Posted from: Taipei, Taiwan
The national weather service tells me that Typhoon Chan-Hom is unlikely to make critical landfall near northern Taiwan, and will slam instead into the Shanghai coast. I stocked up at 7-11 anyway – water, salad, douganr, weird Haagen-Daas flavors – and now I wait for the storm warning to pass.
After nine days in country, I moved away from all the milk tea parlors and cronuts in Da’an and came out into the suburbs of Yongchun, to a dressed-down studio where turtles breed on the roof terrace and the view includes a peek into the moderated jungles behind Feng Tian temple. The trail head to The Four Beasts opens just behind the flat, and on the first afternoon, I ended up on an accidental hike to a karaoke cave on top of Tiger Mountain.
When it accessorizes, Taiwan is a whirlpool distilled from the all the family-friendly fragments of east Asia: Hong Kong shaved ice parlors and a fondness for afternoon cakes, night markets with pan-fried cabbage buns and glutinous sweet potato balls, rocky beach fronts lined with game arcades, sake bars owned by Tokyo greasers, stir-fried vermicelli and mochi waffles.
“But doesn’t this also seem like the land that history forgot?”
It does. The Kuomintang ruled Taiwan as a single-party state until the 80’s, and the KMT remains the island’s most prominent political party. The Kuomintang, man. Makes me wonder who the hell else is still around, frozen in amber. Is there also like, a secret 51st state administered by Federalists? Is Latvia is governed by a council of knights?
If I’m making Taiwan sound like another backwater in the South China Sea, it’s not. Even in the shadow of semantic uncertainty, Taiwan thrives as a rock-solid outcrop of innovation and pleasantness. Like one of those pet goldfish dumped into the rivers and expected to die, but one day there it is, minding its own business in the waters off Toronto, grown to barracuda size.
Hell yes, hot pot.
Crowds in the food court of Shilin Night Market.
No one, least of all me, wants to say this is a “better version of China”; someone pointed out, rightly, that those statements denigrate the achievements and aspirations on both sides of the Strait. But for all I love the mainland, I can’t shake the feeling that I slipped into the lighter timeline. Same spoken language, same lunar holidays, same gods, but the internet’s unblocked and – cherry on top – the government subsidizes city-wide free wifi. The city is spotless and peopled with well-muscled vegetarians that can’t stand the sight of another’s distress.
“Please excuse me,” said an anguished stranger, “but your shirt’s on inside-out.”
The corner temples here – active, work-a-day neighborhood temples, not preserved curiosities, but places where real people actually pray, where they burn hell money on lunch breaks in the public kilns – are inlaid centimeter by centimeter, sidewalk to ceiling, with dragons and lacquer and curling clouds and figurines representing all the bureaucrats of heaven, like someone asked a kid from Iowa to draw an upper-crust Cantonese restaurant, like playing slots in the Vegas of immortality.
Last Tuesday, I took city bus 849 up the mountains into Wulai and spent the afternoon with my ass planted in the pebble-bottomed river, eating glutinous bamboo rice and drinking almond milk slushies and watching the old folks take in the hot springs. And there was a ride to the observation deck at Taipei 101 on the world’s fastest passenger elevator. And there was an appointment at a fortune teller in the basement of the Longshan Temple mall, who read my star chart and let the birds tell my fortune. She told me a permanent move to warmer climes would do me good. I don’t disbelieve her.
Pedestrian bridges over the river in Wulai.
The fortune teller.
Computerized star charting software
Next up: Jiufen and Hualien.