Taiwan: Land of t-shirt wrestling and stinky tofu

7 Jun

taiwan beerAhhh Taipei. Another weekend, another new favourite Asian city. I realise I do this gratuitous love-in on an irritatingly frequent basis but I’ve got to say this place is worth fawning over.

Taiwan has a long and chequered history ending in a lengthy period of Japanese colonialism in the late 1800s to 1945, and then the forced immigration of the Kuomintang Chinese nationalists after they were routed by Mao’s lot in the Chinese civil war. This has made it a smaller, friendlier, cleaner, tastier and altogether sexier version of China proper. Some American douchebags I met called it China Light, but that’s doing Taiwan a massive disservice.

The Japanese empire may have departed this island long ago but its cultural remnants cast a long shadow. From the tap-to-open automatic doors to the ubiquitous vending machines and even the hot springs, Japanism is everywhere. And people queue! And, especially refreshing coming from Hong Kong where the locals are tucked up in bed playing Candy Crush on their phablets by 10pm, Taipeiers go out and booze like it’s the end of the world.

taipei cityscape

Case in point: I was awoken in my hotel room on Sunday afternoon by the gentle shaking of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, with no memory of how I got home. Only the blurred pictures of tequila shots on my smartphone and a vague memory of being wrestled out of my t-shirt by a girl called Melody remained. Ahh, Taipei.dancing girls

The Republic of China has been unfairly ignored for much of the past 50 years by the international community but in a lot of ways it’s the kind of place you wish mainland China could have been. Ignore the stinky tofu for a second and you’ve got a free press, good education, a fully functioning healthcare system and lovely people. The PRC still regards it as a territory to be eventually subsumed into the motherland à la Hong Kong, but one visit to the imposing Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei will prove that this is about as likely to happen as Xi Jinping opening a Twitter account.

chiang kai shek

Generalissimo Chiang cuts a forlorn, almost tragic figure in the museum dedicated to his life, beneath the monument. After all, this is the guy – the Kuomintang leader for several decades – who let China slip through his fingers and effectively exiled himself on a small mountainous island. It’s now a place where the rivers flow bereft of even a solitary rotting pig carcass; where the internet takes you to any site you wish, where the police do not arrest elderly women protesting the sexual abuse of their infant daughters; where the air is clean and the rice doesn’t even contain dangerously high levels of cadmium.

He must be kicking himself.

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One Response to “Taiwan: Land of t-shirt wrestling and stinky tofu”

  1. davehall June 11, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    Some nice thoughts and I agree with most of ’em. Taiwan is a great place. And the healthcare system is universal and well run. I try both Western and Chinese medicine and both are covered by ins. And acupressure works…another Japanese style still at work here….a good mix of Chinse, Japanese and Taiwanese. And who doesn’t like chou dofu?

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