Thursday, November 17, 2011

Notes from Taiwan

Water makes Taiwan beautiful, though. 
My last visit to Taiwan came ten years ago, the day after 9/11, as a matter of fact.  It was loads of fun getting on an airplane right when air travel had become a weapon in worldwide jihad, also having to fly around a hurricane between Japan and Taiwan.  It turned out another hurricane was bearing down on Formosa as well, which helps explain why the island is so green.  This hurricane didn't pack particularly strong winds, but it came in (unusually) from the north and kind of settled over Taiwan, creating torrential rains for some time, and flooding parts of Taipei. 

Ten years later -- it was still raining, when we arrived.  Did the sun ever come out? 

Doris Brougham and Overseas Radio and Television (ORTV) sent a car to pick me up, and helped me find a place to stay, with a kind Presbyterian dentist. (Also mountain climber and fervent supporter of Cai Yingwen in her bid for the presidency next year.) I'll be speaking to the ORTV staff, tomorrow morning.  I attended their meeting this morning, which was kind of like a cross between a TV music special, and a campfire revival.  These people are professionals, and you could easily have filmed the whole thing and made a creditable show out of it, but they also seem quite sincere in their worship.  I certainly enjoyed singing a cheerful old aboriginal song about "my help being from the Lord." 

Other notes from the trip to Taiwan so far:

* Lots of new superhighways, some under construction.  The famous 101 building, once the tallest in the world, now dominates the Taipei skyline, with nothing even close for miles around. 

* The train system is efficient, with about 5 lines in Taipei, even though it caused me to miss an important appointment today.  (One line splits and goes in two directions, and I got on the wrong train.)  Stations are decorated in a lively, friendly, and clever way.  Prices are reasonable, as with most things (except housing) in Taiwan -- far cheaper than Japan, a little cheaper than the US, about the same as Korea.

* The Japanese hamburger chain Mossburger is all over the place, now. 

* Otherwise things don't seem to have changed that much.  They still sell betel nut, the mildly narcotic nut that turns teeth purple or black.  Almost all my old favorite Taiwanese foods seem to still be available: I had a wonderful Papaya shake last night after dinner. 

* How polite and mellow everyone seems, compared to mainland China!  They even say "thank you" and "please!" 

* In some cases this has run almost to political correctness, gentrification, even chicification.  Baby changing areas are provided at train stops.  Tourists are told not to swim in the river in Wulai, for fear of being swept downstream.  In some places you have to pay for plastic bags.

* The worst is the garbage collecting system.  It used to be that people piled their refuge in plastic bags at central collection areas.  Cats used to hang and look for goods to grab.  Now when the garbage truck comes, it makes music, and everyone comes running with their trash.  This is harder if you live on the fifth floor.  (My driver on the way into town claimed they were building all 30 story buildings, now, but in fact most of the apartments seem to still be 5 floors.)  My host tells me love stories are sometimes told about people waiting to unload their trash. 

* So maybe entropy won't have the last laugh, after all.

Friendship Presbyterian
church (mainlanders) and
Taiwan Presbyterian
heathy competition?
* I was walking along Roosevelt Road, trying to find a Friendship Presbyterian Church on Sunday.  I felt someone tugging on my day pack.  I looked around, to find a young Chinese man, walking with a limp, and with a large scar on his forehead.  He was zipping up my backpack!  "Don't worry, I'm not going to steal anything!"  He said, though talking in a way that suggested some mental disability.  He pointed to his scar, and said something about someone having done something to him once, but don't fear, he just wanted to make sure nothing fell out of my pack!  I thanked him, and told him I wasn't worried. 

* The dogs, by contrast, are mostly pretty unfriendly.  I hiked up a mountain behind where I'm staying yesterday, and got barked at by lots of dogs of the short-haired, business-like, native variety. They seemed to live at the temples on the mountain. I stopped at one resting spot, and two dogs came at me from different sides. I worked my way to the railing and picked up a brick, and they ran off. Then a little further up the trail, four dogs were standing on top of a large grave, barking at me. I picked up a stick, and they marched down off the grave, rather gravely, in the other direction.

* I stayed in the home of my friend Joshua in Caotun, near Taizhong, two nights ago.  It's a trilingual family: English, Mandarin, and Taiwanese: their two cute girls will get quite a start in life.  Joshua recorded an interview, which I expect will be on-line some time.

* Back in Taipei, and it's raining again.  I missed an appointment today, partly because of that rain.  "Heck it could be my fault." 

* Am also looking forward to meeting the founder of Cosmic Light, tomorrow or the next day.  He's an historian, and the publisher of the two remarkable books by Yuan Zhiming that I'm researching for my doctorate.

No comments: