As we drive I see a swampy kind of untouched landscape out of the window. This changes into one with humps and bumps and some kind of shelter. I can’t be sure if the shelters are in use or not or for animals or not. This tableau slowly changes into one of crude buildings that could be houses or not. Outside the land has been cleared in a rough fashion. This gives way to slightly more defined dwellings with terraces of crops some growing in water. As I am seeing this it starts to look like a a progression from bare land through the ages to some kind of future. And so it progresses. Some time later we get to the early 1900’s and building now start to take shape. Land soon becomes more defined and I am starting to see concrete buildings. Vehicles start to appear. Some of the concrete buildings look like they are half finished or is it half demolished? I cant tell.
Now we are definitely going through the 1950’s. Small Concrete industrial buildings abound. Fences seem to be made from old rusting stuff that could have been pipes, corrugated iron or rebar. There are piles of rubbish and rusting trucks and machines, I can’t see any plastic anywhere. Everything is grey or rust with thick vivid green vibrant tropical undergrowth bursting through any patch of unused ground. We drive past the backs of buildings with their bars over the windows and old rusting stairways. Occasionally I see clothing hanging out to dry and ground floor rows of roller shutter doors, some are open and you can see stacks of cardboard boxes or welding gear but nothing on the outside of these buildings gives any clue as to what happens inside.
The seventies start to appear as housing developments that are now run down and tatty. Idiosyncratic little architectural flourishes on buildings look outright weird but you can that this place was once the centre of something now sadly gone elsewhere. I get only glimpses of people in these areas, it is early yet so maybe everyone is still asleep. I see a few old cars that are not quite abandoned or maybe they are? Time passes some more. Now things are starting to move and have colour. Within a few miles we are driving through one huge building site, roads, bridges, motorways and railway bridges. In the background I can see huge tower blocks of apartments. Lots of them.
Pretty soon we are driving through the city’s outer suburbs. Once again we appear to be driving through time. It’s like all the older buildings are migrating out to the outer edges to decay and die. The buildings gradually get both smarter and taller. We stop at some traffic lights. On the right is a park that is full of old people doing coordinated exercises that seem to shift from slow graceful Tai Chi to sweeping roundhouse kicks. As we pull away from the lights I become aware of people exercising everywhere. As we speed away from the park the last figure I see is an old man in shorts that come to below his knees and a sweat shirt that seems about one size too big. He is old and seedy looking and as we pass I see his face in profile and it is a Chinese version of Krusty the Clown complete with the triangular hair.
We pull up at the a huge building with an elevated train track disappearing into the side of it. Straight out of Metropolis. We are taking the subway so we descend to a lower level where the tube trains are. Ali manages the ticketing and grabs my arm and pulls me into a human throng heading for the trains. The first thing that strikes me is how clean and modern and smart it all is. When I was last in London I rode on tube trains with my son Max, the same trains as I sat in when I was younger than him, rubbish on the floors and black dirt everywhere. Not here though. No litter anywhere, like not a single piece. We get to the trains and we have to queue between rows of white lines to get into the train. We are waiting in these queues when the train arrives. There are a row of automatic doors along the platform that are closed. When the train arrives, its doors match with the platform doors exactly, both open together. Now I see that the lines we are standing in are slightly diagonal to the train door so that people coming off the train have right of way. Once all the people leaving the train are off we get on. It is simple, and ordered and good natured and crowded. No pushing shoving or rudeness. Regimented but every effective. Interesting. It fulfilled my stereotyped vision of Asians but left me wondering. More on that later.
We change trains a few times and they are packed. Lots of school kids in school uniforms. It is just after 7am and i ask Ali what they are doing. She tells me that school is from 7:30am to 5.30pm. No wonder they do so well in our schools. The ones that aren’t asleep are all playing with or talking on phones. Phones work underground. In fact most people are using phones or talking. The sound of voices is actually quite loud.
We get to Ali’s parents place and after introductions we finally get to shower and drink tea. Tired after the journey we rest. Over the next few days I meet 2 of her sisters and we go out doing thongs. We eat with the parents every night and Ali and I sleep in a tiny room packed with stuff. Her parents like just about everyone else lives in an apartment. Theirs is 3 bedroom with 2 bathroom, it sounds big but it isn’t really. I appreciate their hospitality because I can see the impact that we are having. They are gracious and generous. I’ve got used to lot of Asian stuff by now so to me it feels easy to be there. I am used to pickled vegetables and other very Asian things so eating is both enjoyable and not intimidating. Their apartment is on level 3 of an 18 level building. It is pretty new and quite smart.
Impressions of Taipei
NT$100 (Taiwanese) = about NZ$4 = about UKPounds 1.75 so prices like NT$1500 for a hotel room seem frightening until you realise that this is only NZ$60 or about 25 quid.
We are staying in a suburb at the fringe of the tube system, it is actually outside Taipei itself and it is about 15 stops to the centre. The tubes are frequent and fast. Their top speed is very fast and about twice the speed of the London tube trains. The underground network grows all the time. They use a rechargeable card system like the Oyster card in the UK, you get on buses and tube trains and just swipe your card. Tube travel in Taipei is cheap, most journeys about NZ$1.50 and less than NZ$2 from one side of the city to the other.
Anyway, we are not in an inner suburb. The first impression is the scooters. There are literally millions of them. They are parked or to be more precise jam packed along every side walk and street side.
(click on the photos to enlarge them)
They whizz all over the place, you will see young people, old people and many people (simultaneously) on scooters. I saw a woman and two kids in school uniform on one scooter.
At every intersection they collect at the front of the lights then all whizz away together. I have seen people carrying ladders, lengths of pipe, long bits of wood, in fact everything that you think is possible you will see and then some too. There are endless shops and workshops devoted to scooters. Most people in the city will not have a car or even be able to drive one but everyone will have a scooter. A small one is about NZ$800 now up to about NZ$2500 for a really whizzy one. I’ve looked at older ones and they all have between 30,000 and 40,000km on the clock. Everyone wears a crash helmet, but get this, a crash helmet costs around NZ$6 for a smaller one to NZ$12 for a full face.
One morning we get up early and go for a walk, we see a group of people doing something on the sidewalk. As we get close to them the one out in the front claps his hands and they all go inside a building. It was the staff of a real estate office doing their morning exercises together before they begin work. Once again that regimentation. More on that later. Ali tells me that when she worked for the government here, hundreds of people would gather to do exercise before starting work.
On one of the tube stations I go into the gents toilet and there are potted plants around the place and in between the plants I can see old wooden framed pictures hanging on the walls. As I wash my hands I see a Gustav Klimt print.
Visually the overall impression of most of the outer suburbs is something like a high speed collison between Romford and Shanghai circa 1956.
The roads in the outer suburbs are quite small and the sidewalk can extend out because small businesses kind of spread out during the day. They are also very busy just about all the time. You seldom hear a car horn. Initially it appears pretty random but soon you realise that it is in fact very ordered in a fluid kind of way. We get taken out one night about rush hour by Ali’s sister a and her husband to pick up a mattress. At one point he does a U Turn in a busy road and it just kinda happens, people slow down to give him room, scooters whizz by but everyone seems quite relaxed. Intersections without traffic lights are completely fluid, people turn across the oncoming traffic and a gap forms around them as they do so. You have to see it to believe it.
We go in a bank to change some money and on the table where you fill in the deposit and withdrawal forms is a box with a selection of spectacles for people to use.
We pass a Womens Hairdresser and above the door the sign reads Hair Arson. I see other strange shop names.
Most people shop locally. Every block outside the CBD is packed with shops. Within 400 metres of Ali’s parent’s are 2 bakers, dozens of shops that sell specialty cooked food, vegetable shops, about 10 scooter repair shops, shoe repairs, dry cleaners, fish shops, hardware shops, bedding shops, you get the idea. You wonder how they all survive until you realise that there are few “chain stores”. This really is an economy of what the yanks call “mom n pop” businesses. There are a few supermarkets of course, but most people buy fresh food daily. Processed food is minimal. It is how we used to be and it is dependant on having that large population base. Shops don’t close at 5pm or 6pm, you can shop at 8:30pm and lots of people do. People work long hours here.
There is an election in progress here, local elections and it is a big deal. They are very noisy, there are trucks going around the streets with loud hailers screaming away urging all and sundry to vote for whoever. These things are still going on at 10:30pm. Last night we heard a formidable sound coming from the street. Looking out the windows we saw a trailer with a series of drums each about 3 feet in diameter being beaten rhythmically by young men in warrior dress using waht looked like hammers. Behind them came a row of brass horns each about 5 feet long and making a hell of a row. Then came two weird things on wheels that I can only describe as Buddha Boxes with flashing lights with swinging springy arms sticking out the front. These were followed by a phalanx of warriors in bright colours waving swords and flags. Finally came two guys with a barrow and one of them was drawing out what looked like a net that the other guy seemed to spread across the road using a stick. After they had gone about 20 yards the one with the barrow moved off really fast leaving the other guy at the back of the net. He then bent down and fiddled with something then ran off a bit. He had lit the fuse of a spread of hundreds of firecrackers all attached to each other. They all went off in about 15 seconds and the noise echoed between the building and was so loud that it left your ears ringing like Billy-O. This happened between 10:30pm and 11pm on a Sunday night in a tightly packed residential area. Can you imagine that going down where you live? Yet, in the apartment next door were two kids who had to get to school really early, and that was probably true of almost every apartment in the hundreds of apartments in this part of the street.
The tour bus with 29 Chinese tourists is still buried somewhere under the landslide and no-one’s pretending that they’ll ever be found. That part of the coast road has been closed for a long time. After we booked the hire car the road opened again but now it goes over the landslide.
We go to Taipei Main Station. Intercity trains are both good and cheap, we paid NZ$15 each for a ticket to go about half way down the island. We stand on platfom 4B at the place where carriage number 7 will stop (it is clearly marked). The 2:30pm train arrives at exactly 2:30pm and carriage number 7 is exactly where it is supposed to be. We get on the train to our ticketed seats nos 43 and 44. The train is modern and smooth with a scrolling text sign at one end giving all kinds of information in both Chinese and English, there are no tags or graffiti. Leaving the outer suburbs we roll through acres of high rise blocks all looking like they were built in the 60’s and now being slightly seedy and dirty but without the despair of those found in England and elsewhere. Within 30 minutes we are in countryside which consists of bush clad hills wreathed in cloud and so very green. Think NZ West Coast and you have it in one. Subtropical rainforest. We pass miles of floods, it looks like some otherworld disaster scene until you realise that it is rice fields and only ankle deep.
We get to Huawalien where we will be for 4 days. Population 350,000 and most people appear to live in houses instead of high rises. Apart from the town centre we also get to the beach which has that wonderful Pacific surf, beautiful coloured stones and deep dangerous water.
It was just like being at Birdlings Flat, complete with people collecting stones with buckets and bags. Standing on the beach looking along the hills facing the sea and I could be anywhere on the West Coast of New Zealand, the similarity is uncanny.
It was so hot that we had to leave the beach.
Just on the promenade is an old public toilet, looks like it was built in the 50’s. Inside it is old and a bit rundown but clean. On the wall is an old glass fronted box that contains the cleaning schedule with the times completed all ticked off. The only broken things are bits that have simply worn out with age, there is no grafiti, tagging or vandalism. I am not sure if I can describe what it feels like to be free of all that senseless destruction, it is elusive but palpapble, it breeds optimism and a sense of there being a future, sounds a bit wet but true nonetheless. I was never more consciously aware of what that constant background of destruction does to people without them being too aware. It also makes me aware that public facilities in NZ and the UK are now built to be able to withstand that level of damage, that too has an impact. There’s no room for beauty or grace in vandal proof architecture.
We go out with Ali’s sister at night to eat, the food is very good and cheap too
We hire a car in Huawalien and I start to drive on the right hand side of the road, not the first time in my life but the first for many years. The car includes an “English GPS” which in reality means that the spoken commands are in English but the menus are in Chinese and you can only enter Chinese characters for place names. Ali and I have to work together to get anywhere. To make things even more complicated the on screen keyboard only contains 35 of the 37 characters of the Chinese “alphabet”. That would be kinda like you can go anywhere as long is the name of the place doesn’t contain the letter K. I still do not understand why this is and in this I realised just how different written Chinese is to any European language, it is completely alien.
The coastal highway
We drive south down the coast on a huge 8 lane highway. Endless robust bridges cross rock strewn river beds that are mostly dry but just by looking you know that some mighty water flows down there at times. We come to one new section which is raised about 30 feet above the shoreline. I stop the car and get out to look. The foundation is made from solid concrete but protected from the sea by walls of tetrapods, those 4 legged shapes that interlock.
They are designed to interlock and prevent damage from tsunamis and typhoon waves. They obviously work to great effect because everywhere they are in place was protected from the recent typhoon which ravaged this coast. Further down the coast we pass a place where they are rebuilding a four lane concrete bridge that was destroyed in that typhoon. The wreckage of the bridge testament to that force, it was a big bridge. We pass a stand of palms that have had the tops blown off leaving just blunt topped trunks standing. Miles of broken buildings. River beds, some a hundred yards or more wide, that are scoured out and look like battlegrounds from some vast war.
We stop for lunch at a beautiful café on the edge of the ocean, it is also the gallery/workshop of a famous sculptor
Later we pass Adolf Hitler’s coastal hideaway
Tropic of Cancer
We stop at the marker for the Tropic of Cancer and take touristy photos. There are 9 of these monuments in the world and 3 are in Taiwan.
After the touristy photos, we head for the toilets before getting back in the car. As always they are spotlessly clean and this one has a special sign
We stop for the night in a small(ish) town called Taitung and book into a cheap hotel.
While we are in the reception area everything starts to sway with a gentle rocking motion. The chandeliers are swinging and the receptionists squeal. I’d forgotten about earthquakes but instantly my body remembers. I stand very still and it slowly goes away. Meanwhile back in Huawalien it is a 6.0 shaker and I am glad we aren’t still there.
In the morning we take our “breakfast vouchers” to the café across the road and I redeem mine for an egg and bacon sandwich which comes in a bag
The sandwich has something like condensed milk inside along with the egg and bacon. It is a local delicacy and completely disgusting.
We check out and leave. Driving further south in bright sunshine. Unlike NZ where you get those long stretches without any sign of habitation, you can see the difference that the extra 20 million people make. We pass through lots of small towns each bristling with security cameras and a thousand scooters some almost as loaded as small trucks. I even saw an electric wheelchair being used the same way. Also the obligatory speed camera as beeped by our GPS although on closer inspection some of these turned out to be nothing more than rusty boxes.
We stop in Kenting province at a cheap but good hotel. We spend 2 days here just nosing around and relaxing. We visit a beach that has a viewing station with a sign in Chinese. I ask Ali what it says and she says that this is the place to see “Richard Nixons’s Nose”
We also visit the local Nuclear Power Station where we have a coffee in the Visitors Centre. This is next to the fish market where we see an ingenious way of packing of fish that are slightly too long for the boxes.
Up the Coast
We go to a small fishing village to have lunch and eat freshly cooked fish on the wharf. This place too is fortified from tsunami and typhoon waves
The region we are in is popular for tourism and huge tour buses are a common sight. Most tourists are from mainland China. They are a curious mix of young, well dressed, chic people and old potato head, peasant looking people. Each tour bus has a tour guide who carries a small flag on a stick with a number on it. The stick is about 4 feet high so you can spot your guide in amongst the other guides. They are friendly and courteous and love taking pictures. We are in a particular spot where the cliffs are a couple of hundred feet high and they are made of coral. They have a nasty habit of collapsing and there are plenty of warning signs.
This one says Don’t Stand Here.
This is what it looks like from below:
We take some touristy photos but I soon see that it is better to photograph the photographers.
Anyone standing behind me would have seen 3 cameras in a row.
It was good fun then “Everyone back on the bus” and we were all but alone, so we got back in the car.
The second largest city in Taiwan and we get there around the start of rush hour. The driving is pretty hectic and people seem to be all over the place but we all get along somehow. We go to the tallest building in town at 77 storeys and try the hotel but it is a bit pricey so we go to another one and check in. It is a 5 star hotel and it costs around NZ$160 per night for a room with 2 double beds. It is very lush so we check in for 2 nights
Our hotel is the brownstone on the right.
We walk across town and as we go through a park we can hear Chinese music coming from some trees up ahead and we can see people milling around. Wondering what was going on, we come to the trees and under the huge canopy of shade there is a dance class in progress! It is one of the many things that retired people do in the mornings.
We cross the river and wander through a huge outdoor “steel and iron” art exhibition along the old docks. It was bloody good and spoke hugely of the energy put into public spaces and works.
About 10 years ago Kaohsiung was one of the dirtiest places in Taiwan. The river that runs through the middle was one open sewer. The then mayor said that he would make the river clean enough to drink. We walked along it this morning and saw fish jumping all over. The water looked pretty damn good but I didn’t drink any.
As we are walking along there is a road gang working up ahead, they are cutting the grass, brushing the road and generally tidying up. The gang consists mostly of women (a common sight) They are wearing the obligatory facemask plus some other protective gear. As we passed them I was reminded of something.
Spy v Spy
Later we take the ferry across the harbour and wander around, on the way back we get a taxi that takes us along a row of indurstrial “shops” full of chain hoists, pumps, fans and electric motors the size of small cars. You can see old Taiwan here and it is a reminder that this is an industrial producer nation. They still make things.
We go to the tall building and pay NT$100 (about NZ$4) to take the elevator to the viewing deck near the top. We get in and a voice tells us that the lift accelearates to 600 metres per min and we rise 74 storeys in 43 seconds. It didn’t mean much until you get out of the lift and look out the window. We can see all the buildings around us but the air is thick from a dust storm in China that has blown across the sea.
A stop on the coast
We stop at a place where there are some sandstone rock formations. I saw a row of faces with another superimposed on top.
I don’t know what I what thinking of when I took this picture. I must have been a bit anal at the time
We stop in Tainan and there is a temple with a large Buddha that we want to see
Winding it all up
We drive back to Taipei. In the last few days the immersion has become complete, the driving has become second nature, the streets look normal and I have to remind myself to see the millions of flashing lights, gaudy neon signs and the million or so scooters tucked into every crevice. When I first arrived I was in adrift in a sea of Chinese faces, now most people just look like people, it is only the children that look strikingly Asian.
Most of the drive back has been on the “Freeway” which is a 6 to 8 lane motorway with a speed limit of 110kmh. There is no lane discipline so you can drive in any lane and no-one flashes you to get out of the way. Instead, every lane is an overtaking lane and it is completely normal to see a car overtake a series of cars by using all 4 lanes. It sounds terrible but it has been one of the safest driving experiences I’ve had. It took me a while to realise that driving is an extension of the discipline of living close up to millions of other souls. Driving is completley fluid and improvised. When it comes to intersections, you can see a car take a right turn across the incoming traffic and a car shaped hole kinda opens up in the oncoming stream. The hive mind? maybe. I did a U Turn on a very busy road at rush hour and it took all my courage to turn into traffic instead of waiting for a gap but it worked. In the entire trip around the island I haven’t seen anyone get angry and for all intents and purposes cars might not have horns. I saw one person toot at the car in front because the person driving had missed the fact that the lights had gone green. I never saw one road sign about “bad driving”, unlike the complete bombardment we get in NZ. In fact the absence made me realise just how ghastly and creepy that NZ thing really is.
The finale was arriving in Taipei in mid afternoon and the traffic was simply unbelievable. Wherever you live, imagine 5 to 10 times more cars then throw in a thousands of scooters buzzing amongst the cars then make them drive twice as fast as you think is safe then get in a car and drive amongst them using a GPS that has lost its signal because you are running under an elevated series of motorways and every turn command comes 15 seconds too late. Then do a U Turn! I did it! 3 minutes later the car was returned to the depot and I was so relieved I nearly cried.
In the days remaining we shopped, clothes especially.
This was a straight piece of steel water pipe 2 metres in diameter with 18mm thick walls.
Chang Kai Shek
We also visited the Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hal
I’ve always thought I looked a bit like him or another way to put it, he looks like me and Patrick Stewart. Ali’s dad also thought I looked like Chang Kai Shek as well
Finally I leave Ali with her parents and return to NZ
You cannot drink the water from any tap anywhere, no exceptions. Drinking water is either boiled or bought. You can also buy sophisticated filtration systems that connect to your tap. These produce 100% clear safe drinking water and cost about NZ$1000. Hotels provide either free bottles of drinking water or drinking water systems. It makes me realise just how little of the water that we use at home actually goes in our bodies. I wonder what they would think if they knew that we flush our toilets with pure clear drinking water.
You cannot wear shoes inside anyone’s house, no exceptions. It keeps outside dirt outside. People wear sandals inside and provide them for visitors. It seems a hassle but it soon becomes second nature and you begin to see the sense of it.
About 10% – 15% of the population wear facemasks. You can buy designer facemasks.
People wear them everywhere except in banks and anywhere that ID needs to be shown. The only sign that could vaguely be described as a “Public Order” sign that I saw was one that asked people to wear a facemask if they had a cold, cough, fever or flu and to stand at least 2 metres away from people if they had any kind of infection. It is worth bearing in mind that H1N1, although poo pooed here was in fact the closest we have come to a pandemic and health officials worldwide think that we were very lucky that it never eventuated into a more virulent form. Being in a very crowded country made me reflect that had it happened here it would have spread like wildfire in no time. That reminds me, when I entered Taiwan I had to walk in front of the fever camera. It is a thermographic camera that reads the temperature of your head, you can see the greeny red image on the screen as you pass. If you are above a certain temperature alarms go off and you are detained.
Cost of living
Clothes are very cheap, jackets that we would pay NZ$75 – NZ$200 cost about NZ$30. Branded sports shoes that cost around NZ$200 are about NZ$60 – NZ$80. Underwear, pure cotton about NZ$3 – NZ$4.
Food is cheaper everything around 50% – 60% of cost in NZ there are exceptions of course but it generally holds true.
The Absence of Booze and Drunks.
I’ve seen one mild beer ad on the TV. Beyond that it is all but invisible. You can get it in the supermarket but the comparison to our part of the world couldn’t be more marked. Not only don’t you see it, I haven’t seen a bar, or a drunk or beer bottles or cans laying around. It makes our culture of drink and socially acceptable drunkenness appear to be just that. I shudder to think what they must think when they see how we live collectively. Ali led us home one day by a shortcut that took us through a very low and narrow dark damp alley. Instinctively I braced myself for the stench of piss but it wasn’t there, all it smelled of was damp, it was free of broken glass, syringes, condoms or any rubbish at all.
I am sure there must be some and they probably stay indoors. In moving around Taipei (approx 7 million people) I’ve seen two big people but no obese people or even fat people. It’s odd that they appear to have what we would call superstitions about food whereas we have science but they are healthier than us. You see it especially in old people. Ali’s dad is 79 and gets up each morning to walk 6 laps of the local park, he is not unusual. He is fit and healthy. He has an allotment and grows fruit and veg there. Asians live on rice which is nothing but starch. You can get Maccas but the streets teem with real Asian food stalls that do bloody good food very cheaply, you could do all your eating on the streets and live well.
No Grafiti, Tagging or Vandalism
I saw about 6 in the whole journey. I did ask if they had all been eaten and got stony silence for an answer.
I wanted to send a parcel to my son in London so we go to the post office. It is huge for a small town and there are about 20 tellers. I buy a thick brown envelope for NT$8 (about 40 cents) and I show the teller what I am going to send, she points out that I cannot send the pile of paper receipts I have put in with the T shirt and model. I do not really understand why but take them out anyway. The postage comes to about NZ$7. Back in NZ that would have cost me about NZ$27. It is another of those scenarios where I am reminded of what we have lost in NZ. Postage is bloody expensive and prices rise as the service declines in the name of profit. In Taiwan they still have that sense of public services that are provided by the state for the benefit of everyone. There is no way that Taiwan could be described as Socialist, it is a capitalist wonder, yet the trains and public transport leave you gaping in admiration. The crock of shit we have been sold under the banner that privatisation leads to efficiency is nothing but another con trick. They employ an army street sweepers here, everywhere is tidy and people have jobs. If walking around in broken glass and rubbish strewn public areas is a symbol of freedom and efficiency then make me a prisoner any day. Our standard of living (as measured by the world in which we live day to day) has declined in NZ. Sad but true.
The Overall Feeling Of Safety
There are cameras everywhere, literally everywhere. Each apartment block has a concierge who vets all visitors. You need a key pass to open internal doors. Ali’s parent’s front door has no less that 7 deadbolts built into it. The tube stations all have special places for women travelling alone at night to wait for a trains so that they can be monitored constantly by the everpresent cameras.
The street lighting once you are off the main drags leaves much to be desired, there are innumerable dark doorways and alleys. Many windows have bars, and most back balconies are completely encased in bars.
It would be easy to gather the idea that there is some ever present menace or danger to protect yourself from. Yet Ali tells me that you can walk in complete safety down these roads at any time of night. There is no sense of menace or danger, no drunks either singly or in loud mobs. I also saw that when some businesses close at night they just cover over stuff that would either disappear or get smashed at home.
That Asian Regimentation
This is puzzling. It is easy to just see it as passivity and orderliness, the hive mind. But it is more than that. In a place that is super crowded you need some kind of plan to keep things moving and most of what I have seen is just that. Some of it makes so much sense that it is surprising that others don’t copy them. It also needs to be seen in the context of the individual in the greater society. Asians have a very non-egocentric view of things. Family is still a strong presence. On one tube journey we took Ali’s mum who is both old and looks old. When we got on a crowded tube train young people got up to let her sit. I have seen this again and again and it did not strike me as blind adherence to social rules, the kids I saw genuinely gave up their seats. Old people are still respected here. I saw people riding scooters fast along alleyways and pedestrian walkways and there was quite often impromptu business going on.
Don’t get me wrong, Taiwan TV News is pretty much the same as anywhere else: drugs, murder and road smashes, just less of them. And when you pack 20 odd million people into a land smaller than the south island of NZ it is not always pretty.
Parts of Taipei are just plain ugly and they get ripped out and rebuilt in that way that all cities are constantly being rebuilt. I guess the difference is in simple things, people don’t thrown rubbish on the streets, piss in alleyways or generally fuck up where they live. Roads are swept daily, I saw shop keepers washing down the footpath in front of their shops every night. It is kinda like everyone takes responsibility for this. Again, don’t misunderstand me, this was just an observation in working out how come the older parts of the city still looked habitable.
Some things I saw and liked can only happen when you have a population of over 20 million. Things that we cannot do in NZ because we only have 4 million and therefore cannot afford. But other things were more about the stance of the state towards its citizens. I saw constant reminders of this, the governments commitment to an affordable and usable public transport system. Public offices with lots of staff behind the counter and minimal queues, visibility of regular Police patrols (by scooter) in every neighbourhood. Toilets in all larger shops, every cafe and while some those toilets might have been well used they were all clean and cleaned. Good service everywhere, shops, restuarants, everywhere, I saw no exceptions.
When thinking about this further it is interesting to compare Asian countries, Taiwan in a capitalist democracy, China isn’t and Singapore is a highly regulated society with strict enforcement, Hong Kong is probably Laissez Faire capitalism?. All these different kinds of systems and yet they all have something in common. A strong work ethic, family centered values, respect for their elders and a future for the children through education and a sense of common interest at a society level.
It is easy to write this off as the hive mind or simply brainwashing the population into obeying the rules but if you witnessed the driving you’d soon realise that it is more complex than that. These are different people.
Know Your Place.
I have always taken that saying to relate to either politics or class. It dawned on me that with so many people so close together there is a physical meaning to that too.
The Good News
Everything written above
The Bad News
All public areas have music playing, restaurants, shopping areas, museums, aquariums and the music is ghastly. Imagine every rock classic you have ever heard and liked being played as an instrumental on saxaphone, pan pipes, harmonica or piano, then imagine it louder that you would like, then imagine it everywhere you go. It is simply hell. Today I heared a familiar rock song played as polka on a 1970’s electric organ.
Any day now the Chinese will arrive and take Taiwan back. Hopefully they will have better taste in music.