Taiwan Part 4

Trip Start Mar 02, 2004
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Trip End Apr 02, 2005


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Flag of Taiwan  , TW.02,
Monday, August 9, 2004

By day, Matt and I explored Kaohsiung, in some areas that he himself had not seen in five month in the city. The Lonely Planet guide gives the city only passing remarks, and I was expecting a rather rougher, port town--it's the world's third largest container port, behind Singapore and Hong Kong. It's also the second largest city in Taiwan, with a population of 1.5 million, some 400 kilometres southwest of Taipei.

For it's size and relative sophistication, it deserves more than a simple passing over. As much as I may paint it as a tropical backwater, it is nothing of the sort. The temples and pagodas we visited were spectacular, and the city does have a reasonable nightlife.

But Seoul is a party town, and no match for Kaohsiung. In comparing the two cities, it's just not fair to talk nightlife. While in Seoul there are three major neighbourhoods where foreigners party in numbers--let alone the areas where we don't--Kaohsiung has only a number of bars and clubs where you'll find expats.

Nights there are mostly spent in quite refuge from work: a few beers, cable television, or, for those so inclined, a slightly more nefarious distraction. Hashish abounds in Kaohsiung, and seems a normal (read: essential) part of life for foreigners in the city. Seoul is a "dry" town, to the ire of many, though of not much concern to a fair-weather toker like myself.

I'm not a party boy either, but by Saturday night I was drumming my fingers. I felt like a crazy out-of-town relative looking for a good time. So Matt and his friend Mark, another Ottawa son, took me out to dinner and then to a local bar frequented by foreigners. The place is run by a Canadian expat, and was rammed with both foreigners and Taiwanese. With good music and cheap Tiger beer, the night was a success.

Now, after years in the service industry, I know a thing or two about bars, and maybe three or four things I wish I didn't. And here, I feel more comfortable and social in a bar, far more than, say, on the street in broad daylight, where even the friendliest expats ignore each other. For better or worse, the only place to meet people here, aside from work, is at the bar.

In a major city like Seoul, you can meet others at less toxic venues. Cruise the Seoul Classifieds and you can find all kinds of "normal" ways of meeting people. But in Seoul, like Kaohsiung, the bar is where it's at.

Unfortunate, perhaps, but it's the only place where people let their guard down. And while it doesn't have to be a party town, a city without nightlife just isn't that interesting. In my world, if you can't go out, you can't live right.
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