Taiwan – The Beautiful Island

Taiwan – The Beautiful Island

February 2004

Taiwan has been described as dynamic, prosperous and culturally rich, I agree, but the most important thing, it is the birthplace of the Fetching Mrs. Seacock! It is a very exotic land for a corn fed Midwestern lad, in fact our only exposure to Asian culture was in commercials, So Hi the ambassador from  Rice Krinkles, Chun King, or La Choy come to mind. We’re talking the late sixties and early seventies here. Fast forward to 2004, we’re traveling to Taiwan to meet her family, 15 hours on a plane, a different culture far away from home, your humble correspondent is unsure. What will they think of me, how can we talk, what will I eat? Looking back I was unnecessarily frightened, just fear of the unknown. As is her style, The Fetching Mrs. Seacock calmly assured me everything will be fine, I will translate, and there are McDonalds in Taipei!

Taiwan is an island located about 100 mi off the coast of mainland China and is at least according to Taiwanese and the United States, a sovereign democratic nation. To China they are a renegade province. Hard working, independent, and family oriented is how I have come to know the people I met there. Like us they want to provide for their families, come home and enjoy family, freinds and be left alone by government busybody’s who want to “improve” everything. Philosophically they are like us with the addition of 5000 years of history and tradition. Western influence first occurred in 1544 when the Portuguese found and named the island “Formosa” (beautiful island). The Dutch colonized in the 1600’s and there was for 300 years a revolving door of domination that included the Qing Dynasty, Japanese rule and the most significant recent history is Chiang Kai-shek coming to Taiwan with some two million nationalists fleeing the tyranny of Mao Zedong and the communists in 1949. He hoped to be able to return to mainland China but history tells us that was not to be. What he did do though was establish a representative republic so the people of Taiwan could rule themselves and I think they have found it as difficult to do as we have! They persevere under the pressure of the communist mainland and for that they have my utmost respect! Chiang Kai-shek and his followers also brought with them over 650,000 pieces of bronze, jade, calligraphy, painting and porcelain, the world’s single largest collection of Chinese art and antiquities. The National Museum is a must see when you travel to Taiwan.

By the way, forget about driving, there are at least a billion scooters sashaying around the streets 24 hrs a day. I told the fetching Mrs. Seacock before we left, “don’t worry I can drive anywhere” We landed at Chiang Kai-shek International airport which is about 50 miles outside of Taipei. After a 15-hour flight we were to be picked up by her brother Ling Fu who would drive us into Taipei to her mother’s place. It was on this hour or so drive I decided there was no way I could drive in this traffic on these streets at this time. Not being able to read signage, roads that cross at ALL angles, and scooters so thick you can’t tell where one ends and another begins convinced me to totally retract my confident I can drive anywhere statement.
While we were driven around Taipei I noticed that each small region had it’s own small manufacturing, merchandising, service businesses, and zillions of restaurants. Does anybody cook at home I asked? Not a lot was the answer. Walking down any street – restaurant, video store, restaurant, hair salon, restaurant, scooter repair shop, restaurant, food market, restaurant, clothing boutique, restaurant, restaurant, fruit market, restaurant, coffee shop, meat market, restaurant and so it goes. There is food galore and most everyone is skinny! But to fit the family on a scooter with groceries one must be skinny. In the photos you will see families on scooters, lovers, pets, appliances and babies on scooters. Scooters rain, or shine is the preferred method of transportation in Taipei and is a common theme like the neighborhood autonomy. Each small region has everything necessary to live including employment. I did not see any large corporate presence where we traveled. I know there are large companies in Taiwan but the bulk of business is done on a small scale between small groups of people. A scooter can be your only source of transportation and you can make it work. Next to restaurants are open markets + night markets. Occurring on small side streets and alleys they have a “flea market” like atmosphere. The ladies can choose bras, panties and a new dress while directly across the way you can pick out a live chicken to be killed and dressed for dinner (for those who do cook). Next stop, grab a video to watch in that new dress while having a nice chicken dinner.

So what did I eat you may be wondering? When in Taiwan eat what the locals do! I did, being married to the Fetching Mrs. Seacock made the transition a little smoother but I have to admit there were some things I could not put in my mid-western mouth. There was pressure of course, family I met wanted to feed us always, either something they prepared or most often we we’re whisked off to a local eatery, I did not participate in ordering.  Not being able to read Mandarin didn’t have any choice. Food was brought to the table and I would nudge Lucia and quietly ask “what the hell is this” usually because I could not tell what was in front of me. I felt infantile having no idea sometimes, but required through decorum to at least try the dish. She was very considerate to my squeamish nature and provided cover when necessary. Mostly I ate and was happy, I did always seem to find beer to help wash down the unknown and after awhile didn’t care as much. Really, the food was very good, only a couple of times did my mouth absolutely refuse entry, usually because of legs or eyeballs that were affiliated with some seafood products. Again more beer! Thinking to myself, this is what culture shock looks like! This was 2004 and now I my taster has been schooled! It is a funny thing, when Lucia and I met she could not eat a hamburger and I could not eat sushi, now we both enjoy these and other regional foods with enthusiasm, experience – time – experience – time…

Most of our time was spent with family, we did get out on our own a little. I do look forward to going back, Taiwan is rich in adventure for a midwestern guy. Most of the images are from Taipei the largest city and Capitol. Next time, adventure in the rural areas, the tea growing region, mountains and southern Taiwan.  Below, Street scenes from Taipei. (Shot with an iPhone 3 using the Camera Bag App, Helga setting, 2004) Inside, outside, through windows, car and train windows and mirrors!

Copyright © 2016 The Seacock

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