Travel in Taiwan - the country where it is easy to feel at home in Taipei is a travel article written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen
Travel in Taiwan
I just landed at the airport, and am ready for my trip in Taiwan.
It's a sad and rainy gray Sunday, and the road to the capital Taipei from the large, modern airport is long and deserted. I remind myself that one should never judge a big city on its approaches. That there is usually light and life at the end of the road.
I have arrived in a country that few Danes have been to, even though everyone knows the term “Made in Taiwan”. Taiwan calls itself Asia secret jewel, and there are indeed only a few other western tourists here. I'm on new ground, and as we stop in front of the hotel that looks cozy and lively, I know that a trip to Taiwan should probably surprise.
Braveheart goes Asia
When I travel, it is also an emotional experience. And on this trip in Taiwan, I experienced how my whole sense of justice and political interest was brought to life as rarely before.
Many perceive Taiwan as part of China, but it is not. Although you can easily find official maps showing Taiwan as part of the kingdom in the middle.
Taiwan is in practice an independent country, which contains cultural features from both Japan, Korea and not least China, where the vast majority have come from over several centuries. The country has fought since World War II to maintain its independence from China, although it has not been Chinese since 2, when the Japanese took control of the island and Taiwanese fought in the Japanese army during World War II. Before that, there have been several colonial powers such as Spain and the Netherlands.
Where the official Taiwan previously insisted that Taiwan was the only real China, today they dare not declare themselves 100% independent for fear of what China will do next. So officially, Taiwan is in a diplomatic no-man's land that is hardly found in the world. But in practice, they are a completely independent country, protected by the United States and Japan, and which - after a slow start - today is possibly one of the most liberal and modern democracies in all of Asia.
There are very few Taiwanese who want what China wants: to make a Hong Kong model under the motto "one country - two systems". I read about a poll that showed that only 13% of the population wants it today, but China is still holding the country in a diplomatic and trade iron grip to force it into the fold.
In China, Taiwan is referred to as “China's largest island,” and the regime in Beijing is tightly regulating the number of vital Chinese tourists depending on how China-critical the incumbent president in Taiwan is now. The English-language newspaper reported on threats and retaliation, polls and doubts.
Knowing the Scottish freedom struggle, it is hard not to compare it to the Taiwanese freedom struggle. They have also faced supremacy for many centuries and yet have not allowed themselves to be culturally enslaved.
Taiwanese also love to demonstrate and discuss and generally use their freedoms to create a better society. They are disciplined, but in a very different way than in China; they seem intent on creating openness and freedom. It's hard not to be a little impressed in a world where autocratic leaders have a little too much tailwind on the bike path.
Da'an must be experienced on a trip in Taiwan
Tucked away behind the main street in the new part of Taipei lies Da'an. A compact, checked neighborhood, where the nicest cafes are located side by side with street food places and old, low-rise apartment blocks. On my trip to Taiwan, I live in the middle of it all. In walking distance to much and the rest can be done easily and cheaply with one uber or a metro.
Taipei is a surprisingly nice city to be in. It is simply human-friendly in a way that few Asian cities are.
There are super cozy cafes and street food ad libitum everywhere. The famous “night markets” where you can taste your way through all sorts of specialties for little money is a wonderful invention when you are a curious foodie like I am.
However, I would advise against trying “stinky tofu”, but it might also give itself a bit of that name!
I fall asleep at my modern and cozy design hotel Folio in Da´an, and it would fit just as well on eg Islands Brygge in Copenhagen as it does here.
One can walk to many of the interesting places on wide sidewalks, which is a bit of a favorite discipline when I travel. So I go into Taipei 101; the famous tower in the middle of it all. There is so much hyping about building tall towers in the world, but Taipei 101 is actually beautiful in its very own way.
It's the weekend and the city is full of happy people who have free time. It is not stuffed, rather filled with life in an appropriate amount. I go to the cinema with all the locals and watch an English movie.
Here in the big city, it is not difficult to find locals who can and want to speak English, and I am sure that the lack of synchronization of films helps with that.
With the school patrol of Chiang Kai-shek
I have found something exciting on my map and wander from there. Well helped by my offline map on the mobile, which just helps the direction-challenged me on the right path hist and piste, so I soon reach a large area called “Liberty Square”, and where Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall ”Lies in something resembling a temple.
Chiang Kai-shek is the father of modern Taiwan and the man who, after the defeat of the Communists in China, fled to Taiwan and got a new country up and running. Democracy was not exactly his favorite dish, so it was not until 1996 - long after his death - that democracy came to Taiwan.
Taipei is not necessarily beautiful everywhere, not at all. But this is a beautiful area.
I wander the streets around the square. A school patrol in yellow vests follows school children across a long pedestrian crossing. Some office people in suits sit on a bench and eat food. It is cloudy but warm with 20-22 degrees.
A trip to Taiwan is filled with temples and tea houses
It has become Temple Day. I head up to the old center at Dihua Street where Taipei Xiahai City God Temple is located in the middle of it all. A tiny temple where there is incense, song, speech and much more in quite a bit of space - including signs in English explaining the most important things; smart!
The area is known for its shops with traditional medicine and is also becoming a bit of a hipster area with art shops, nice little cafes and a Danish Mikkeller beer house in the middle of it all. I walk past a hostel that clearly signifies that it is "LGBT-friendly" - welcome to, whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual.
I look into a gift-art-mm-shop, where I experience a phenomenon that goes on again in the city: Service with a proper splash of kindness on top. They want to help you and are genuinely curious about where you are coming from and whether they can help you without being over-selling. It's damn almost completely touching.
When I tell them that my next stop is a well-known tea shop, the clerk in the shop immediately starts drawing a small card for me, and with it in hand - and several kindly helping people along the way - I come to Wang's Tea House. Or tea temple is perhaps more accurate. Here you can buy the finest mountain, Oolong, and if you need the most expensive one, it costs several thousand kroner a kilo, but for much less it now also tastes really good.
I buy a tea that naturally has a clear taste of honey - it is completely pure in its taste and simply excellent. I see several temples that day as I roll around the different neighborhoods. A Confucius temple, a Taoist temple and a Buddhist temple. They are all involved in complex ways in Taiwanese everyday life, where it seems that faith, philosophy and school knowledge go hand in hand without problems.
Taiwan National Parks are worth a trip
Taiwan may be known for their electronics production, but is in fact a natural island with forests, gorges, beaches and everything in between. There are high speed trains down the coast, so in a few hours you are down by the beaches and the sun in the south. That's smart.
Kenting and Taroko National Parks should be on the list if you want to go out and experience nature on the island. And otherwise there is Yehliu Geopark close to Taipei.
This time, I primarily got to experience Taipei. And I went home with a feeling that I do not really remember having experienced anywhere else. Because as a visitor, you are not overblown, hustled or ignored, but are allowed to be part of everyday life in a modern, Asian country, where kindness, openness and enjoyment of food reign.
Although life in Taiwan is so different from our everyday life in many ways, I quickly felt at home. Oddly enough, quite a few tourists experience in Denmark something of the same: A sense of humanity and culture in a non-overwhelming and organized way. Maybe that's why Taiwan went into my blood so fast.
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