In the last part of my Taiwan diary it’s all about funny random facts. Taiwanese are really nice and fun people, but they have some strange characteristics that made me laugh quite a few times. Of course I had to share this with you. Also make sure you watch my video where I share some impression from my trip. In the first part it’s all about my favorite places & memories from Taiwan In the second part I give you some tips and hard facts for your own trip to Taiwan.
The Toilet Obsession
The Taiwanese appear to have a veritable obsession with the loo – in the best sense, though! Nowhere else in the world did I find such easy access to toilets. They are everywhere, and they are clean!! Yes, that includes those in public places, metro stations and even gas stations. That alone is surprising enough. Even more surprising was that, say, in the metro stops, there are maps on display above the toilet signs, which marked exactly which kind of toilet was in which cabin (with seat or without), and which also indicated with red and green lights whether a specific cabin was occupied or not. Isn’t that totally awesome? What’s more, I never saw so many ‘intelligent’ hi-tech toilets anywhere else in the world. Most toilets in hotels and restaurants have heated toilet seats and tons of extra functions. I’m not kidding, this country is toilet paradise!
A Love for all things Hello Kitty Apart from an apparent deep love for their toilets, the Taiwanese also seem to be collectively obsessed with Hello Kitty! The cat and her friends are simply EVERYWHERE! Barely a restaurant, place, street or airport that doesn’t feature the feline cartoon one way or another. It was duly explained to me that Hello Kitty won the hearts of old and young Taiwanese by storm. It’s completely crazy!
theme parties everywhere Generally speaking, it seems like the Taiwanese have a soft spot for themes, and they implement them on all scales. It starts with theme rooms, theme restaurants, theme hotels, waiting areas at airports with theme designs, even entire villages that are modeled around certain concepts. I’m not sure which one I found to be the most loco: maybe the gigantic Hello Kitty waiting area at the airport for those who are lucky (or unfortunate) enough to embark at gate C3, and who have the opportunity (or are condemned) to wait in pink paradise (or hell)? Or how about cat village, which has essentially been taken over by cats, which in turn became the theme of the place and are everywhere from souvenirs, roos, cobblestones, music, cakes and even the train station? Honorable mention goes to the toilet restaurant, where all visitors sit on toilet seats and have their food served to them in toilet bowls? Just another day in Taiwan.
The largest art collection China and Taiwan are close neighbors with an intricately linked history and plenty of cultural cross references. Taiwan always tended to be under the thumb of either China or Japan. During the second world war, Taiwan segregated from mainland China. The communists won the civil war in China, started to burn books and embarked on a witch hunt for intellectuals, many of which fled to Taiwan and hid innumerable treasures from their old home on the island. These items would have otherwise been destroyed. One of the refugees was the politician Chiang Kai-Shek, who brought a large part of the imperial art collection with him. The collection includes a huge amount of ancient scrolls and invaluable treasures from the ‘forbidden town’. For these reasons, the national palace museum is in Taiwan and not in China. The collection is built into a mountain and comprises the largest accumulation of Chinese art (almost 700.000 objects) spanning 8000 years of history.
Talking about tradition… there are two ways to write Chinese characters: one is simplified, one is, well, let’s say elaborate. The more complicated script used to be the standard. Old books and manuscripts were written in that script, but with the introduction of the simplified characters knowledge of the traditional way of writing and reading faded into obscurity. In China, that is. Not in Taiwan. Here (and in Hong Kong), the old script lives. The advantage is that with knowledge of the old characters you can read texts both in old and new script. The Taiwanese are very proud of this skill, but they are also worried that they may lose it with the advance of globalization.
7-Eleven for everything (literally!) 7Eleven (every Taiwanese convenience store, actually) is sort of an all-in one supermarket in Taiwan. If you envision a little kiosk or what we call Späti’s in Berlin, you’re completely on the wrong track! A Taiwanese 7Eleven has much more to offer than 24h opening: you can print, it serves as a bank, laundromat and internet café, and if that’s not enough you can also pay our taxes there. No joke! We had a guide with us who told us these things, and at first I couldn’t believe it! But once you see one of those 7Elevens form the inside, you kind of start accepting it. These stores are veritable hubs of activity, and the first stop for a long list of errands. For us they were mostly useful because we could buy sweets whenever we wanted!
Tea in Taiwan It’s pretty much impossible to find genuinely good coffee, but you get the best tea ever at every street corner! This is in part due to the fact that the Taiwanese grow tea in their own country, especially Oolong Tea, which grows only in China and Taiwan. But the tea leaves themselves are only part of the story, it all boils down (quite literally) to how they are brewed and seeped. For the average Taiwanese, tea is a major part of their culture. Many people have elaborate rituals for brewing their perfect cup of tea. Looks a bit like shell game, the whole affair: tea is poured from one cup to the other until it is perfect. The good stuff is available in the ubiquitous tea houses, in which prices tend to be very cheap, on top of it. Not only the quality is excellent, the variety on offer is outstanding. Apart from classic tea varieties, the Taiwanese have explored pretty much every conceivable variation of the concept of tea – it is sold in tetra packs in the supermarket (super tasty), and then there’s of course bubble tea. This drink is truly the life blood of the island!
Bye, Bye GPS! We were creeped out to see that our watches and mobile phones malfunctioned in the mountains. Pictures we took with the camera had this weird visual noise, our routes were tracked incorrectly by our GPS, and, well, it seems like all technical appliances didn’t really seem to work as they should. It felt a bit spooky, as if a supernatural power was at work. We were then told that the phenomena are apparently due to magnetism along the east coast (unfortunately I didn’t find any more information on the subject on Google). The phenomenon is a mystery, and it seems like it draws a constant stream of scientists to the area. Something seems to be a little off there, but no one really knows what’s going on… and maybe it will remain a mystical secret for all times.
Somewhere between nature & technology Few peoples manage to create such a healthy balance between technology and nature as the Taiwanese (which are in stark contrast to their neighbors in that respect). On the one hand, Taiwan is an export economy, known for products like crayons, umbrellas, socks and so much more, on the other hand the people feel strongly connected to nature and do their best to protect their mountains and waters. To give just one example, a large part of the Taiwanese mountains consists of marble, but the people refuse to quarry it in order to protect the landscape. Recycling is part of the social fabric, and there are very few bins on the streets for that reason. You usually need to take your trash with you and do the right thing when the garbage collection trucks come to your place and honk their funny horns. Generally speaking, Taiwan is a very ‘green’ place, and that despite the fact the they seem to be ten years in the future when it comes to technology (the high-speed internet alone deserves an honorable mention. Worked super well even in the middle of nowhere). Not many countries manage to uphold this delicate balance, and it didn’t fall into the laps of the Taiwanese either – they worked hard for it. Definitely an area where we can learn a lot from Taiwan!
Athletic Elders I’ve never been anywhere with so many active elders. On the streets, in the mountains, in parks – the older generations are super active in Taiwan, and live their lives in big groups of friends, for example in the parks, in pursuit of one of their favorite activities: Tai Chi. Tai Chi is kind of a national pastime. It was originally conceived as a martial art, but today’s variation centers exclusively on elasticity, stretching and meditation. I must confess that I saw many pensioners who were obviously much more sporty than me (and I still hear their giggles as they saw me trying to keep up with them and failing miserably). Sports are a genuine group activity for older people in Taiwan, not unlike board games in Europe. You know how the saying goes: a healthy spirit in a healthy body!