Taiwan’s population is a mixture of the island’s original inhabitants, the indigenous people, descendants of Han Chinese settlers, nationalist Chinese who arrived after the Chinese civil war in 1949, Japanese from the colonial era, and SE Asia culture all blended together making a very interesting combination. The Taiwanese curiously are little like the mainland Chinese, though my opinion of the Chinese can only be based on those loud, culture lacking, swarming tourists I’ve met on my travels. The Taiwanese are kind, generous, thoughtful, unassuming, unpretentious, quiet, almost introverted, though of course they can’t all be.
Taiwan is the second most populated country in the world. There are people everywhere.
They’re very tolerant of religious faiths and beliefs. The three religious traditions are Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Each has it’s own temples, priests and sacred texts. There are also beliefs in ancestors, ghosts, magic and religious mediums. The gods are a source of magic power reached through ritual. God’s are honoured by regularly parading down the streets with the elaborate carved palanquins and stopping off at followers houses to accept offerings of food, lots of firecrackers and drumming. I’ve also noticed Christianity and Islam and was approached in a street my two young missionaries from Salt Lake City. I’m guessing they were Mormons over to convert.
There’s definately a status system here mostly defined by the work they do and by the level of education. Society, like the western world, has becoming consumer led measured by wealth and material goods. But food brings people together either in homes or restaurants. It reinforces social connections within the family, with neighbours and the community. People of a higher status would not be invited to dinner in the home of someone with a lower status. If you do receive an invitation It’s considered rude to finish all your food as it implies your host cannot afford to give you enough. This would cause embarrassment; the Asian loss of face.
In spite of being friendly and courteous the Taiwanese pay close attention to your status. Their friendships are based on mutual benefit but rarely mix with different statuses. As a foreigner I had nothing to offer, or maybe it’s like Thailand, foreigners are classed on a higher level so they couldn’t befriend me.
Today’s family units are starting to disintegrate as young adults move away from their family homes for education or looking for better jobs. Many of the young girls are choosing not to marry as they have seen their mothers tied to their husbands, homes and bringing up children and don’t want to repeat that as married women have few rights. The trends are reflecting this increase in women’s power and status by rejecting marriage or delaying marriage. The custom upon marrying is to live in the in-laws house, living by old traditional values. But still the material wealth, power and inheritance of property goes to the man. Marriages are still arranged through matchmakers and often the bride doesn’t meet her husband until the day of the wedding. In some cases a young girl is brought into the family and groomed as the future daughter in law, This way the mother gets the type of daughter in law she can mold. Alternatively the young couple choose each other but marriage arrangements and suitability is still managed by the matchmaker.
Both Taipei and Kaohsiung are hectic big sprawling cities with the usual abundance of shopping centres full of international and local shops, though interestingly I never saw much buying going on, more a day’s outing. If you’re into temples then temple town, Tainan is for you. Traffic is relentless with the growing number of cars and of course the 15 million motorcycles. Pavements become huge cycles parking areas, they’re really not for pedestrians.
In the main tourists are from the Asian countries. I met Malaysian, Indonesians, travellers from Hong Kong and China, Vietnam, Thailand but hardly only Westerners. Once I left Taipei I could count on one hand the number of white faces I met.
Of the few non Asia’s I spoke to they all said they loved Taiwan, I was just not feeling the same. Finally I realised that outside of the capital people were not actually friendly. They weren’t rude but they made little or no effort to communicate possibly embarrassed by trying to speak English. I was mainly ignored. It was almost impossible to make eye contact. I got the impression it would be really difficult to make friends. Infact I got the feeling that they wanted to do as little as possible to encourage outsiders. There appears to be little knowledge or curiosity about the outside world. Maybe it’s the loss of face which I’ve come up against in every Asian country.
The island has an excellent transport infrastructure ranging from THSR, the high speed trains, TRA trains similar to Intercity trains, and MRT just like the London tubes, but better! The THSR trains run along the west coast only, but take only a couple of hours to get from one end of the country to the other. I paid about £28 for my journey from Tainan returning to Taipei. I mainly used the TRA as I travelled along the east coast. The seats swivel round so you always face the way you’re travelling. All seats recline and tons of legroom. All stations have markers on the platform for each carriage and signs showing the direction for seat numbers, so you always enter using the correct carriage door. So helpful. For more about the MRT in Taipei and Kaohsiung see my previous blog ‘Taking the MRT’ press here.
Taiwan is ahead of the other Asian countries and has daily rubbish collections. A musical yellow dustcart roams the streets playing ice cream van type music to announce either it’s approach or arrival so home and shop owners would be waiting to throw their rubbish bags aboard. I noticed it became a bit of a social get together for neighbours giving them a chance to catch up on the day’s gossip. To read more about rubbish collection in Taiwan press here.
I was shocked at how little English was spoken, or available at the main tourist sites. I’m not expecting everyone across the world to speak English though this is the first country I have visited where it was almost impossible to communicate.
There’s a big divide between those that have and those that don’t. The poorer families still live in one room.
The amount of people smoke, mainly men, in the streets, in the street stall restaurants. Thankfully not indoors.
Compared to other developing Asia countries there’s little building work going on and they use steel scaffolding rather than bamboo.
They love dogs, pedigree breeds. But sadly they’re taken too soon from their mum’s and put in cages in pet shops.
Dogs love travelling on the motorcycles in fact they are trained to jump on and off.
Dog coats in the cold weather are a fashion must!
Photos of life around Tainan: