Longterm plans were to travel to Taiwan and stay for 3 months. My intentions were to check out different cities with the view of staying longterm. Taipei, the capital in the north of the island, was not for me as I like smaller cities and a slower pace of life. The north was too cold and damp, even in spring, though I suspect the summers would be stifling in this densely populated city. So having moved south to escape the misery of the temperature, I arrived in Tianan. It became apparent, this previous capital city was not going to be much better, though on days it was warmer, though even when the sun shone, a rarity due to the pollution filled sky, this also was a grey, gloomy, ugly city.
I spent a month there but most days the sky was obliterated by the pollution. There was no blue sky or clouds, no stars at night just this strange muted glow covering of the sky, almost like someone had painted it out and forgot to put any colour or texture to it. It was eerie. I’d look out of my window and be able to see the buildings across the river for a couple of streets then nothing, simply nothing even though I knew there were some tall buildings. It was as if someone had just erased them, as if the world had ended. Just nothing. The sun did try to strike through this man-made smog but usually it took most of the day. I regularly checked the air quality and daily it was at dangerous levels. It was toxic. Only on the days of rain did the levels drop a little.
Tainan is a very walkable city, no MRT, though taxis or buses are easy to use. So I walked and walked getting to know the main streets and the older small streets some with old Taiwanese houses. There’s so much more to this city when you scratch the surface. In many ways it reminded me of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, as it has adopted the name of ‘Temple Town’, It’s a city full of temples; Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist. On the night I arrived there was a parade walking through the streets surrounding my Airbnb from the Confucius temple down the road. They were celebrating the folk sea goddess, Matsu. I tried to visit as many temples across the city, some very old and dilapidated, some clearly very popular. I learned it was a daily practice to have mini parades, as each temple celebrated their traditions on days of their choice. So everyday somewhere in the city there would be celebrations, along with the mandatory firecrackers and fireworks it made for a nightly party somewhere.
Taiwan is not geared up to be tourist friendly for non Asians and non Chinese speakers. Most visitors are from China and the Taiwanese regularly visit other parts of the island through the very accessible high speed rail service, taking less than 2 hours to get from north to south.
So having found most of the places of interest in Tainan. I read up about them before visiting as there are no English translations. Anping District with it’s Dutch Formasa history from the Dutch East India Company era, Hayashi Department Store with it’s restored war torn features and full of kitsch merchandise, the National Museum of Literature, etc, none of them are English friendly, only Chinese. What I did enjoy was walking the city and discovering the back streets and the historical side of the city.
Wherever I travel I’ve enjoyed meeting native people and chatting about their lives and culture. This is a country when outside of Taipei, almost no one speaks any English, not even ‘hello’. Though I tried a few Chinese words my pronunciation was so poor I couldn’t make myself understood, so Google translate became a good friend. But even this resource struggled with translations. My Airbnb lady, who would surprise me with breakfast, or a bag of the sweetest fresh pineapple, or cake, spoke no English, but regularly sent messages which were complete gobbledegoo. Here’s an example “these cries are growing along with us It’s time to put up your ears Arrived holding a bowl out of the door to sweet memories.’ I have no idea what this means or most of the messages I received. I knew that if I was to make this a long term home learning Chinese was essential.
Food is really important to me, sampling the local dishes. Here I found the night market food was not substantial on a daily basis, plus laced with MSG and mainly fried or filled with pork, I stopped looking for local food. Happily due to the Japanese era in Taiwan I was spoilt for choice for fish. So daily I got my protein fix and really enjoyed it. I discovered Taiwanese don’t have kitchens, they eat out 3 times a day or bring ready made food in. This would be the reason why I found only two small fruit and veg markets. I’m told that most people cannot cook. This is so unlike other Asian countries. I wonder what happen and if it’s always been this way.
It may not be my choice for longterm living, but I’m glad I travelled to Taiwan and would encourage you to stop off on this small island. It’s not China though the Republic of China do consider it as part of their territory, the Taiwanese would refute that. Everything looks brighter with blue sky and sunshine and the east coast is especially picturesque with it’s lush green fields planted with rice framed with mountains in the background. It might not be my longterm home but certainly worth a visit.