What's In A Name
Trip Start Aug 12, 2009
72Trip End Ongoing
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
So what is Taiwan? This was part of the appeal in our choosing to come and live here, we knew so little about it, but we had heard some very pleasant stories
Consisting of one main island and a few smaller ones, it is slightly larger than Belgium and has a population of 23 million people. Those 23 million are currently served by 4,412 7-11 convenience stores, without which the social fabric would completely fall apart. The main language is "Traditional Chinese", now the only (country) in the world to use it, as China and co laughably switched to "Simplified Chinese", which seems just as complicated to us. The birthrate here is the lowest in the world, yet the number of twins is astonishing. Electronics makes up 75% of its revenue and high-tech income streams can often be poured into high-tech developments too, Taipei 101 was for many years the tallest building in the world and it is the symbol of modern Taiwan. The High Speed Rail system is based on Japan's Bullet Train and propels you smoothly along the island at 300 km/h, an engineering feat that much of the west envies. The likes of Acer, Asus, BenQ and HTC all come from here as do the chips in almost all of your electronic kit.
Yet it is not all ultra-modern. Away from the bustling city centres full of neon and the global chain stores and cafes, Taiwan is staunchly traditional and respects many ancient rituals. Temples are dotted all over the the countryside and there are many tribal villages full of aboriginals, there are the formerly Japanese villages and there are the Hakka townships that originated from mainland China and emigrated here a couple of hundred years ago.
Amongst the traditions, weddings and funerals are particularly bizarre
However, weddings are pretty dull compared to funerals. It is the norm in these parts to ensure a positive send-off and this means if a man is being buried, the more scantily clad dancing girls you can afford for the funeral march, the better. Literally young models prance around in bikinis for the deceased as this is apparently a sign to the gods that he was a very popular fellow and therefore worthy of a decent welcome in heaven. Hmm, well it certainly makes for a great send off and usually ensures that funerals are exceptionally well attended. In addition to the dancing girls, professional wailers are recruited who scream in grief so convincingly that you are certain of an enormous and genuine love. The idea is to ensure that the gods are suitably impressed by the sadness down on earth and therefore a warm greeting awaits. And finally it is essential to burn money so that the departed will have plenty of spending power in heaven. Iron canisters are placed on the street so that anyone is free to chuck their money into the fire, but we should point out that Monopoly style money is used for this purpose and they usually add some firecrackers too. Make no mistake, one is fully aware if a funeral is taking place within a 2 mile radius.
Karaoke is everywhere and it's a very serious business, in some cases in extremely plush suites with banquets provided and in other forms it can just be set-up on the side of a street and it is even delivered by trucks who will literally park wherever they can find an audience, fire up a generator and "the hills are alive...."
On the subject of parking, it is an absolute free for all
Food is a national obsession, the Taiwanese way of saying hello/greeting someone means "have you eaten?" And they do not believe in wasting an animal, they eat everything! If its got legs and it isn't a table, they eat it! Every other building seems to be an eatery of some description. Fine dining resides alongside snack stalls and there are some very weird dishes indeed. Stinky Tofu is exactly what it claims to be, imagine putting your nose into a drain. How about taking a block of ice, shaving it, adding kidney beans and condensed milk. Fortunately in between the shockers there are plenty of pleasant surprises too and one which is beginning to make a name for itself internationally is Pearl Milk Tea
Convenience is a buzz word in Taiwan and it is one of the words most keenly learnt by our students. It appears in an enormous amount of homework and when one considers how infrequently this word is used in English, it is even more strange to see it used so often by non native speakers. But life is meant to be as easy as possible and nothing aids that aim more than 7-11. Not only do people shop there, they pay bills, buy meals, use the internet, do photocopying, arrange cell phone contracts and it is where deliveries are sent to by online traders. So for example, should you order a book online, almost certainly the retailer will offer to send it to your local branch of 7-11. When we need to pay bills, we go to 7-11 and once there, we usually stop for a drink as it also doubles up as a local cafe/coffee shop. Within a five minute walk of home, we have at least ten convenience stores. They are all open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We also have a Carrefour supermarket approximately 3 minutes walk away. So we were somewhat surprised to receive a letter the other day asking if we wanted a food and drink vending machine to be placed within our apartment building so that we would have something convenient nearby.
So Taiwan is many things to many people, but first and foremost, it is all about being convenient!