Some thoughts after this 17 day trip through Taiwan. First, huge kudos to Jennifer who spent a huge amount of time preparing the trip for us. Many things are a bit backwards once you live Taipei: finding information on places was hard and time consuming, either on the phone, or Emails which take a long time for Jennifer to write (she can write, but not fast), getting a hiking permit was ridiculous: it took days of work and included providing a local contact in Taiwan to vouch for us (for a hike which quite frankly wasn't dangerous), and booking places was mostly on the phone, spelling address and Email letter by letter over bad phone connections. Even reserving a train ticket was a big mess.
Originally our trip was meant to be before our trip in Indonesia and we had to postpone it due to a Typhoon that went through Taiwan just before we were about to fly there. Jennifer ended up having to cancel and re-book everything: plane flights, trains, hotels, and hiking permit. Thankfully the delay allowed us to have better weather, and we got 2 extra days out of it on our new itinerary, so we didn't have to run as fast :)
Random impressions/thoughts I got out of this trip:
As a tourist, I found Taiwan more like Japan than China (and I mean that as a compliment ;) ). People are not as extreme in respecting rules as the Japanese are, but still reasonably close. They're also much more helpful and nice than the Chinese are to tourists overall (sorry if you're Chinese :) ) even if not to the extreme than the Japanese are (who will run after you to return the wallet you just dropped, or come back after you if they realized they just gave you bad directions after you've already left). With only a couple of exceptions, everyone was very helpful and nice to us (there is some idiot in an SUV who decided I should not be able to pass him on a long winding road and actually swerved to block me twice when I tried to pass, but this could have been a stupid tourist).
Of course, Taiwan is a democracy and China is a dictatorship where it's unfortunately ok for a portion of the population to screw anyone for a buck (we're talking poisoned toys, killing villages slowly by poisoning their water to make cell phone magnets, and arresting reporters who try to let the world know about it, or name brand wine bottles that are re-filled with unsafe wine and sold as new). This is why I've so far avoided setting foot in China and I should add that Jennifer who went to visit China when she was younger was taken advantage of in bad ways, and hasn't exactly forgotten either. Thankfully Taiwan was great, it was safe, the government looked like things were run well (outside of missing rules for the road, see below).
Things I liked:
I learned more on this trip about the struggle of Taiwan to become and stay a nation (republic of china) when the so called "people's republic of china" (*cough*bullshit*cough*) tried to crush them several times and I admire how they fought and stood their ground even if their plan to retake China and liberate the rest of its people (a mere billion+ today) obviously isn't exactly going to happen.
Everything was cheap for us. Entrance to most attractions/museums was 1 or 5 dollars.
Food was super cheap too. You could get a decent pack lunch for $1. Jennifer was in heaven :)
I loved the ice cream music coming out of the trash trucks driving around. It was even more fun when multiple trucks were doing their own route at the same time and you could hear slightly different music from each, at the same time. It's only around the last days that I figured out that people could not leave their trash bags in the streets and they weren't any big trash containers outside you could leave your trash in for the trucks to pick up: instead you have to be home, hear the music, and hurry outside with your trash back to throw it in the truck as it is driving by slowly. Reminds me of running after a water truck at burning man to get a shower :) That said, it's a bit backward though, if you're working when the truck goes by, I'm not sure how you dispose of your trash (likely you have to drive it somewhere).
There is a lot of nature worth seeing in Taiwan, but a lot is not super accessible. We saw some of the highlights I think, but California has just as many as nice or nicer ones much closer to home for us :) The Hoodoos in Yeliu were likely the one very nice thing we don't have in California.
Their temples were plentiful and colorful. Honestly, I was quite impressed.
Things I didn't like as much:
Once outside of Taipei, it's not Japan. Getting around without a car in an efficient manner isn't really possible (mind you, that's true of many countries).
Taiwan doesn't have too many cars in most of the towns we went to which is good, but in turn you get thousands of noisy polluting scooters everywhere (fun fact, they usually pollute more than a car per distance driven). Also I'm not scared to drive in cities without lanes and traffic in all direction, but the scooters cutting around you left and right at all times and always having to worry about not swiping a few when you make a turn in any direction, was annoying. In the end, I only got around by saying "fuck it, if they are dumb and try to pass me on the right between the sidewalk and light poles while I turn, they'll end up hurting more than I will".
I wish Taiwan were using more bikes, especially electric bikes. We saw a few electric scooters, but due to their weight they had poor range (30-40km at best?) and you're screwed if the battery dies. Electric bikes in Kyoto were sooo much more practical and didn't make smog worse (smog wasn't good in bigger cities and I'm sure the scooters play a big part). Then again, I'd rather have electric scooters everywhere than gasoline ones.
Taiwan doesn't seem to have laws against having bright flashing LEDs to blind you from all directions and distract you from the road. Worse, you can totally put flashing red and blue lights on your car or truck, and even worse, some people did that. Good thing that no cop tried to pull me over because I'd have ignored all lights. To be honest, this makes Taiwan look bad and a bit third-worldy, I hope they get a grip and fix this at least.
Another interesting thing: if you park in some cities some city block parking enforcer comes and puts a ticket like looking stub on your car. That's normal, you're supposed to then go find a 7/11 (no kidding) and pay your parking fee there (it's not a fine, just the way you pay the street parking fee). Urgh, this is questionable at best.
And speaking of unsafe driving still, it's 100% legal to have a TV in car dashboard for the driver. Hell, even a cab driver was watching a soap opera while driving us around :-|
The food. Jennifer was in heaven eating random animal parts that I didn't grow up thinking of as food, even if French people do eat more animal parts than Americans do :) For me, it was a bit tough to find things that felt safe at times, or just lean protein. We once took Jennifer's family to a steakhouse and all the steak cuts we got were pretty horrible. Let's just say that I loved eating just about everything in Japan, but not as much in Taiwan. That doesn't mean the food was bad like in Indonesia (sorry if you're Indonesian, but food there is just not the country's main forte outside of Bali), just not what I liked most about Taiwan :)
Here are a few interesting pictures that I have left over:
driving a cab is less boring if you can watch TV at the same time
hello kitty air terminal, cute :)
hiking is boring, how's facebook doing?
In Japan, I had a collection of funny signs, so here are a few from Taiwan:
those selfie poles were everywhere. People were filming themselves walking a hiking trail with that. Lame...
In Paris, it's a bunny that gets its hands caught :)
Argh, less fun, this tells you that it's safe for ladies to use the bathrooms, they were checked for voyeur cameras :(
Oh, I almost forgot to say we came during election time. OMG, they were signs everywhere, way way too many:
Escalators bite :)
Vote for the winning team, vote #10!
I'll put a few last words on what I learned about religion in Taiwan.
The real main religion in Taiwan is Folk Religion. Due to history, it's a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, and many variants, including characters in ancient legend. The last bit was what confused me a bit, seeing many statues of existing people who were being revered like gods, prayed to, and given offerings. There is nothing wrong with that mind you, it just took a bit to get used to.
7 different voting signs in this intersection
Please refer to my Taiwan Day 08: Tainan and Anping post which shows how the beautiful temples look like, the many kinds of deities, how people leave all kinds of foods (all the way to pig hearts), and big stacks of yellow paper god money you buy and burn to hopefully grant wishes.
Thanks to Hung-Te Lin, a coworker from the Taiwan office, I now understand a bit better how the religion works, including how the food offerings can be taken back by people who left them, or given to the poor, or sometimes taken home by the temple staff. I also learned that the rooms filled with little yellow lights can be effectively rented for a period of time (maybe a year) for a special blessing and you get your name on them.
Huge thanks again to Jennifer for organizing the trip and her family who hosted us for a couple of days.
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