Sushu's Travel Journal

August 6, 2012

Taiwan, sort of

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:18 pm

So on Friday I left China for the second time this summer to fly to Taipei! This trip is actually a school-related trip: next February, me and MJ, the Chinese teacher at our school, plan on taking students to Taiwan as a school trip. MJ was already in Taiwan, but she was in 高雄 Kaohsiung (I hope I’m doing the Taiwanese spelling correctly…), and we were actually planning to meet up in 金门 Kinmen. MJ is familiar with the rest of Taiwan, but neither of us had been to Kinmen, so we wanted to go explore and figure out what are worthy sights to put on our itinerary. So even though I flew to Taipei on Friday, I left Saturday morning on another flight to Kinmen.

This meant that I was only in Taipei from 9pm Friday night to 9am Saturday morning (excluding airport transit time). I had to make the most of my time! I checked into a hostel right by the main train station, and then went up to the Shilin Night Market 士林夜市. That was pretty cool — there were lots of interesting foods and so many stalls full of merchandise. The level of sheer consumer goods reminded me of Japan — it seemed like everything you could possibly want to own (and more!) was on sale. Unlike Japan, though, you could do some amount of bargaining with the shop owners, and only 50% of the items were unbearably cute. The food was also super-awesome. I had fried milk, mango ice, a giant piece of fried chicken slab that was the size of my head (didn’t know chickens had that much continuous meat!), fresh pineapple and guava, and this thing that was half dorayaki and half fried egg (tastes better than it sounds!) If I wasn’t so laden with shopping bags, I would have also been tempted to try one of the carnival games that lined one street. (Funny variant: fishing for live shrimp?!)

Here’s a fuzzy picture of the egg-dorayaki thing:

So I got back to the hostel. The hostel manager was drunk and seemed to have been drinking since 7pm. He would pause occasionally to sign along to some opera snippet that was playing over the speakers, and then pour himself more whisky or baijiu. His mandarin was very hard to understand, and his English more so, but he said my mandarin was incomprehensible and decided to only speak to me in English with random snippets of French and Japanese. He didn’t seem to like Mainlanders much, maybe because his mother is a Taiwan aborigine??

I woke up at 7:30am on Saturday because I figured I would have about an hour to wander around Taipei in the morning. Unfortunately, all of the museums open at 9 or 10am, and I had to get on the subway for the airport by 9am, so I decided instead to go to Longshan Temple, which was just 2 subway stops away and on the same blue line that would take me to the airport. Longshan Temple 龙山寺 was pretty cool! Everyone was dressed in robes and standing around doing chanting and there were people putting food offerings on the table. There were also a whole corner of free scriptures, so I took some small items to show off to my students. After I came out of Longshan Temple, I saw a sign for a Qitian Gong (启天宫), and I was like, “is that a Daoist place?” So I followed the sign, walking through the early morning streets of a night market (lots of closed shops and people looking very hung over), to find a small temple hidden in the middle of a residential district. I decided to take a different path back to the subway station and found yet another Gong in a different residential district where several people were doing more chanting. Man, religion here is srs bsns! I also stopped at a FamilyMart and got a chawan-mushi and 2 onigiri: Buddhist vegetarian and pepper beef. (yum!)

Here’s some pictures of Taiwan alleys and hidden neighborhood temples

And here’s the obligatory “Things you can’t do at a park” image.

Some interesting things about that park:
- it was only a square city block, mostly concrete with not a lot of grass
- it abuts the Longshan Temple
- it is above a giant underground mall/market. There seems to be a lot of those in Taipei…

And here’s a random ad I saw in the metro:

It says something like “pray and you’ll love it!” Well, pray as in do some bowing motions to the god depicted?!

Then it’s off to Kinmen! Kinmen is actually about 30km from Fujian, so it’s really close to China, and actually an hour+ flight from Taiwan proper. Most people in Taiwan have never been to Kinmen, unless they were posted there for their military service.

In the misty distance you can see the city of Xiamen, in China. Yes, we’re THAT close. Even though Kinmen is that close, it still gets its electricity and other materials and services flown over from Taiwan, for political reasons. It’s actually much cheaper to fly to Kinmen from Shanghai by flying to Xiamen and then taking a ferry, but then I wouldn’t have had my 12 hours in Taipei!

I met up with MJ and her 2 kids (16 and 13), and an old friend of her uncle who is a 72-year-old retired military policeman. He was very spry and hired a taxi and took us around the island. We went to some military remants: bunkers, a fort, an underground water passageway, and underground passageways connecting major government institutions. Kinmen has a lot more nature tourists there now, so in addition to some heavily-KMT-biased military museums, we were also subjected to various museums touting the local birds such as the bee-eater.

Here’s some military stuff:

In a bunker, the window has a helpful painting next to it telling the soldiers what kind of gun to use out of which window.

We stayed in this cool village that was built by Chinese immigrants returning from Indonesia. (Here’s the link to the Bed and Breakfast) The village is full of part-western (Indonesian-Dutch inspired) and part-traditional (traditional Fujian style) architecture. It’s kinda cool to see the footprint of the Chinese diaspora.

Here’s some pictures of the village:

This is the Li family temple

This is a western-style mansion built in the 1930s by Indonesian-Chinese

Our own Bed and Breakfast has this blend of Chinese and European

On Sunday we walked around town, and then went to a knife factory where they made cleavers by pounding and grinding the steel from the shells that were lobbed at Kinmen over the years. A shell from the 8-23 incident can make 60 cleavers! And some of the later propaganda shell can make 20 cleavers. :) Talk about literally beating swords into plowshares… or I guess beating shell casings into cleavers…

Here’s the knife workshop

And in the middle here you can see the cleaver that they made in roughly 5 minutes.

Then we had to leave for the airport, where I saw this:

My gate was decorated as a promotion of the 14 recognized aborigine groups in Taiwan, and also of the Seediq Bale movie, which seems to be about indigenous resistance to Japanese colonization? Anyway, here’s the wikipedia article.

So, in all, it was a pretty whirlwind tour of not-really-Taiwan.

Some impressions:
- Kinmen apparently gives its citizens a lot of benefits — mostly $$ from its baijiu sales. On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of jobs on the island — the military tourism is down and the nature tourism has yet to take its place. The military sector there has also declined along with the military presence (around 5000 now).

- The Taiwan people I met were, on the one hand, quite familiar with Mainland China (they have family there, or have visited recently), and on the other hand, very disparaging of Mainland Chinese, sometimes to a point of hypocrisy. Our taxi driver complained about Mainland Chinese tourists jay-walking or walking down the middle of a street, but then does it himself. He complained about how the Mainland Chinese were always scrambling to try to get the best seat on a bus or something. When I pointed out that China has greater population pressures, he admitted that Taiwanese were the same way 30 years ago.

- Language was interesting — most things were announced in both Mandarin and the local Fujianese dialect (although I think people call it Taiwanese now?). I think there has been an increase in Taiwanese in tv shows and such. Taiwanese Mandarin is all over the place — I found some people really easy to understand, but others were really hard to understand, with vocabulary or sentence structure borrowed from Taiwanese. This is in contrast to China, where, thanks to various standardization efforts, it seems like everyone under the age of 30 speaks with a very standard northern Mandarin dialect with only minor variations. (I often sound odd because my Mandarin is very… Shanghainese Mandarin from the 80s??)

- Aspects of Taiwan were more like China than I expected. I guess I was expecting something more like Japan, but the small street-side shops selling 5-7 dishes, with grungy tables and a visible wok, reminds me of China. Other aspects were more ordered — people were generally more polite and professional, and there were nice societal norms like leaving the priority seats for the elderly, or standing on the right side of the elevator and walking on the left side of the elevator.

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