t know a good OBGYN? Need to know about cloth diapers or where to buy Pampers- Parent Pages was there to help you. Jennifer goes above and beyond for the English Speaking Community in Taiwan and I am so pleased she is my friend.
Which is a perfect segue to my friend Anthony. Jennifer merged her pages with my friend Anthony’s invaluable Expat Resource Page Taiwanease. Need to know how to get a job in Taiwan or need a place to rant about Politics? Need to learn about teaching English in Taiwan or where to find the best pizza or Indian Curry. Anthony has it covered. He also married one of the most amazing women I know, the other pretty woman in the picture above.
Then, there is my former admin assistant, when I worked in Taiwan, Angel. She would do nothing more than simply make my life better, not because she had too, but because she wanted to. Case in point, even after I left Taiwan and moved to Singapore, every trip I made to Taiwan for business I would come to the office and find this syrupy sweet caffeine filled cup of joy also known as Zhenzhu Naicha (珍珠奶茶) waiting for me.
Taiwan invented Zhenzhu Naicha aka Pearl Milk Tea or Bubble Tea and the invention of this delicacy alone qualifies it for the fistful of awesome title.
And not to forget Michael and Naiyu, Julie K, Ross, Haitham, John Y., Sanjia, Blythe and Peter, Sheana, John E., Nathan, Craig and Katherine and so so many more. The people who live there, or lived there when we did, are all so amazingly friendly, kind and are such an important part of our the way our lives have been formed while overseas.
3. Chinese Culture
Long before we moved to Taiwan we had heard tales of how Taiwan was more Chinese than China. In many ways that is true.
Taiwan still uses traditional long form characters in writing. Taiwan people still burn joss at every possible moment. Festivals are part of the Taiwan culture and are more accurate representations of the festivals that were held before the Cultural Revolution in China. From Full Moon Festival to Chinese New Year and all the way to Tomb Sweeping if you want to see the way Chinese culture really was, go to Taiwan. Taiwanese people blend traditional Buddhism with traditional Taoism and Confucianism in a way that is loud colorful and amazingly fascinating.
And of course the strong ties to traditional Chinese culture is also continued because of all the artifacts. At the end of the Chinese Civil War, Cheng Kai Shek fled to Taiwan and brought with him one million plus people and many of the traditional Chinese artifacts, art works, and a good hunk of the treasures from the Imperial Palace from Beijing.
One of the best places to see traditional Chinese arts and culture is at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The PRC government says that the works were stolen by CKS and his ilk. The Taiwanese government says that they saved the treasures from certain destruction and looting during the Communist Revolution. I tend to be a centrist and think they are probably both right. But one of the best things to do while in Taipei is take a day (yes a whole day) to visit this outstanding museum. Rumor also has it that there are enough artworks stored within the mountain behind the museum that they could rotate exhibits every couple of months and still have more than enough to have new exhibits for more ten years.
Most people don’t equate Taiwan with beautiful nature. Which is really a shame. Granted, during the peak of the growth in Taiwan the government turned beautiful verdant rice paddies into a mess of ram-shackled crappy construction to house industrial estates, but there is so much to see beyond that.
Taroko Gorge is a mainstay in the traveler’s Taiwan to do list. It is spectacular. Sun Moon Lake, yup, gotta do that.
But the coastline in Taiwan is not frequently visited by tourists, at least those from the West anyways, and it is really unique and quite unusual. Crystal clear water, amazing hillside hiking trails and these rock structures at Yehliu National Park are one of a kind.
Verdant pockets can also be found tucked in and around every major city in Taiwan. Just look for the nearest hill and temple. City parks are being built in towns and people in Taiwan are recognizing the need for connecting with the land around them.
Taiwan’s history is long and mixed, as most histories are, but it is one of the most interesting of those in modern Asia, in my opinion.
In terms of recent history Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese prior to World War II. Much of the Japanese interest was in the goldmines found on the West Coast of the island and the Gold Ecological Park does a great job (mostly Chinese text however) of explaining the history of the mining and the bittersweet relationship that the Japanese and Tawianese had during the years that lead up to WWII. The town of Jiufen is also a great example of a town that was dominated by the Taiwan Gold Rush.
Taiwan did fare better through the war however because of the prior Japanese occupation and when the war was over the Japanese left parts of the infrastructure that are still in use today. While China and Japan are frequently at odds, Taiwan has generally felt less animosity towards the Japanese and much of current pop culture in Taiwan is a localized version of the Japanese Pop Culture.
After the end of the Chinese Civil War another major shift in Taiwan’s history took place. As mentioned above, Chiang Kai Shek fled China and landed in Taiwan with a million or so of his best friends after the War and the population of Taiwan grew by 33% almost overnight. At which point the government of the Republic of China, in Taiwan was fully formed.
Chiang and his friends ran the island for years under Martial Law and always with the intent and belief that they were the true China and that they would ultimately return to the mainland. For the Taiwanese this was a tough time, because while economically they started to prosper, it was at the same time that the PRC grew in prominence and importance and the KMT (the political party of Chiang and his successors) began to fade from the political scene. Most connections with traditional Taiwanese Culture were placed on the back burner and the language that most Taiwanese spoke in 1947-48 (a dialect of Hokkien) was outlawed and replaced with Mandarin Chinese.
Taiwan officially pulled out of the UN in 1972 after the PRC was granted recognition, and there are some scholars that believe that had they remained in the UN they would be recognized as an independent nation now, rather than a territory with strange quasi-legal status as an non-independent but yet independent nation around the world. Which is why Taiwan athletes compete in sporting events like the Olympics as “Chinese Taipei”. Most Taiwanese I know find this to be a huge slap in the face by the way.
So politically, there are two big camps in Taiwan, the KMT which has pro-China leanings (and even some old guard that still believe they are the rightful goverment of China) and the DPP the pro-Taiwanese party, which was outlawed until Lee Tung Hui dropped Martial Law in 1987. The removal of Martial Law and Lee Tung Hui’s Presidency was the start of what many believe was the “Taiwanization” period in Taiwan where there has been a rebirth in interest in the Taiwan culture and not just that of mainland China. Of course let us not forget that Taiwan was also home to the infamous legislature that would get in fistfights over political policy during this period as well!
And yet, during this period of political shenanigans, Taiwan had a non-violent change in political parties in 2001 and they became one of the Asian Tiger Economies, going from 170USD per capita GNP in 1962 (similar to the Congo) to 35,000 USD in 2010 putting them on par with Germany (source). Taiwan became the home of the world’s largest contract manufacturers for the high-tech industry. Taiwan held the title for the World’s Tallest Building (okay only for a few months, but still you get my point) and people no longer thought “Made in Taiwan” meant sub-par products. Pretty cool huh?
So there you have it are just 5 reasons that Taiwan is AWESOME.
Why do you think Taiwan is worthy of the Fistful of Awesome title?