Monday, June 23, 2008 Taiwan Taiwan

The other China

Taipei 101 [Enlarge]

Taiwan is the first place we've been to that isn't a fully recognised nation state. Most countries in the world, ours included, don't recognise it because if they do, China will break off diplomatic relations with them. It's a choice laid down by China: have a relationship with us, or have a relationship with Taiwan, but you can't have both. Sadly China wins nearly every time.

Why are the Chinese so anti Taiwan? Because China and Taiwan are locked in a strange stand-off. They both agree that Taiwan should be a province of China rather than a separate country. Where they disagree is that they both claim to be the legitimate government of the whole territory of China!

The problems result from the Chinese civil war, between the Nationalists headed by Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists headed by Mao Zedong. Mao won and established the People's Republic of China, and Chiang was driven out to the island of Taiwan where he established a new capital for the Republic of China in the city of Taipei. And that has been the status quo ever since.

During the Cold War most countries recognised Taiwan as the One True China, but as the might of mainland China grew they started switching over, and by the end of the seventies almost all had abandoned poor Taiwan.

Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall [Enlarge]

So now bizarrely, we have two states calling themselves China. And even more bizarrely, mainland China is happy for Taiwan to call itself 'the Republic of China', but not happy for it to call itself 'the Republic of Taiwan'. This is because the prime concern of mainland China is that the two countries are both part of China. It is a secondary objective that they have a single government. If Taiwan ever does change its name, it will be invaded forthwith.

We found ourselves in Taiwan not knowing anything about the place, and also not having a clue what we wanted to do there. We are really, really tired and we need to take a rest. We are still on English teachers' hours, waking up at stupid o'clock every morning, alarm clock or no. So we're sorry to say that we've made a complete mess of being in Taiwan, and haven't done very much here at all.

This post therefore will be an anti-post. A description of all the things we didn't do in Taipei.

Firstly, we didn't go up the current world's tallest building, Taipei 101. We went in it, but not up it. We couldn't be bothered to pay a fortune and go through a ridiculous airport-style security screening. What the hell are we going to do: hijack the observation deck?

Consequently, we didn't go up the world's fastest elevators, 60.6 km/h (37.7 mph).

We didn't walk around the famous markets or restaurant districts. We didn't eat Taiwanese cuisine. And we didn't see any temples or museums containing a lot of the riches of China, 'rescued' by the fleeing Nationalists.

We just kind of existed here for a few days, getting annoyed at our inability to motivate ourselves to do anything. We did discover that Taipei has an 'earthiness' that reminds us of Hanoi (maybe it was all the mopeds). It also has a wonderful sweet, spicy smell that reminded us of the suburbs of Mumbai.

Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall gate [Enlarge]

We did do some stuff. We found it quite easy to get around Taipei, although it was really hot. The MRT (subway) is good, and every time we stopped to look at a map a friendly Taiwanese person asked us if we needed help. The Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall felt similar to Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Mausoleum (but without the pickled corpse). There were old black sedan cars and awards from across the world exhibited in a huge, windowless, marble monolith of a building. The main gate to the place is also huge (see picture—that's us at the bottom of one of the pillars).

So there you go. We're going to Bangkok now, and then we're going to find a nice quiet beach in the south of Thailand for a rest. Because this has been such a rubbish post, we'll make it up to you by letting you in on our future plans. After Thailand, we plan to go down the Malay peninsula by train to Singapore, then travel through Indonesia (and maybe Brunei) and onward to Australia.

Map of Day 574

Day 574
Naha (Okinawa) to Taipei

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

You seriously missed out a lot by not doing anything in Taiwan. Taiwanese food is seriously delicious, and you should have tried it. There's also nice shopping in Taipei and Ximending. And you should have gone out of Taipei. A lot of good Taiwanese food can only be found elsewhere, most notably in Tainan, while Taichung has these "sun cakes" which you should have tried. And how could you miss out on Hualien? The Taroko Gorge there is really a sight not to be missed.