For those who don’t know anything about Taiwan, here is one of many interesting facts:
It is the birthplace of bubble tea.
The bubble tea is not what fascinated me most about Taiwan, but it is more the many other things you would not normally expect from a tiny island in the Pacific.
I was in Taiwan recently for my Hong Kong (HK) high school reunion.
I didn’t expect the Taiwanese to be such dog lovers. (Explanation below!)
And what exactly is a typical Taiwanese-style political campaign? It was interesting for us tourists to watch a political parade on the street. (More explanation below!)
With 80 percent practicing Buddhists in Taiwan, could it be the reason that Taiwanese are not proud of the fact that a miracle about the Virgin Mary revealing herself on a mountain now a national park) to save people, and thus, not publicizing it to the outside world? Many of my high school classmates, who are Catholics, were surprised that they have never heard of this miracle.
Our tour guide told us that Taiwan has a university in every city and county thanks to the former President Chen Shui Bien who supported education.
Taiwan has 163 universities for a population of 23 million. Is that a good thing or bad?
Taiwan’s natural resources are abundant and beautiful, including rocks that are transformed into marbles. Our HK tour guide (who accompanied us to Taiwan) packed a few rocks in her luggage. She got caught at the Taiwan airport. The rocks are considered to be national treasures, and they were exposed when they went through the scanner. The customs official confiscated them. No, she didn’t have to pay a fine. It was embarrassing, though.
What souvenirs did we bring back from Taiwan? I credit my former high school classmates for doing all the research to help us shop for Taiwanese goodies.
Few friends knew that I have as many as 10 relatives in Taiwan. Why didn’t I share this piece of news with them?
Taiwan and identity
In Hualien, there were loudspeakers blaring and firecrackers going off, along with a caravan of decorated cars with banners headed in our direction on the road one evening.
I was intrigued although none of my classmates were paying any attention. The innate reporters in me and my husband quickly chased the parade with our cameras. It turned out to be a Taiwanese-style political campaign, before the November election. The candidates who dressed in the same colors were standing inside their vans and a loud recorder told people to vote for them.
The Kuomingtang (Nationalist) party dressed in blue and the opposing party (Democrat Progressive Party) dressed in green. During the street rallies, you could see different political supporters dressing in blues and greens to show where they politically stood. (In Seattle, it would be Seahawks colors!)
If you talk to many local folks, they would insist that they are Taiwanese, not Chinese.
The Taiwanese want to develop their own identity, to distinguish themselves from China. When we traveled outside of Taipei, the Taiwanese dialect seemed to be the dominant dialect among the old and the working class. On television, I saw bilingual advertisements with Mandarin and Taiwanese. But the written language is regular Chinese, not the simple version China uses.
Although Japan ruled Taiwan more than six decades ago, Japan’s influence is still evident. Since the Qing regime gave Taiwan to Japan in 1895, the Japanese occupied the island for 50 years until they left in 1945. For the Taiwanese, it’s a claim to show that they do have a unique identity in order to weaken China’s claim that Taiwan is part of China. Of all 12 meals we ate there, there was always at least one sashimi dish. The last hotel we stayed at was Japanese-style in design and management.
Chinese and Taiwanese
Taiwan is a now a popular tourist site for the mainland Chinese. So what did the mainland Chinese tourists I met at Yilan think about Taiwan?
What impressed them most were the people.
“I like the people,” one Chinese woman said. “I feel like I am seeing [the Taiwanese as] our family members; I felt comfortable.
“They are nice, polite, friendly, helpful. The place is clean.” I didn’t ask her opinion about HK, but she volunteered anyway, knowing that I was from HK originally.
Without using the word snobbish, she said, “HK people feel they are more superior than Mainland Chinese. I can see a distance between us. Sometimes, HK people show their anger at us for no good reason.” Her perception confirmed what I read. HK folks like Mainland Chinese’s money and business, but they resent the fact that Chinese investment deals drive up prices, from real estate to consumer goods; and Chinese students enrolling in HK schools take up space, which should be reserved for local children.
A variety of scenery
The mainland Chinese I met weren’t that impressed with the Taiwan scenery.
“We have better views, more picturesque mountains in China,” a colleague said.
For our high school classmates, Taiwan was the ideal place for our reunion. We weren’t searching for the most beautiful water views like we would get in Siuchuan, China, or the stunning views of majestic canyons we would get in Arizona.
For us, lingering on the Taiwan shore of the Pacific Ocean was good enough.
Hearing the stories of how the late President Chiang Kai Shek led 5,000 old soldiers building a long road to connect the North and South of Taiwan, and then opening up the mountains with dynamite and little equipment, was fascinating. Many lives were lost. We got out of our bus and walked to the memorial of these soldiers.
Our objective was to play together and find “the kid” in us to create lasting memories. We had fun talking to each other, enjoying small acts like a shopping frenzy at the nougat candy shop and cleaning up its inventory.
The 26 of us concluded at the end of the trip, “We should have our reunion in three years instead of five.”
In Hualien, we had a chance to roam around outside the hotel. There weren’t many shops. It’s difficult for retails to survive in this part of town.
Dog poop was everywhere. My Taiwanese friend said, “Some (Taiwanese) people love dogs to the point that is ridiculous.”
In one of the restaurants we ate in, a sign was posted that no animals were allowed. But a guest brought along not just one, but TWIN dogs with ribbons around their heads and necks and they sat on a chair next to her.
And the owner said nothing.
Gifts and souvenirs
I never like the pineapple cookies available in U.S. Asian grocery stores as they contain too much sugar and preservatives. But my high school classmates knew which brands were the best and used undesirable ingredients.
They asked our Taiwanese guide to order the food for us, including dried eight-fairy fruit (good for your throat) and pineapple pastries direct from specific factories. The souvenirs were shipped by mail, and arrived home before we departed from Taiwan.
These pastries were delicious and freshly made. Their expiration date was less than three weeks. Our hand-carried luggage would only allow us to buy five boxes of pastries and three bags of nougat candies. When we went back to HK, our relatives were dying for the pastries and candies. We ended up not having enough for the Asian Weekly’s staff. Three classmates actually took a taxi to go buy dry organic food in Taiwan. I wasn’t able to go because I had no more room in my luggage.
Reunion with my relatives
National Taiwan University (NTU), Tofu Street, and lunch with my Taiwan relatives were on my agenda before we headed back to HK.
To make a long story short, my Taiwan relatives are from my mother’s side.
Because of poverty and World War II, my mother’s family was split between China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and America. Her youngest brother and an older sister had followed the oldest sister’s family to Taiwan after the Communists took over China in 1949.
Michael, my former UW classmate who now lives in Taiwan as a retired professor, came to the hotel to pick me and my husband up. He also arranged a delicious lunch with my relatives at the NTU restaurant. I was grateful to Michael, who fulfilled my wish list.
It was great to see my relatives, as my aunt had just had critical surgery. She brought photos of my cousins along to show us. Afterwards, Michael gave us a campus tour. Although my aunt was born in Taiwan, she never knew that the campus provided good walking lanes. NTU will now be her future spot to exercise.
The campus is modern and large—at least three or four times bigger than most Asian universities. I reiterated what the guide told us; Taiwan has numerous universities.
“NTU is our top school,” Michael said. “But none of the universities is on the world’s top 100 list.
“Too many universities have become a burden for the government financially,” he said. “Not everyone wants a college education. Besides, birth rate in Taiwan is going down.”
Having too many colleges available for students, drive down the academic standard, he explained. You don’t need high grades to go to college.
Before Michael drove us to the airport to join our group, he invited us to go to his condo for tea. Yes, it was spacious and luxurious in Asian standards.
This trip to Taiwan was unforgettable. I thank my Sacred Heart sisters for the memories. I also thank Michael and Rosa for making our Taiwan trip so special because of their thoughtfulness and courtesy in inviting my relatives to lunch before we left!
It was a truly insightful, rewarding, and memorable trip. (end)