Wednesday, February 26, 2014

10 Reasons to love Taiwan (and to love living here)

1. Musical Garbage Trucks 

Video by mom2ag

Several years ago, some (awesome) mayor decided that the best way to collect garbage, rather than leave it outside, was to announce the arrival of the garbage truck, so people could come out and throw the garbage out directly. And what better way to announce its arrival than some classical music? As it is now, it's often a social event for blocks and neighborhoods, where you get to interact with those in your area. So, yeah, it might sound like ice cream, but it's garbage.

2. 7-11's (Convenience stores in general)

These exist all over the world, but in Taiwan they achieve their full potential. They're open 24 hours, and offer everything from meals, food, clothes, liquor, as well as photocopying, printing, scanning services. You can also use their machines to order movie tickets, call a taxi, buy train tickets. You can also order your Chinese New Year meals to be delivered from nice restaurants (including Din Tai Fung) from these convenience stores. Also I just signed up, and paid the fee, for the national Chinese language exam at a convenience store two days ago. Most of them also have places to sit with free wi-fi, and yes, some even have washing machines. And when you buy something, don't forget to keep the receipt, because...

3. Receipts

Photo by n3sabishii

The back of each receipt has a number, which is a lottery number. So hold onto these and you can win. The winnings aren't usually all that big, but they're winnings nonetheless. And yes, these are receipts from everywhere in Taiwan, not just convenience stores.

4. Weird license plates 

5. Burning offerings (and general religiosity) 

Most of these Chinese religious traditions went by the wayside thanks to the cultural revolution, but they are alive and well in Taiwan. So on certain days you will see people burning fires and offering fruit outside their stores. The fires are burning effigies of money, as offerings to gods.

You will also witness some pretty cool festivals and processions, especially when you head out of Taipei (or right through one of the main roads of Taipei, as you can see here). The temples are also a lot more interesting and elaborate than anything on the mainland:

Photo by SpirosK

6. Aborigines

Yes. Taiwanese are not the original inhabitants of Taiwan. Much like North America, Taiwan has native inhabitants, and much like North America, these aborigines have been moved to the mountains and countryside and have more or less been neglected, so much so that many tourists don't know about their existence. There are 14 (currently) recognized tribes, however, and they are more closely related, in blood, language and customs, to aborigines from Tahiti and Samoa, as well as Maori and some Philipino tribes, than to Han Chinese.

Tribes - Past and Present. Photo from Wikipedia

Atayal women with facial tattoos - Photo by Claire Mono

Oh, yeah, and there's a cool movie by John Woo about an Aboriginal tribe during the Japanese occupation:

Video by water1124

7. The language

Basically, Chinese is an ancient language, with ancient writing (it is the only language left that uses what, in essence, are hieroglyphics). The interesting thing is that mainland China changed the written language during their cultural revolution, using what we today call Simplified Characters. Hong Kong retained the original Chinese characters, but it also retained Cantonese, a language different from Mandarin. So Taiwan is the only country that still uses the ancient language and alphabet known as Chinese, and the same one used by Confucius, Lao zi, and all the others (minus variation due to the passing of time, which is less than you'd think). So, basically, if you want to experience the real Chinese language, visit Taiwan.

8. This:

This was the weather forecast for Wednesday, January 29th, 2014, to Monday, February 3rd, 2014. During this same time this was happening in Europe:

And this was happening in Atlanta:

9. The people

It's impossible to show an image of this, but the fact that ICRT (the local English language radio station) found that one of the top complaints foreigners had in Taiwan was that the locals were "Too helpful", should explain a lot. Call me weird, but that sounds like a good problem to have. 

10. Night markets

Skip Shilin night market. In fact, if you can hit the Keelung or Tainan Huayuan night markets then definitely check them out, but otherwise just find the night market closest to you ( and try whatever you wish. Everything is safe to eat and every night market has its own atmosphere and specialty. 

Tainan Huayuan night market