Is the honeymoon over?! At times. The pink glasses have come off, and some of the harsher realities have entered the space… Here’s a little rant… I’m tired. Highly aware of the restrictions within and without. I’m tired of “the Covid thing” that is putting the brakes on life’s expression, even here.
In Taipei, I’ve hit the place of “too many people… too much waste and pollution… too many scooters, especially those speeding with little regard to pedestrians… enough of not understanding or speaking the local language… (I tried and failed)… enough of everyone staring at their smartphones or other technical devices ALL the time… or staring discretely at me, the foreigner sticking out like a sore thumb, if they ever look up from the device. Enough of noodles, filled buns, stinky tofu, flattened roasted and dried sea life and other animals, and the rest… enough of grey rainy skies in Taipei… enough of endless packaging, hidden poverty, masses of people, quietly and half asleep moving along… enough of compliance and righteousness… enough! Okay, enough of the venting, too. I wrote this at the end of last year. 🙂 LOL Haha! The new year has brought more clarity. Thank goodness, old and new were so close together. Let’s be clear, I am, after all, grateful to be on the island of Formosa, especially now!
A note on just so many people… Canada, which I call home, is a huge country with just a handful of people in comparison. I tried finding some data – this is from 2015:
Canada 27,85 hectar per person
Germany 0,439 hectar per person
Taiwan 0,0001533 hectar per person
Get the picture?
And yet, what I might dismiss or critique one day, I appreciate another. With so many people you have to learn to live together, ideally peacefully. There is a general feeling of acceptance/tolerance of locals and foreigners alike, as long as you stay within the socially acceptable norms. Live and let live. The culture is geared towards “we” (family) not “me” with generally higher willingness to oblige to parents and society’s wishes. In all of that is a gentleness.
Taiwan’s culture may be described as traditional and conservative, and is in that way like most other Asian cultures, but to a greater degree (I think). It is mainly Chinese in origin (as aboriginal numbers were decimated by several colonial forces in the past) and is patriarchal and patrilineal, with the family at the centre of cultural activities. The society is hierarchical and class-oriented, though it is egalitarian in the sense that one has the opportunity to advance socially through education. So not as hopeless as i.e. cast systems in India or Columbia. Hence the very intense and strict school system, so competitive! Parents want their children to be the best in class. (Apparently a common question teachers are asked – is he/she the best?) Grades in public schools are publicized (so if you fail or are just not in the top 10 of the class everyone knows). After-school English lessons or other advancement courses are popular with parents and kids oblige. Not much play time. Learning, learning, learning, all to make it to university and onward into a job they may (or may not even) like, but their parents think is good for you and the family. Historically, at the top of the traditional social ladder were the scholars, followed by peasants, workers, merchants, and soldiers.
What I’ve gleaned from conversations with locals and expats is that most companies are structured in the same way, hierarchical, with one boss making all the decisions and many managers making sure these decisions are implemented. Managers don’t make decisions – only the boss can – so if the boss is not available, no decision can be made. Everything stalls. They are used to be told what to do, how to do it and not to question the guidance. When you compete for the best grade, teamwork is not asked for or supported. It was described as a rigid system to me, not likely to change anytime soon. But hey, the parents, and the boss, everyone wants the best for everyone else. And kids comply. At what cost? The place I’m describing this from is not to condemn this system, it’s just foreign to me in some ways. I can see its merits. And I can see its faults. And it is what it is.
Britannica has an interesting and somewhat lengthy article if you feel like reading more. Here some pictures of adult kids having fun…
So, compliance with standards/expectations is high. As is the government’s right and ability to track you. It seems that most people trust the government. As they trust their parents or elders and teachers. Family is simply BIG here. There is coherence and I like that. The general feeling is “live and let live” and do what you’re asked. It’s such an interesting mix. Taiwanese are generally very friendly and helpful folks. Forgiving of my ignorant ways and inability to speak their language. They are creative, modern, making the best of what is available, look out for each other. Young adults are in may ways like children who haven’t quite learned how to think for themselves… fascinated with games and anime characters. I guess on the visual plain they are able to rebel, fight, disagree and immerse themselves in adventure and romance and anything else the heart desires.
Other things I’ve noticed: Snoozing in public is perfectly acceptable. And people often do, especially mornings and evenings. Whether on the MRT, the bus or on a bench in the park.
Public bathrooms can be found everywhere – especially MRT stations and parks – and they are generally clean, not littered with needles and the belongings of homeless people… something to note. (But do carry your own tissue, just in case.)
Everything public is extremely well organized. Subways, busses, trains, planes, public events, demonstrations, celebrations, places to marry, places to mourn, public holidays… morning and evening traffic… lines for the MRT, the trains, the escalators (stand on the right, walk on the left), spaces for the elderly, injured, parents with kids. Bike ways, walk ways, scooter parking, playing fields, exercise and play grounds, marathons, triathlons, and so on. Smooth, efficient, a well oiled machine.
And this city is ‘switched on’ 24/7. There’s no weekend as we know it in many western countries where most places shut down. The opposite, many shops stay open 24/7, others close only one day a week. There are glitzy shopping districts, very wealthy neighbourhoods, middle class and poorer neighbourhoods. My experience with police so far is positive, they’re everywhere but not in your face, regulating traffic, regulating public events, showing up for accidents. Different feel… During the New Year’s concert at City Hall Plaza, access to the area was highly regulated – scan a code into the phone and register your number so they can follow up in case they need to, very quick and efficient. Wear a facemark. Keep your distance. In today’s news I read that they located thirty people outside the concert area that should not have been there because they were supposed to be health self-monitoring staying away from public events – here’s a paragraph from the article. Just an example…
“Deputy Mayor Huang Shan-shan said more than 30 individuals who had not completed their period of self-monitoring had been located “at the periphery” of the New Year’s Eve party. All of them were asked to leave and no major rules were broken, so they would not be fined, she said. The 30 people arrived separately and were not related, while their presence was detected by a government electronics system that covers a radius of 650 meters. It found the first “suspect” at 5 p.m. Thursday, according to Huang. Police, health authorities and city tourism officials were notified, with text messages being sent to the individuals, asking them to leave immediately. They were warned that if they did not do so within 10 minutes, they would receive a phone call. Huang said they all left within 20 minutes of being tracked at the site…”
Christmas was sort of a write off for me. It’s just not part of the culture here. And I couldn’t even find it in me. New Taipei’s “Christmas Land” was colourful, glitzy, full of photo opportunities, Disney characters, laser shows, carousels and many Xmas trees decorated in different colours and themes – and void of any Christmas feeling. But hey, fun! As were the displays around Taipei’s City Hall. A time for me to miss the family gatherings we used to have. My parents, Richard, Namgyle, the recycled Xmas gatherings, other friends and family that have passed on… and so it is. And my daughter is very much living the Taiwanese lifestyle by now… We did a little Christmas shopping, had lunch and that was about it.
Had a lovely lunch with another friend at the Taipei Grand Hotel – definitely worth a visit! For about $50 you can enjoy endless amounts of delicious food of every kind, impossible for me to try everything offered. Highly recommend it 🙂
The grey and rainy Taipei skies in December were dampening my mood and inspired many get-aways, i.e. the recent day trip to Erjie (last post) and Lambai Island prior. Locally, to hot spring bath houses! There are several in the Beitou area. Japanese style bath houses where you can rent private rooms or join the public bath – gender segregated. It is lovely for me to be in a bath house with many naked women. I’m used to the naked sauna culture in Germany where we would spend a day at a sauna spa in dry saunas, steam rooms, cold water applications, quiet rooms to lie down and rest before doing it all over again. A wonderful tradition that I miss in Canada. Deeply cleansing. As are the bath houses which offer a large hot spring water pool, a cold water pool and a warm water pool, as well as a steam room and strong hot water massage showers. Unfortunately, no rest area. Everyone showers and washes in front of everyone else before getting in the pools – cleanliness is #1. Shower caps are provided. Rinse your feet off before getting in the pool. Nothing else goes in. Here we are, women of all ages, many older ones, baring our however imperfect, still beautiful bodies with scars and wrinkles and saggy skin or beautiful young skin… naked we come into this world, and we’ll leave with nothing… I enjoy this community of naked women, smiling at each other (of course, photos only of surroundings).
Nature around Taipei is still amazing and accessible… just not as much fun when it’s raining because paths can be very slippery in the mountains. Still, simply stunning… like my recent hike to Teapot Mountain and Jioufen, north east of Taipei. I didn’t make it all the way up as the rain started again, just short 100 metres, but those were the steepest and most slippery.
And hanging out at Jioufen Old Street and a tea house afterwards was a treat. My second time. First time with Kaya and Luke in February. Must visit! Put it on your itinerary! Such a fun old town to explore. It actually deserves its own post, but I’m going to send you to Nick’s site to read more… and here is the intro:
Jiufen (Jioufen), a mountaintop former gold mining town on the northeast coast of Taiwan, is one of the most popular day trips from Taipei. Visitors flock to Jiufen Old Street because it encapsulates the best of Taiwan in one small package: rich history, atmospheric lanes and teahouses, breathtaking views, and distinctly Taiwanese snacks at every turn.
Many present features of Jiufen reflect the era under Japanese colonization, with many Japanese inns surviving to this day. During WW II a POW camp named Kinkaseki was set up in the village, holding Allied soldiers captured in Singapore (including many British) who worked in the nearby gold mines. Jiufen also became popular in 2001 due to its resemblance to the town in the Japanese anime movie “Spirited Away” – I watched it years ago and liked it a lot.
By the way, I’m in Kenting now, south end of Taiwan – beach, sun, and a completely different vibe.
Thanks for visiting. 🙂 You are appreciated.
16 thoughts on “Taipei Musings – A Little of Everything”
Nice portrait of a culture. I lived in Japan for over 3 years and many of those aspects are similar, yet the younger generations are modern and trendy.
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Hi, and thank you. 🙂 Yes, younger generations here are modern and trendy too, but the fabric of society is based in the “old ways” – and of course there are exceptions to the rule. Everything changes… eventually. 😉
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You are presenting a well balanced picture of Taiwan, Surati. Glad you made it over the hump and are once more enjoying the sun. You wouldn’t be happy here right now. We are approaching the average rainfall for the entire month of January already!
Hi Surati! I arrived in Taipei on Jan. 3rd. I was very fortunate to still be able to enter the country, considering I left the US on Jan. 1st.
This is Day 3 of my quarantine, but don’t expect an inspiring blog from me! Doing just fine, though, and so happy to finally be here!
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Hi Sylvia, welcome to Taiwan! I was thinking of you when I heard about the rule change for January 1 and am glad to hear you made it into the country. Happy New Year! Would be lovely to meet you for tea or something after your quarantine and health monitoring period – so in 3 weeks or so 🙂 Be well, enjoy Uebereats, and a good long rest. I’m currently south in Kenting enjoying sun and beach.
Thank you, Surati! That would be great to meet for tea! In the meantime I will continue to follow your fascinating blog. Glad that you are enjoying the beach and sunshine.
My hotel room has a terrible view – just a dreary house wall. As a matter of fact, I have not seen a single bird! Nor can I open the window. (Service is fine, though)
Still, I have plenty distractions, but this is only official Day 3!
It was really touch and go before my departure.. When I heard about the new regulations, I headed straight to TECO in Houston… There I was told that I was out of luck.
After many phone calls to other TECO offices in the US, BOCA in Taipei and various EVA air agents, I finally got the answer in writing that I needed.
Everything went smoothly after that!
Another interesting post that makes me want to come visit Taiwan, like, now! I learned about the study/work ethic from the doc about Taiwan that we watched recently – pretty epic. I’m way too much of a rebel to be able to survive such a culture, but then being raised in it would for sure make a difference. I’ve been watching a ton of Korean soaps on Netflix and there are similarities there, and in Japan too of course. One of the benefits is how incredibly organized everything is – as you write about too. Things will be as you expect them to be eg local transport running on time etc.
Except for the nakedness the bathhouse reminds me of a place I went to with family near Montreal – the Polar Bear Club – saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, pools of varying temps, icy river to jump in if you’re mad enough, dim meditation rooms. Spent the day there – heaven.
I’m jealous about the beach! It was fine today, but we’ve had a ton of rain.
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Oh, that Polar Bear club sounds great! I also love going to Scandinaeve in Whistler… but you have to wear swimsuits…
I love being by the beach and the ocean and the wildness of it all. Have been missing this in rainy Taipei. xo
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PS – it’s getting tougher to go to Taiwan now during the pandemic, tightening rules around who can come in… see Sylvia’s comment. I’m glad I made it and though I would like to come back to Canada early March, it will depend on where things are at…
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I don’t imagine I’ll be going to Taiwan for a long time. Certainly not before we’re both vaccinated. One day . . . . .
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Ich muß mich beschweren – auf Deutsch. Ich vermute bei Ihrem interessanten Nachnamen, dass ich trotz Canadischer Bezüge verstanden werde: Ihre Beiträge sind zu gut, ich komme gar nicht mehr ins Bett. Brilliante Feder die Sie haben. Wo gelernt? Naturtalent?
Na, danke fuer die Blumen! Und klar, deutsche Wurzeln. Freue mich, das es Ihnen gefällt. Und ja, Naturtalent ween man so sagen darf. Dieses Blog ist mein erster Schritt ins veröffentlichte Schreiben und hat mich während der Quarantäne hervorragend beschäftigt. Es macht Spass. Herzliche Gruesse!
Ob meine deutschen Kommentare für Sie hier überhaupt passen? – Bitte sagen. Aber ich kann nur hoffen, Sie haben oder hatten einen anspruchsvollen Beruf, wo Ihre Schreibkünste schon zum Tragen kamen.
Ich fühle mich von Ihren Texten angesprochen, weil ich leidenschaftlich gerne Weitwanderungen mache, aber auf “Hinterwegen”. Zuerst war es nur die verlockende Natur, dann immer mehr idyllische kleine Orte, Lebensweisen, Menschen. Heute mache ich bewußt einen Bogen um große Touristenattraktionen, weil ich das Juwel im Verborgenen suche, und tatsächlich meistens finde: besondere Menschen, die zufällig dastehen, wo ich mit meinem großen Rucksack gerade dahinschlendere. Ich liebe auch die Grundfragen des Lebens wiederzuentdecken: wo gibt es Wasser, wo kann ich übernachten, oder oft wo kann ich mein Zelt heimlich aufschlagen? Mit 66 Jahren ist es mir besonders wichtig, möglichst oft auf mein schönes Bett zuhause zu verzichten.
Ich wünsche weiterhin viel Stoff zu vielen gelungenen “Musings”!
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Wo sind Sie denn dieser Tage?
Habe mir Ihre Seite kurz angeschaut und das sieht interessant aus. Nach Deutschland möchte ich auch gerne mal wieder aber das muss wohl noch ein bisschen warten. Ich bemerkte, das Sie schon länger nichts mehr geschrieben haben?