Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Suggestions for traveling

Image of a small, sidewalk shrine (in Hong Kong's New Territories) for local residents to provide offerings to one member of the pantheon of Chinese gods and goddesses to elicit better luck or outcomes or treatment...Dear Gentle Reader,

Last week, Teresa asked for suggestions for Americans traveling to Taiwan.

Teresa, it's been a long while since I was there. 

The Heroine and I have been chatting about returning to Taiwan, where we first met. 

Now there is a story. 

That involves scandal, Chinese doctors, toga wearing men, a witch, the police, surveillance teams, double-crossing taxi drivers, and para-military capture squads.

It includes thrilling chase sequences and hidden hideaways, smoky bars and steamy nightclubs, lost clothes and found love notes, secret ink and disappearing tattoos, chopper motorcycles entering densely populated warrens, crumbling concrete, and the electric crackle of decay and power lines.

It also includes directions, lost, and love, found.

Really! (真的!) 

(Although my version of that first encounter, and the context it occurred in, is far more glamorous than the Heroine's version. She leaves the good bits out.)

Taiwan can be magnificent.

But you are not interested in that, you want to know what to suggest to people visiting Taiwan.

For Taiwan, the obvious attractions are in Taipei. 

Send the first-timers to the Shilin Night Market. At night. 

Send them to the tea houses and to the temples. 

Send them to Taipei 101.

Image of a Night view of Taipei from Xiangshan Peak / 從象山俯瞰台北夜景 taken on 2006.09.17 by  / 本人 (photo by Jerome Chen 攝影) and released to the world by the copyright holder with: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. This image was sourced through Wikimedia.

But that is all in the tourist guides.

If you really want to know what I thought, I'd say...

Well, I'd just tell them to observe everything. 

Watch the way people scan the shelves when they are buying. 

What is stocked on the shelves, and where.

What the "must have", impulse buy, high margin high profit item is right by the checkout stand.

The ways advertising tries to sell things.

The things that make the locals raise their eyebrows with delight, or with interest, and those things that make them lower their noses in disdain.

The ways cafes are operated and run. 

The ways people communicate with each other when they walk down the street. 

The ways men and women try to attract each other. 

The way kids play. 

The way that automotive traffic moves. 

The way that foot traffic moves.

I'd suggest they try and determine the underlying rules of the society and then prognosticate future actions to test their theories. 

Then, I would suggest that they do the same things when they arrive in Taiwan. 

And repeat, yet again, when they return to their home country. 

What we learn most, through traveling, is about ourselves and where we are from. 

We discover ourselves through observing and interacting with others.

That, Teresa, is the advice I would give. 

But, tell them to walk up Yang Ming Shan (陽明山) and hike in the jungle forest (and watch for snakes in the bamboo).

I would urge them to soak up cultural treasures in Taiwan's National Palace Museum, spin with wide-eyed wonder in the breathing, living, incense-snorting temples everywhere, and unwind for a placid day in the tea gardens in Jiufen (九份), just outside Taipei, having laoren cha (老人茶) (the old man's tea ceremony).

I'd tell them to dance all night in whatever the hippest night clubs are, this week, because who knows if tomorrow will come and leaving the night club when the day-treaders are heading to the slavery of the office is oh so rewarding.

Also, if they are in Taiwan for more than a week, I would exhort them to discover Taiwan, not just Taipei, because the island is so lush, and so worth exploring. 

Taiwan, after all, was called Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Island, by the Portuguese on first sight based on the vegetative beauty they saw; the verdant, living, fog-bejewelled, coruscating palette covering the massive island. 

That is what they saw when the Portuguese sighted Taiwan in 1544 on their way to re-supply in the Pescadores (Portuguese for the Fishermen), now known as Penghu, 澎湖群島. And it is still true today, if you look beyond the pollution either side of the motorway and around the factories.

Beauty, and life, will out.



Both Sides of Ben Marlan said...

Chris, can you post a picture of your ceramic knife? i would love to hear about it.

Anonymous said...

So how does a foreigner like yourself support himself in Hong Kong?

When I lived in Thailand, I taught English as a 2nd language. Can one do that in Hong Kong? I wonder about this because HK used to be a British colony so don't most residents already speak English?

Teresa said...


Thank you so much for the beautiful,eloquent post about the joys of traveling and learning about oneself and life in Taiwan. I agree with you 1000%. Some day give us your version of how you and the Heroine met in Taiwan. It definitely sounds exciting. I like your way of learning a culture by observing how the people shop; I'd never thought of that before, but just casting my mind across the differences in shopping habits between my mother (American) and my mother-in-law (Chinese), I can see how that is a very quick way to get to the heart of some cultural differences.

I, too, am wondering how you manage to traverse Asia and write such marvelous crafted posts (breaking the backs of all those words takes time) all with no visible means of support, so to speak... Unless you have managed to drum up quite a lot of business appeasing the lions on behalf of frightened foreigners in Hong Kong...

Thanks again for taking the time to write this. I am forwarding it to my friend and my teacher with a suggestion that it go out to the whole class.


Raph G. Neckmann said...

What a beautiful and meditative post of observations of places!

I like 'Beauty, and life, will out.'

T and S said...

I had been to Taipei a couple of times. Maybe next time around I should make use of some of your suggestions.

Junosmom said...

Hi Chris! I'm trying to struggle back to the surface and regular reading! There should be five of me!

But at least, I do not have to have another "me" to travel, since I can just travel virtually and vicariously.

Elizabeth said...

Nice post... thanks for the vmail bday btw. So wondrous to hear your voices though I also liked the voice you used in todays post. are mine you know!

Pommes...bobby is tipping the scales at 18lbs. Please advise.

Thought: is there a correlation between the word veirifcation and my frame of mind "wasist".

floreta said...

nice! i know an expat blogger currently in Taiwan! thanks for your perspective.

Cloudia said...

This is a lovely piece of grade AAA travel writing.
"What we learn most, through traveling, is about ourselves and where we are from.

We discover ourselves through observing and interacting with others."

Wow! Aloha & Wow