taipei

All posts tagged taipei

It took a while to put together this photojournal of our trip, but here it is, written in photos and comments:

PART 1 – Taipei

PART 2 – Tainan

I learned something very deep about the Taiwanese people during this trip, something that I always suspected in the back of my mind, but when I realized it became pervasive everywhere I looked there.

The Taiwanese are some of the most resourceful people I've met. That is not to say they are practical, logical, or expedient. That is also not to say they can't be wasteful, or excessive. No, they manage to be all of those, and yet still resourceful, with an aplomb that is sometimes both embarassing, and yet charming for ABCs like me (american born chinese).

They are able to find a use in anything, to coop the last iota of utility, intention, even style, taste, or sentiment. You will see a populace obsessed with name brand goods stack them unceremoniously on their body, judging fashion not by the gestalt but by the individual articles of clothing, no matter how gaudily they're assembled. You will see the disembodied head of a beautifully painted mannequin decorate a stack of lumber as if lipstick on the pig did the trick… and yet for them it does.

Many Taiwanese households are utterly infested with items that they insist are useful, be they pens unused in years, disintegrating beta max tapes, or some toy or bowl or cardboard box that hasn't entirely rotted away. They are magpies, they are infinitely matter-of-fact about things. They are democratic to a fault.

As I left the island, I was struck by how little vandalism I saw. Sure, there was plenty of other crime, but it seemed suspiciously lacking in vandalism. I don't think even the scoundrels can stand to see something have its value defaced for no good reason. To the Taiwanese, it simply doesn't make sense. I admire that communal sense of survivorship. And while not creative in the ways I'd boast that Americans are, they can appropriate anything to their lives without fear of disdain. For all the stress and political turmoil on the island, they can, more than almost any in the world, carve a comfortable niche for themselves in a place the Portuguese named Formosa, meaning "beautiful." And if I lived in a place so beautiful, I think I too wouldn't have a care in the world for modern pretenses.

Curiously, that beauty is literally worldwide… the antipode to Taiwan (should you cross through the center of the earth to the other side) is a little Spanish-founded city in Argentina, also called Formosa.

Next stop on this photo tour is Taipei. I've commented as many as the photos as I could.

Taipei, the city itself at least, is very modern. Too modern in some ways. But in almost every corner of the city you will find the ubiquitous night-markets, or "yie-shi." These act not only as one of the primary forms of entertainment for people, but a functional place to get cheap goods as well. Many food carts will sell you a dinner's worth of noodles, buns, fried meats, or red-bean dessert for a measly buck or two, and you can get a satay kabob or fish balls for just $0.25. I didn't find the living costs overall to be that much different than the U.S. when adjusted for income, but snacks like these were undoubtably in their own caste of bargaindom.

Before I went, Bob warned me. There are "no hot chicks" he said, and those words gave me drive to prove him wrong. I can say that for Taipei at least, he was dead right. My theory, I later elucidated to him, was that the food there was so toxic, and the student's life preparing for their brutal exams was so stressful, and the air was so corrosive, that every girl there was obliged to wear layers of make-up capable of combatting bio-terrorism. Add to that their penchant for superficially copying the gaudy dress style of their Japanese counterparts, and you had a patentable formula for bad taste, bad fashion, bad looks. I'll post up pics of Xi Men Ding later, but where the college students were, things got a bit better, and I attribute that to college life being a relative cakewalk. Relative to high school I mean. Xstine's still has agonizing nightmares of cramming 12 hours a day for entrance exams.

But what really surprised me were the guys. Donning ambigusexually teased "Jap-rock" mullets and carrying women's coach bags to match the ever-fashionable and ever-present Verizon guy glasses, they were a force powerful enough to reinforce the emasculate male stereotype for asian dudes across the globe. Taizhong, which is a major city in central Taiwan, had much beefier guys with denim and T's, buzzcuts and attitude, and generally looked much better. Taipei, however, was damned.

But enough with criticisms. There will time for more later… hahaha… I've got to say that Taipei changed alot since I last went, eight years ago. The stores brim with service, to the point that I became uncomfortable when forced for sake of sanity to ignore greetings and hello-come-try-our-snacks' every five minutes. Every storekeeper was a veritable rainbow under the constant Formosan rain. And the people themselves, when face-to-face and not driving like assholes, are incredible friendly. Many many times did they eavesdrop on our distress and help point the way to the next attraction our confused expressions graciously accepted. American like to think we are a friendly people. I think we are too busy thinking we are, and altogether not in constant surveillance for silly lost tourists.

Most memorably, I had bowl after bowl of beef noodle soup, a Taiwanese delicacy. I plan to write a who's who book of best beef noodle soup places in Taiwan, and will be the emminent beefnoodologist of greater Pacifica. Even with the sly heat sabotaging every "gloomy" day and wrecking the crust of Axe deodorant I was swathed in, I had no fear plunging into the perils of beefy gluttony. Here, for just $3, was the soul of Taipei, and it was addicting.