Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peking Duck: Things I'll Miss About Taiwan

Foreigners complain a lot about Taiwan -- foreigners often complain about other foreigners complaining about Taiwan, forgetting that the most vociferous critics of Formosa are the Taiwanese themselves. We somehow often fail to notice how great things can be here: the Taiwanese are wonderful people. Richard at Peking Duck says good-bye to a great experience on the Beautiful Island...

First, there are the people. The Taiwanese are truly a class act - gracious, polite, willing to stop and help strangers, always putting their best face forward even in hard times. And even the aforementioned taxi drivers - they, too, amaze me with their kindness and honesty and refusal to sacrifice their morals. At least three times, including just this past weekend, I've gotten into a taxi not knowing my destination was just around the corner, and they dropped me off and refused to take any money. (In Shanghai, I've been driven literally a few inches and paid the full fare, though the driver could simply have pointed and said, "It's right across the street, over there.") And the taxi drivers, and just about everyone else here, are just so nice, so decent and caring. Quite a different story than in Hong Kong. Similar to what I often experienced in Singapore, but no where else in Asia (or the US, for that matter).

I don't think I love the people of any other country more than I love the Taiwanese. I can tell story after story about good Samaritans, delightful conversations with strangers, offers to help from out of the blue. And just thinking about it now, knowing I will be here only another five or six days (three days this week, and a couple days in January when I return and gather my stuff), I am filled with a sentimental mixture of sadness and appreciation and respect. I know I am going to miss these people soon. Very soon.

There are lots of little things that make Taiwan so magical. The throngs of people lining the main roads like Zhongxiao Dong Lu all through the night, even at midnight, shopping and eating and drinking. The immaculate subways and an infrastructure that really works. The courtesy of the drivers, who actually stop as the light turns red and always yield to pedestrians. The odd weekly ritual when seemingly everyone in the neighborhood gathers on the street to socialize with one another as they wait for the garbage truck to come and take away their trash. (There are almost no public wastebaskets here, and getting rid of garbage is a social event - you really have to see it to understand and appreciate it. Literally hundreds of people pour onto the street to participate, carrying their plastic bags of carefully separated recyclable and disposable rubbish.) The gorgeous mountains that surround the city, leading to the hot springs of Beitou. The boisterous night markets where the vendors never push you to buy and the prices are fair (bargaining doesn't seem to be part of the general culture here). The little alleys that wind around the major streets filled with small shops and restaurants. Honest landlords who go out of their way to provide excellent service. Even honest real estate brokers. I know there must be crime and dishonesty here, but I've never seen it.

Tell it,'s a privilege to live on the Beautiful Island


Anonymous said...

That entry made me miss a country i barely remember.

Since my family emigrated from Taiwan to Canada when i was 3, all i remember was a dusty road filled with cars and a police officer (or security officer) who was always at the bank whom i would sit and bring toys to play with. I only remembered that he would smile when he saw me since my mum brought me there often but he always looked tired.

Also, thank you for the wonderful pictures you have on your sites. Since i am in no position to return to Taiwan at the moment, and since i know i would be utterly lost, it was a good way to satisfy the part of me that never left Taiwan.


Anonymous said...

Locals are vociferous complainers about Taiwan? Sure they are. That's why you always hear them saying "Mei ban fa!" like it's some kind of mantra.

Personally I like hearing foreigners whinge about Taiwan. It reminds me of those things that I've become inured to over the years.

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate the sentiment, I don't think Taiwan quite lives up to his description. The people are generally warm and friendly to foreigners, but the living conditions could stand much upgrading.

Sad to say, people from western countries expect a higher level of order, organization, cleanliness and sanitation than what one finds in Taiwan. Hopefully, this will change in the not-too-distant future, but crowded, narrow, streets filled with litter and refuse are the norm, rather than the exception.

Some things are excusable: Taiwan is a small island with little living space (as is Japan), so of necessity, homes have to be cramped and miniaturized (as are Tokyo and Manhattan), and city streets are going to be somewhat congested. However, Taiwanese have not inherited a sensibility towards cleanliness and order. If there is no profit motive in keeping a building freshly painted and in good repair, Taiwanese are not going to bother. Money and self interest rather than maintaining community standards are much stronger drives for the Taiwanese.

Until Taiwanese learn to build communities as well as they build iPods, little will come to pass in the way of improving the quality of life on the Beautiful Island.

richard said...

Thanks for this, Michael.

Anonymous, none of the points you make (or try to make) take away from what I said about Taiwan. No place on the planet is perfect. But after living in many places throughout Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia, I have to conclude that Taiwan is among the very best to live. And none of your criticisms alter that in ay way.

Anonymous said...

"The courtesy of the drivers, who actually stop as the light turns red and always yield to pedestrians."

Are we thinking about the same Taiwan? In Tainan it's more like:
"The rudeness of drivers, who rarely stop as the light turns red (or after) and don't acknowledge that pedestrians exist."

Anonymous said...

He's been in China too long. Either that or he's smokin' dope.

Michael Turton said...

Deleted commentators: there's no need to hack on Richard because he likes Taiwan and has enjoyed his time here. What's the problem with that?

No further comments will be posted to this entry. I can't believe some of the responses here.