New Taipei City Library, 2016-08-27 12:59:29 +0800
So I’m finally here in Taiwan, and I can definitely say it’s Not Quite What I Expected. At first I thought it would be something like a Little China, or perhaps What China Would Look Like If It Took Democracy More Seriously. When I met some Taiwanese Aborigines in Warsaw when I went to apply for a Taiwanese visa, I got to think that it was something beyond the boundaries of imagination, a sort of a Strange Planet in the Outer Rim, inhabited by little yellowish aliens. Then, when I arrived, I thought I would like it, that it looked like a hybrid of a Little Japan and an overgrown Kłodzko Valley Now what is left are Mixed Feelings.
Now that we know what Taiwan is not, I shall say a few words on what Taiwan is. It’s an island located some 180 km from the southeastern coast of Mainland China. The capital, Taipei (臺北 or 台北, literally “north of Taiwan”), which is where I’m going to attend a Chinese language course, lies on 25°02′N 121°38′E, and has a humid subtropical climate. As a political entity, Taiwan is known as the “Republic of China”:http://www.taiwan.gov.tw. The Chinese government does not acknowledge Taiwan’s sovereignty, and therefore virtually every Chinese person born and raised in the PRC will likely start arguing loudly (either in Mandarin or in grammatically incorrect English) that Taiwan Is A Part Of China And It Has Always Been So. Analogically, every single Taiwanese or Hong Konger you may encounter will likely say that “Taiwan is an independent country and Hong Kong is just Hong Kong”. The Republic of China is currently governing the island of Taiwan itself (台灣島嶼), along with Penghu Islands (澎湖群島), and the islands Kinmen (金門), Wuchiu (烏坵), Matsu (馬祖列島). The ROC is also controlling the Pratas Islands (東沙群島), located on the South China Sea, and claimed by the PRC.
The population of Taiwan is about 23.5 million, of which more than 95% are Han Chinese and 2.3% are aborigines (原住民). Most Taiwanese people are bilingual and speak Standard Chinese (a.k.a. Mandarin, called Guoyu 國語 in Taiwan and Hong Kong) and Hokkien (Taiyu 台語, a variety of Southern Min brought to Taiwan by immigrants from what now comprises the Fujian Province of the PRC), except for young people in the north of the island who only speak Mandarin. Their Mandarin is not exactly the same as in Mainland China. Most Chinese people say that the Taiwanese people’s Chinese sounds “gay”, and they still use Traditional Chinese characters in writing. To give you a rough idea of the difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese, I prepared this simple picture:
New Taipei City Library, 2016-08-28 13:55:52 +0800 One funny aspect of the life in Taipei is the way the cities are dealing with their garbage. The government is taking the garbage problem very seriously, since the island is so small that there isn’t even any place for landfill sites and they have to send their waste to other countries. There are no large waste containers like in Europe, but instead there are garbage trucks that drive past your home twice a day (excluding Wednesdays and Sundays.) They always play a tune, which in case of the Zhonghe District is mostly Für Elise. There are pink bags for general waste with holograms on them (I heard they are white up in Taipei,) and they are priced very expensively, so that people sort their rubbish more carefully. Since metal, plastics, paper, glass and organic waste are all taken care off, there isn’t really much left to throw away. As a results, the streets are really clean, and people don’t drive to landscape parks to dispose of their old refrigerators, sofas, like they do in Poland (which is insane, since there are institutions that collect bulky and electronic waste for free in every municipality in Poland—and they are usually more easily accessible than forests!)
Most websites about China start by describing the very basic stuff—that China is huge, that it is inhabited by hundreds of millions of little yellowish people who eat rice with chopsticks, and that there is a building called the Great Wall of China, which also has its Internet counterpart (no Facebook, no YouTube, no Google, no adult content.) I think most Polish people learning Chinese don’t really care about Taiwan (It’s The Chinese Who Invented The Chinese Language, Right?), but nevertheless, I will tell you a few obvious facts about the country.
1. Taiwan is rather greenish
Owing to the environmental reforms of the late 20th Century, Taiwan managed to build a rather strong economy without having to destroy the local ecosystem. They can still make your Giant and Merida bikes, as well as the electronic devices you know as Asus, Acer, MSI, Gigabyte, and HTC. I own an Asus laptop bought in 2010 and nothing ever broke in it (except when a friend spilled some beer over the keyboard—he paid for the repair.) My brother has a Chinese-made Lenovo bought in 2015, and it has already lost all ports on the right-hand side (including 3 USB ports and the microphone and line out sockets of the sound card,) as well as the touchpad. Despite all that industry, the island still looks like a Tropical Paradise, with lush greens and Friendly Fauna: