Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Taiwan Cycling excellent, says China expat on visit

As my dear readers know, lately I've become a cycling enthusiast. I urge you to become one too! Taiwan is in many ways ideal, with plentiful stops for food and water along most routes, beautiful mountain scenery easily accessibly from any of the major cities, and year round cycling possibilities. The following was posted to a discussion forum about cycling here. The comments about traffic and littering are especially delightful.


My 30 day cycling trip around Taiwan last summer holiday.

I was not very enthusiastic about visiting Taiwan, I did not expect there to be much difference to the mainland, I also did not know much about the island.

But what a very pleasant surprise, it's been great.
The people very helpful, friendly & so different to mainlanders.
Chinese are a group culture, whereas Taiwanese are far more like foreigners - more individualists. They are adventurous & willing to try new things.
The media is very strong & I can access all overseas news channels.
The food is also more international, offering a lot of western food both in restaurants & in supermarkets. The food is also of a high quality, with many vegetables & fruit I have not seen before. I love mangos & they are so good here.
The island is kept very clean, with everybody concerned about the environment. Many Taiwanese carry their own metal chop sticks so disposable ones are not used. Lots of picnic spots with good facilities provided & very clean.
Banking, transportation, shopping, etc is all handled very efficiently. Changing RMB to Taiwanese dollars is so easy & quick.
The people are VERY law abiding, traffic is not at all chaotic with everybody staying on the proper side of the road for the direction they are travelling in, so I don't have to worry about people travelling on the wrong side of the road & nobody crosses a red light.
The scenery is breathtaking, a stunning coastline & incredible mountains. The sky & sea is so blue, the rivers so clear, the trees so green. When you are on the top of a mountain you can see everything so clearly as no pollution (this is on the eastern side of the island).

Taiwan is the perfect cycling destination, everything is great. Taiwanese are really into cycling in a big way. Everyday I see 100's of Taiwanese cyclists going the opposite direction, about 30% being female. They all look like bank robbers with their faces totally covered up, only sunglasses showing. They all wear cycling clothing & wear helmets. They don't worry that it's 30 - 38 degrees, they just get out & explore their island.
Every town has a 7-11 shop which is open 24 hours a day, that's the cyclists meeting place. Giant bike shops everywhere, even hotels for cyclist. All police stations offer toilets, washing facilities, water & a compressor for pumping tyres.
Cycling is the latest fashion & whole families are on the road, all masked up. Everybody waves & motorists are careful. Nobody breaks the traffic rules.

They have home stays called Ming Su, that are cheaper than hotels but very clean.
So much cycling gear & gadgets for sale.
I could happily come back here again & strongly recommend a cycling trip to Taiwan
I cycled from Nanning to Guiyang. The mountain scenery is very good, better than Guilin but very tiring. As soon as I managed to cross a mountain, there's another one waiting for me. Some roads were atrocious, dirt, rocks & just too steep to cycle. I didn't meet another cyclist (which is normal on the mainland).
Strangely from arriving in Nanning to Guiyang I have seen no foreigners & found very little English spoken in Guizhou, which is very polluted.

Hotels are very good & so cheap (some not so good in Guizhou).
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Anonymous said...

"the island is kept very clean, with everybody concerned about the environment"? ... "the people are VERY law abiding?!"
However, I agree Taiwan is great :)

cfimages said...

Very clean? Traffic not chaotic? Stopping at red lights? Everybody concerned for the environment? Individualists? No disposable chopsticks? Efficient banking?

Damn, I'm in the wrong Taiwan. :) lol

Anonymous said...

China must be a horrendous mess. I guess I am too picky when I complain about Taiwan's traffic and pollution.

I do have to concede, Taiwan is getting better and better in this regard.

Another thing to note is that most of the cycling enthusiasts in Taiwan are locals. Regular, middle class people, who want to have Tour de France fantasies. In other countries sport cycling is often the domain of the wealthy, privileged or the foreign.

Taiwanese have taken a special "ownership" of cycling as "theirs", since many of the top designs come from Giant, Merida or other factories.

This pride was further established by the movie about the deaf cyclist who tours Taiwan. The movie was a local hit.

Thoth Harris said...

Craig, that's a typical comment from you. I guess you can never refrain from being sarcastic.
Michael, while it almost seems to be an absurdly absurdly description of Taiwan, I guess this is what it seems like compared to China.
And by the way, the banking is very efficient here. I've never had a problem. Craig Ferguson must be using one of those Chinese banks in Taiwan, like HSBC, or something. lol.
Actually, Taiwan is far from the worst in terms of traffic, pollution, and AoTA. In terms of traffic, my home city, Montreal, is about the same. A lot of scooter drivers are far less sensible here in Taiwan, it is true. And India? The pollution must be crazy. People here are indivudalist - in some parts of Taiwan. Certainly higher level people (I don't mean economically) certainly are. But people are only gradually becoming individualistic, in the mode of Japanese people, not in the mode of Americans. Actually, I would say North Americans have become more collectivist and rule-driven, in a top-down sort of way. That latter part is completely alien to me. There should be a little give-and-take in terms of rules. Taipei is far too anal retentive. I despise it (not Taipei, but a lot of it's sensibility, although a lot of things about Taipei don't endear themselves to me). There are other parts of Taiwan, at certain parts of the year, which are just perfect.

Thoth Harris said...

P.S. Anonymous, that's really interesting information about the evolution of cycling here. I didn't know that. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Actually, between 2008 and 2009, the number of recreational cyclists increased from an estimated 350,000 to 700,000.

The success of the film, Island Etude, can be credited with part of the increase as well as the most recent gas crisis.

One friend recently mentioned, "to be a real Taiwanese man one must first cycle around the island." He described it as part of an essentialized rite of passage.

In Taiwan it is common to have people drive along side a cyclist and shout a few words of encouragement or simply wave. Bicycles are often met with smiles and encouraging words. This is much different than in the USA, where homophobes shout slurs and lob Super Big Gulps from their vehicles at cyclists. Taiwanese tend to admire a smart looking kit. Americans call lycra-clad cyclists "homos". I'd just like to see Ole' Bubba grind it out for 100km in the dust, heat and humidity only to push some serious watts up an 8% grade at the end of a long day in the saddle. Human power is totally amazing!

cfimages said...

@Thoth - you really need to get a sense of humor dude. :)

Seriously, banking here is woeful. I'm actually planning to also register my business through Hong Kong solely in order to be able to use the banks there for international banking. For local stuff, salary etc, TW is not too bad, although the difficulties involved with getting credit and/or debit cards put TW about 20 years behind the west. And don't even think about online banking.

FWIW, Taishin Bank are good for giving out proper debit cards that work online. Chinatrust have a blanket policy not too give them to foreigners, and First Bank will only give domestic debit cards out.

Don't get me wrong, I love living here, and couldn't really imagine living anywhere else.

Michael Turton said...

Banking here does suck. I can't even count the number of reform attempts, but we're pretty much where we were twenty years ago. Mark Wilbur has blogged several times on his quixotic quest to get a local bank to issue him a debit card....

Anonymous said...

One time I couldn't cash a check because they thought the hand writing did not match... and pointed out that it appeared someone had fraudulently added 0 cents to the 100 dollars for the written amount.

channing said...

It's a given that facilities, infrastructure, environment and general law & order are mostly better-developed in Taiwan. Not much of a surprise when the average person has several times the wealth of their cross-Strait equivalents.

The pristine eastern coast is also probably much easier to access than similar remote, non-polluted coastal areas of whichever region of China the guy is from, assuming he's even from a coastal region.

Anonymous said...

Megabank for sure gives out debit cards to foreigners. I'm not sure if Mark Wilbur tried different banks, but Mega is one of the largest.

Kaminoge said...

This originally appeared as a post on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum. As one commenter there pointed out, the writer was probably referring to the east coast when talking about the environment and driving conditions. As we are all aware, the west coast and its urban areas are very different! I agree with Craig - the original poster's enthusiastic descriptions don't resemble the Taiwan that I know!

Robert Scott Kelly said...

@ Channing:

Part of the writer's surprise is that he had not expected Taiwan to be so developed (in the right way). It's not a given at all, for example, that economic development leads to a happy friendly people who wave at each other when they cycle by.

I did a two week bike trip on Hainan Island last year. Similar to Taiwan's east coast in many ways except the locals screech "Laowai" as you ride by, cars blare their horns starting a km behind you so even when traffic is light it's noisy, accomodation is dreary in the small towns, and there is abject poverty down every country lane.

Hainan is about as unspoiled as you get in China. It was a great trip in many ways, and I will probably go back this spring, but Taiwan has so many advantages at the moment. It has the landscape but it also has the safety, cleanliness, tourism infrastructure, and the cooperation of the authorities.

Anonymous said...

this guy must be biking in kin men! maybe he lost his compass too!

John Naruwan said...

Quality of life is a relative thing!

An expat friend of mine who has taken several trips to China put it like this:
"However bad you may think things are in Taiwan, they are nothing compared to what it's like in China."
I'm paraphrasing but that's pretty much the gist of his experience of Taiwan compared with China.

Kaminoge said...

"Quality of life is a relative thing!...However bad you may think things are in Taiwan, they are nothing compared to what it's like in China."

Most definitely! I came to Taiwan from Japan, so the adjustment process has been, ahem, a little "difficult" at times. On the other hand, an American friend of mine who spent a number of years in the Philippines finds the quality of life, including the traffic, to be much better here.

Marc said...

There are two reliable indices that measure Quality of Life (QOL) in the world - the Mercer Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

In the former, which rates QOL of major cities rather than countries, no Taiwanese city is in the top 50, but I was told by a Mercer actuary that Kaohsiung and Taipei are in the top 100.

No Chinese cities except Shanghai and Beijing (and HK) are in the top 100. Singapore always ranks highest in all indices, and is considered to be equal in QOL to European cities, followed by Japan's metropolises and HK.

The EIU index, however, which uses a 1-10 ranking for countries, rates Taiwan with a 7.2 (same score as in 2005), compared to Singapore (7.7), Japan and HK, (7.3, respectively), and China (6.0).

Regardless of where he was on the island, I conclude that our expat friend's impression of Taiwan was spot on when compared his QOL experience in China.

It certainly ranks with my impressions of life here, which is why I chose to live in Taiwan over other Asian destinations.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

Quality of life is an important issue but it has very little relationship to tourism appeal, which is what the cyclist was talking about. Like everyone else on the planet, I will travel, and enjoy travelling, to countries I would never consider living in.

Most of the comments above are confusing the issues facing foreign residents with those facing foreign visitors. The visitor, especially the cyclist, doesn't go to the slummy shithole small towns of western Taiwan. He goes to the wide, clean, wild spaces. He goes to the east coast, he goes to the national parks. When he passes by a bit of blight he think, wow, that is ugly, but it doesn't remind him of all the blight he sees daily, which is the case for the foreign expat. His overall impression is that Taiwan is very beautiful though it does need to still clean up a few areas.

Similarly with traffic. If riding down the east coast the visitor encounters a couple dangerous drivers his impression is overall a positive one. The expat, remembering all his years of struggle with traffic, has a very different impression.

les said...

How sad that Taiwan gets compared to China in this way, as if it were the only valid measuring stick.
Imagine instead if Taiwan were described as an island that split from Japan in 1945... Truth be told, Taiwan should be more like Japan than China. It makes me shake my head in disgust every time I hear a local describe something here in the terms, 'at least it's better than the Mainland!'. Talk about setting the bar too low... an excuse for 'chabuduo'.

Anonymous said...

"Banking here does suck. I can't even count the number of reform attempts, but we're pretty much where we were twenty years ago."
Beg to differ with you... From a consumer standpoint things have come a long way. If you think back to the late 90's only 10 years ago it was nearly impossible to use a credit card anywhere except the large departments stores. If you wanted cash you had to go into a bank (or the Post Office if you had an account there). Now you can use a credit anywhere and get cash easily any time you need it (NTD$30,000/day limit of course). Not exactly banking, but if you are a Taipei resident those rechargable EasyCards make it very convenient for MRT, buses, and parking. Things improved dramatically during the DPP years for whatever reason. Is a debit card the true landmark of advanced banking??

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Taiwan's debit cards are much more advanced than US ones. Smart chips instead of only a magnetic strip easily copied. Do you know what other-bank ATM fees are? Maybe $.18 USD. What are they in the US? $2? Most banks here can't even make money off their ATMs.

Online banking is a bit behind the US (it does exist), but Taiwan never had the problem with processing checks--just direct transfer and you're good. In fact, people do direct transfer all the time instead of using credit cards online. To deal with the problem of online payments, the US had to use a debt system instead of something that could directly simulate paying by check!

Anyways, Taiwan's banking industry has way too many small players and they have weak margins compared to US banks, but for the consumer, it makes for very, very cheap banking.

Big international banks like Citibank don't even bother trying to compete with Taiwanese banks in the regular savings market because it is too competitive. They only try to go after larger accounts and the credit card markets.