I took my girls to Taiwan for a short visit over the Spring Festival.
I have to say I didn’t have a strong feeling of ‘chuguo’ – being around. I arrived late on the day before the eve of the Chinese New Year. The next morning, I enjoyed a hearty breakfast at a cheap eatery right across my friend’s building. As I munched the Chinese style sandwich: sticky rice wrap filled with pickles and meat floss and bits of fried dough, I tasted my childhood as it was a better version of what I used to have as a child in Nanjing. I immediately felt at home, which set the tone of this visit.
The highlight in Taipei is of course the National Palace Museum, which has the best collection of Chinese art and objects, taken from the Forbidden City before the Chinese took over power in 1949. We were lucky to have a guided-tour given by an expert on Chinese arts. We ended the day at a charming tea house on the roof-top of the museum, sipping delicious tea – one of specialty here, and watching fireworks brightening up the darkening sky. Very civilized.
Since it was raining in the capital and a little cold, I decided to travel down south with a German friend who is studying Chinese.
It only took 90 minutes by the speed railway but Kaosiung felt like another world, warm, sunny and faintly exotic. I was also rather taken with Tainan, the oldest city in the island, with so many temples and old monuments, which were teaming with visitors over the New Year. We had a good laugh watching fortunate-telling at a Taoist temple where people queued up to get their future told by a priest clad in a purple traditional silk gown. He was a first class showman, his head moving comically as he delivered people’s fates in a dramatic fashion.
As I visited one temple after another one, I asked myself if there would be more cities like Tainan if China if our country had not gone through the Cultural Revolution?
The traditions are certainly much better kept and observed here. On the New Year eve, people everywhere in our Taipei neighbourhood were burning paper money to honour earth god.
On a more down-to-earth level, Taiwan is a paradise for us because my daughters and myself are obsessed with food. I find it quite incredible that everywhere, virtually, there are food-stalls, attempting us with all sorts of mouth-watering snacks, like gluten flour dumplings filled with sesames and red bean soup sprinkled with lotus seeds. So we snacked all the time.
What struck me most is the niceness (I know nice is a weak work for a writer) of the Taiwanese. At a computer shop in Tainan, a couple took the time and trouble to call all the hotels in my guidebook in helping us to secure the accommodation. The people here are chilled-out and well-mannered. It seems that they are the gentler version of the mainlanders.
Just like in Taiwan, the unpleasant behavior of mainlanders in tour groups such as eating in the subway and littering in public upset the locals.
I had never been to Taiwan before. I was tempted to go during the recent election but unable to make it due to other commitments. Taiwan’s successful transfer from an authoritarian system to democracy broke the myth that democracy doesn’t suit the Chinese.
Like most mainlanders, we welcomed the news of the re-election of Ma Ying-jeou. the leader of the ruling Kuomingtang (KMT). It was the endorsement of his policy of pushing a closer tie with the mainland, which has eased the decades-long tensions across the Taiwan Strait. And Ma is one of the most handsome Chinese men I’ve ever known. His wife actually sounds real cool. Until his election, she had always gone to work by public bus; she wears no make-up and often in jeans. Now having given up her job, she dedicates to the work of public warfare. I don’t think there are many of such official wives in the mainland.
Maybe one day when China becomes more democratic and modern.
Pix 032 a temple in Tainan, with lit-up lanterns
Picture 054 the showman priest
Picture 071 is the freedom square in Taipei