I've been wanting to go to Taiwan for a long long time. This summer after a business trip in South East Asia, I visited Taipei with families.
When I starred places I want to visit on Google Maps, it feels almost like I've been there already because I hear about the street and district names so often on those Taiwanese talk shows. It's almost nostalgic to me because I used to watch a lot of those talk shows when I eat dinner alone in front of my laptop.
When I got there, however, it feels quite different. Looking out from the train from the airport to Taipei station, there was green hills — lots of them. If I was in mainland China, all of these will be new buildings and gigantic residential areas. But I only saw a few tall buildings under construction.
There are lots of amazing street food in Taipei. Just at the corner of the street near our Airbnb, the take-away hotpot stall is always cooking something. The night market has so many different kinds of food, 滷味(food cooked in a special sauce), 仙草(Taiwanese herb jelly), 芋圓(taro ball), full of Chinese and local Taiwanese food that sounds so familiar to me.
I was impressed by the creative culture and bookstores in Taipei. There are just so much more types of books in Taiwan and Hong Kong than in mainland China. You can find a lot more translated books and more literature, as oppose to the "self help" and "how to become successful" types of books in Mainland.
I found it awkward here though, awkward in a political sense. We met two drivers in Taipei and they both have quite strong opinions about the politics.
The first is an Uber driver. After the usual chat and greet and we told him we are from the mainland. He asked "why aren't there that many tourists from mainland any more?" We didn't understand because it was pretty easy to get a pass from our city and come to Taiwan. Then he explained there are fewer and fewer mainland tourist so it is harder to make a living now. "The most important thing is being able to make a living and not be hungry," he said, "come to Taiwan more!" I later learned that maybe the tour group in inner cities in mainland is tightening the policy for Taiwan tourism.
The second driver we met drove us from Huashan Creative Park to Ximending. He asked us the common questions to tourists like "how do you like it" etc. Then he asked "where do you think Taiwan can improve?" It was a difficult question to answer.
"There's always room for improvement." We finally came up with an answer and hoping he would not embarrass us more.
"Like what" He said. Then without us answering, he continued: "Don't tell me about the buildings."
I didn't understand, but he went on, "if you want to renovate the buildings here, you need consensus from every single owner in this building. Unlike in China, the government officials can do whatever they want. Here, who the fuck care about you (the government officials)?"
I was really shocked by his talk and really wanted to roll my eyes. But why? He's saying the truth. I feel the pain when I think about it more deeply.