Taiwan – Most decidedly *not* China

22 03 2011

Leaving Japan by plane from Osaka, I landed shortly afterwards in Taipei, Taiwan, the land I knew of only for its perpetually contentious politics, its electronics manufacturing, and it being the current home of my former school buddy Steven, whom I hadn’t seen in a few years and was excited to visit. As always when visiting a place without having a done a lot of research beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised by it all. Taiwan, in my opinion, was for me as different from mainland China as anywhere else I’ve been. Sure, people were speaking Mandarin, hotpot places were everywhere, and so forth, but it nevertheless had a very different feeling for me than similarly developed mainland Chinese cities (like Shanghai or Beijing). For one thing, the country is *way* cleaner. I never once saw someone spitting, air pollution is less, and, based on the fact that my bowels weren’t disrupted like they were in mainland China, I can only assume food hygiene is better too. There’s also a wider (relatively speaking) understanding of English, and slightly more use of it on signs, though I definitely still needed every word of Mandarin I could remember!

My stay in the country was painfully short (only 6 nights), but I was driven on by a greater force – that of my overwhelming desire to be reunited with my girlfriend in the Philippines. If not for that, I would’ve stayed longer and probably done Korea too, but alas, you can’t have it all, and I’m satisfied with my choices made!

Though brief, I pushed myself, as I always do, to get the most out of my time in Taiwan. While I unfortunately was stuck with downpours on basically every day I was there, I still managed to traverse a fair portion of Taipei, as well as do a day trip by train to the famous (read: insanely packed with local tourists on thousands of tour buses) Taroko Gorge on the very scenic east coast of the island, followed by a train-bound circumnavigation of the island (continuing down the east coast and coming back up to Taipei on the much more developed west coast) the next day. I spent some quality time with my buddy Steven as well, which included some hot pot outings, playing video games with him and his dorm mates on a night before their big medical exams (!!), and checking out the local night markets together. He also wrangled me a super sweet hotel to stay in while I was in Taipei, with a regular rate of about 130$ a night (including all-you-can-eat breakfast, which I certainly did), but reduced to only 30 bucks because I had a youth hostel card!

Overall, Taipei is a pretty nice city. While flaunting its first-world development (in terms of cleanliness, facility availability, etc.) it nevertheless retains the unpredictable Asian character that I love. It has some nice heritage buildings, some huge memorials/temples, Taipei 101, well laid-out MRT lines, and great night markets. It also had, while I was there, the International Flora Expo, which I didn’t even know existed, but which I was happy to check out, since I had missed the Shanghai Expo by a month. It wasn’t spectacular by any means, nor did it have as many flowers as I had anticipated, but it was still a decent way to spend a half-day.

I could never live here though, only because it lacks any and all international organizations (and so I’d be out of work!), which I was interested to discover. I always figured Taiwan or “Chinese Taipei” was at least a UN member somehow (they’ve got their own Olympic team, after all!), but it is instead one of the very very few states out there that has yet to be recognized by nearly every nation (except for a few small island states), due to mainland China’s insistence that other states may have formal diplomatic relations with only one of the two “Chinas” (Taiwan, in case you didn’t know, has the formal name, Republic of China, while mainland China’s formal name is the People’s Republic of China – not too dissimilar from the two competing Koreas {as an interesting aside though, even North Korea has UN membership, but not Taiwan!}). This means there aren’t even any Embassies in Taiwan, only “Trade Offices” (though they’re de-facto embassies). This lack of any international oversight on Taiwan troubled me / interested me, as the state is therefore not bound to any international law that’s ever been passed (Geneva Convention, Convention on Climate Change, whatever), and yet, it really doesn’t appear much different from states that are bound by these. Perhaps it informally maintains compliance or else risks informal punishments from other states, or perhaps it shows the lack of need for such international conventions, though I tend to favor the former idea over the latter!

At any rate, after an enjoyable 6 nights, I bid farewell to Steven and Taipei, and caught the jet back to Manila, back to my girlfriend! (This was in January, sorry for the 2 month delay! I’ll do a couple summary Philippine posts soon)

Check out the pics!

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