Saturday, January 16, 2016

Introducing Taiwan & Japan

Taiwan is Asia.  But Taiwan is not Asia.  Even after visiting Japan, Taiwan is my favourite country in Asia.  Taiwan’s charms lie in the fact that Taiwan is an Asian country.  But it is not an Asian country.

I’m confusing you.  Let me explain.

Taiwan has all of the good things about Asia without all of the bad things about Asia.  Let me give you some examples:

Scooters dominate the streets.  Asia.
There are rules that the scooter drivers actually follow.  Not Asia.

There is street food everywhere.  Asia.
You will not get a parasite from eating the street food.  Not Asia.

There are lots of souvenirs you can buy here.  Asia.
You will not be harassed to buy souvenirs here.  Not Asia.

The locals are happy to assist if you need help.  Asia.
They won’t expect anything in return for this.  Not Asia.

It’s surprisingly affordable to travel here.  Asia.
Going cheap doesn’t mean going dangerous.  It’s completely safe here.  Not Asia.

Taiwan is the perfect combination of Asian culture and western conveniences.  Taiwan’s language and cuisine are distinctly Asian, but low crime rates rank it as one of the five safest countries in the world – a completely different situation than most of the rest of Asia.  Despite the language barrier – the Taiwanese speak much less English than people in South Asia or Southeast Asia – it is completely safe and completely easy to be a tourist here.  The best part:  the price is right.  Sure it’s more than Southeast Asia, but Taiwan is easy to travel on a budget and this is one of the reasons why I love it so much.

Whether or not Taiwan is Asia is up for debate.  But there is one thing that became very clear to me while visiting Taiwan:  Taiwan is not China.

Now, for those of you who don’t know the details of the China-Taiwan relationship, basically, communists took over China a few years after World War II, but they were unable to capture Taiwan, which – at the time – was recently given back to China from Japan after the war.  Taiwan is now a democracy and independent by any definition, but their 23 million citizens are not represented in the United Nations and many other international organizations… because China says so.  China doesn’t like that they were never able to capture Taiwan.  At present, nearly everyone I spoke to – and the vast majority of opinion polls – indicate that Taiwan just wants their independence formally recognized by the rest of the world, but China keeps threatening Taiwan with war if Taiwan gets the recognition they want and deserve.  It’s a fucked up situation and completely unfair to Taiwan’s citizens.

Even with no knowledge of the complex relationship between China and Taiwan, you can look around and just see that Taiwan is not China.  Taiwan is lovely.  Taiwan is clean.  Taiwan is safe.  Taiwan is democratic.  China is… none of those things.  China is big and powerful and they use their power to bully others.  It’s not nice.  In fact, the worst part about Taiwan:  all of the Chinese tourists.  Now, I know a few Chinese people and they are very lovely – but they are the ones that are in the mindset of leaving China or at least enjoy interacting with people from other cultures and are educated enough to see through the propaganda that China serves them on a plate for every meal.  Chinese tourists travel in groups.  They are loud.  They are pushy.  And they think they own the place.  It’s a product of most of them being only children and having their parents’ undivided attention.  They think they’re special.  They’re not.  And to those Chinese who think that Taiwan is or will be a part of China again one day, I have two things to say:

1.  Taiwan is not China.
2.  Fuck you.

Taiwan gets its class and much of its culture from Japan, which is why I’ve combined Taiwan and Japan into one introductory blog.  Japan ruled Taiwan from the late 1800’s until the end of World War II.  During that time, the Japanese implemented reforms to eradicate some of the bad customs from China, such as foot-binding, and they built infrastructure to Japanese standards.  Most importantly, this included sanitation and healthcare.  Taiwan’s international rankings much more closely resemble Japan’s than China’s, and Taiwan just feels a lot more like Japan than it does like China, despite the Chinese language and more Chinese-type cuisine.

If Taiwan is Asia but not Asia, then Japan is… well, Japan is not Asia at all.

Yes, Japan has lots of people just like the rest of Asia, and they have a difficult writing system and some questionable cuisine choices just like the rest of Asia (well, at least I find them questionable – they seriously eat raw horse), but that’s pretty much where it stops.  While most of the rest of Asia has dirty squat toilets, Japan has western toilets that clean and dry your butt after you poop.  That’s right – the toilets wash your butt and then blow dry your butt and it’s the epitome of luxury.  Hand dryers are often times built into the sink.  There is efficient mass transit in cities.  There are hardly any scooters.  Eating raw meat won’t get you sick here.  The life expectancy is the longest in the world.  The crime rate is super low (the third lowest in the world according to the source I found on Wikipedia).  They take care of people with disabilities – possibly even better than the United States does.  And the shinkansen – aka bullet train – is so fucking fast it’s ridiculous.  These magic people movers whisk you away at 320 kilometres per hour.  If they had these in the USA, they could get you from New York to Washington DC in under 70 minutes; from New York to Miami in 6.5 hours; or from New York all the way across to San Francisco in under 15 hours – which sounds like a lot, but it would probably take you a week on the Amtrak to do that now.  For the Aussies in the room, you could get from Sydney to Melbourne in well under 3 hours, which is actually quicker than the time it takes to fly when you consider the schlep out to the airports and having to arrive a little bit early.  You could get from Sydney to Perth in just over 12 hours.  On land.  That’s fucking crazy.

In fact, my only gripe with Japan:  you can still smoke in restaurants and hotels.  WTF, Japan?  I’ve been to crappy countries that have banned smoking so I was shocked when it was still everywhere in Japan.  The funny thing is:  you can’t smoke on the street.  Smoking is prohibited outside except in designated smoking areas.  The rationale behind this is that people don’t have a choice to go outside, but they do have a choice when they choose a restaurant.  Wow.

Aside from this, Japan was lovely.  Expensive, but lovely.  It’s the cost that really pushes Taiwan ahead of Japan in my travel ranking, but I would much rather live in Japan than in Taiwan.  In fact, if I knew any Japanese at all, I would quickly move to Japan.  It’s a good life there.  It’s super nice.  And I deserve nice things, right?  That’s why I moved to Australia from the USA.

More details on the places I went in Taiwan and Japan will follow in the next few blogs.  But first, let me take a selfie.

Me on my first shinkansen in Japan

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