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Taipei: our first acquaintance with Taiwan
Hualien (Taiwan), September 19th 2009

On September 8th we fly with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to the Taiwanese capital city Taipei. As a matter of fact, we really don’t know a lot of Taiwan. Of course, we did some reading last weeks, but we still do not exactly know what to expect from this small country. For the sake of convenience we call Taiwan a country, but the discussion about the status of Taiwan is a sensitive political issue in the world, especially in China. China is of the opinion that Taiwan is an apostate province and needs to be reunited with China as soon as possible. The Taiwanese however, do not share that opinion. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, when China lost Taiwan to Japan, the country developed itself independently from China. Taiwan did never dare to declare its independence, afraid of China’s reaction. China always threatened to attack Taiwan in case of a declaration of independence. Taiwan however, has the protection of the United States of America. The US promised Taiwan to help in case of an attack. The situation at this moment is that Taiwan is developing independently, but that no one in the world dares to recognise its independence. Everybody is afraid of the reaction of China. It is almost for sure that in that case the country that recognises the independence of Taiwan will be treated by China on an economic boycott and the breaking of all diplomatic ties. Only twenty-two countries in the world recognised Taiwan as an independent state, but these countries have no political weight at all. Countries that recognised Taiwan are among others: Burkina Faso, Sao Tomé, Haiti and Nicaragua.

From the airport of Taipei, we take a local bus to the city centre. As soon as we get off the bus, we notice that we arrived in a complete different world. The western script disappeared, and everywhere where we look we see the Chinese language, which is a complete mystery to us. Of course, we travelled to countries before where the language is build up of different type of characters, like Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, but in those situations there was always a reasonable amount of English signs. But also here in Taipei, it seems that it is not that bad. Most street names are also mentioned in English, and also the signs in the metro of Taipei are in both Chinese and English. But that’s about it. Ordering a hamburger at Mc Donald’s for example, is still done by pointing to the photographs on the for the rest complete Chinese menu signs.

Bringing offers at one of Taipei's many temples

We find a small hotel in the heart of the city centre. The hotel looks a lot like a student house. The rooms are small, have bunk beds and the facilities are shared. Most rooms are occupied by western low educated ‘adventurers’ that travelled to Taiwan in the hope to find a job as English teacher. But it doesn’t seem to be that easy. Some of the ‘adventurers’ have no job and are hanging all day on the couch of the communal sitting room or are browsing the internet on their laptop computers. What we already learn on the day of our arrival is that Taiwan is much more expensive than most other countries in the region. We knew that it would be a little more expensive, but we didn’t expect to pay € 18 for a student-like room. We decide to spend the first couple of days in the centre of Taipei, to get used to the new environment and to visit some of Taipei’s must sees.

One of the first things that we notice in Taipei is that the Taiwanese people are extremely friendly. Wherever we go in the city, people are treating us very kind and take the time to bridge the language barriers. And once in a while we are approached by somebody who speaks some English to ask if we need help. The knowledge of the English language of the Taiwanese is something that disappoints us. You would expect that the English language is well spoken in a country in where the education is on a high level and where exports and technological industries are booming. But critics in Taiwan are of the opinion that the Taiwanese educational system is too much focussed on committing by memory. That means that they often have the theoretical knowledge prepared, but that they do not have the knowledge or creativity to use it in practise. And that is a pity. We met a lot of young and high educated Taiwanese people, but most of them didn’t know how to speak English. But still then, their English is much better than our Chinese. So, it still happens often that we have to use our hands, feet and the dictionary to find our way through daily life in Taipei.

Enjoying instant noodles at the 7-Eleven
Eventually we spend our first five days of our visit in Taipei, and in point of fact that is still not enough. The nice thing about the Taiwanese capital is that it has some interesting sights by itself, but that there are also a lot of beautiful things to see in its direct surrounding. There are a lot of places to go as a daytrip from the city. The efficient metro system of Taipei reaches till far in the suburbs, making trips to places outside the city centre easy. The city is also blessed with a beautiful national park (Yangmingshan NP), just on a stone throw distance from the city centre. But be warned; Taiwanese people also like to hit the roads on their free days in the weekend. So if you decide to visit the more touristy places during the weekend or the holiday season, be prepared to share the place with hundreds or thousands of Taiwanese holiday makers. But don’t be deterred, that’s part of the fun.

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