I’ve been having fun in Taiwan with my wife for the past three days, surfing the random chaos that comes from being in a country whose language I don’t speak. Since Japan and Taiwan are two countries that have a lot in common, I thought I’d write a post on 11 random things that I noticed during my time here.
Taiwan is a lovely country that is very close to Japan. The Taiwanese are said to be the country that feels the closest to Japan, in part because of Japan’s “successful” colonization of the country in the late 19th century, banning outmoded practices like Chinese foot-binding and bringing the country to a high level industrially. There are a lot of strong connections between the two countries.
A Taiwanese town is a basis for Spirited Away. The pleasant town of Jiufen served as the inspiration for the setting for Hayao Miyazaki’s film.
Face masks. Taiwanese have a tradition of wearing surgical face masks like Japan does. As I’ve written before, this is a tradition that got started with the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 and never went away. Sometimes Taiwanese face mask styles overflow into Japan and become popular.
Taiwan is a heaven for vegetarians. Without intending to, several of the restaurants we wandered into turned out to be vegetarian only, and we found the food there to be delicious. The reason, a kind Japan-born tea seller of Taiwanese descent explained to me, is that, partially for reasons of religion, and partially as an effort to improve one’s personal good luck and avoid having a negative effect on the world, many Taiwanese abstain from eating meat. As a result, there are many amazing restaurants serving meatless Chinese dishes.
This is quite different from Japan, whose idea of “vegetarian” food is bacon-wrapped asparagus. Japan is slowly improving its awareness of alternative food lifestyles, as well as adding halal and kosher options in a lot of restaurants, but Taiwan is way ahead at present.
Taiwan’s train system is very convenient. In Japan, people will look at you funny if you eat on most trains, but it’s not against the rules. But eating and drinking on trains is illegal in Taiwan. pic.twitter.com/1Gt7HdC21l
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) January 9, 2020
No eating or drinking inside the subway trains. In my article about Six Things foreign Visitors to Japan Should Not Do, I mention that eating inside some trains is not generally done in Japan. But in Taiwan, it’s actually banned.
Taiwanese appear to love the Quaker Oats man. At least I saw him repeatedly while wandering around supermarkets and other shops. His face is used to sell everything from oatmeal (something the Japanese don’t eat at all, as it resembles a food for sick people) to a popular ginseng drink.
Taiwanese seem to be really into peanuts. They apparently produce a lot of peanuts in Taiwan and as a result, sell many many peanut-based products. When I ordered a chicken-and-egg sandwich from a street vendor today, I was surprised to find it contains peanut butter, too. Of course, the Japanese think squid, corn, and mayonnaise are the perfect toppings for a pizza, so I guess everyone’s entitled to their own unique tastes.
Taipei is very clean, but the walkways aren’t level. Compared to obsessively-engineered Japanese streets, each shop seemed to have a slope or step, so that we had to start calling out warnings to each other to keep from tripping.
It can be an exciting place. We had the amazing luck to be here for the first day of the local Chinese New Year celebration, as well as the run-up to the big presidential election, which is Saturday. Watching political ads in a language I can’t understand has been pretty surreal.
They actually have trash cans here. Unlike Japan, which usually doesn’t have a trash can when you want one, you can usually find one in Taiwan.
The Taiwanese are considerate people. Last night a maid knocked on our hotel door because she’d remembered that my room hadn’t been restocked with oolong tea, which I apparently loved so much because I’d drank four cups. In reality, the teabags were in my bag, ready to be taken back to Japan. This struck me as really kind and considerate, similar to what you’d often find in Japan.
Incidentally, I believe the greatest invention of the past 10 years is the rental portable wifi unit, which lets you travel in an unknown land with full Internet wherever you go, enabling Google Maps, translation apps and access to Wikipedia. What a time to be alive!
Hope you enjoyed reading about my trip to Taiwan. Got any topics you’d like to see us write about on this blog or other questions about Japan? Ask us on Twitter!
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