Sunday, August 14, 2011

Taiwan: 2011 Summer Fellows - Concluding Remarks

As I sit in this hostel in Taipei on my final day in Taiwan I'm reflecting on the past two and a half months I spent on the island. I've got a lot of things I never got to touch on in my (mostly) weekly blog posts. For example, the news; every news agency here is owned by a political party. I find this incredibly annoying as although nobody's quite as bad as Fox News it's aggravating that nobody even attempts to deliver unbiased information. For example, last week on the front page of "Freedom Daily," owned by the party opposing the current one in power, all they did was criticize the president for a remark he made about how nice the relief shelter was for some recent earthquake victims. What a waste of time! Fortunately people at least seem to agree about where he was born...

Another thing is just how different Taiwan is from the mainland, particularly with regard to how laid back most people are. The hostility I found toward foreigners on the mainland, reflected in its news, the criticism of US policy and the way people scolded me for the US government selling arms to Taiwan, all of this seems absent in Taiwan. Moreover, both times my Japanese girlfriend came to visit we walked all over the place and didn't get any dirty looks or criticism, which I unfortunately cannot say about my experiences in China. Somebody posted earlier in a blog this may have a lot to do with multicultural awareness and education throughout the island. I completely agree but I also think the weak Confucian presence, particularly among people with no heritage from the mainland, makes society less rigid and increases tolerance for the unconventional. I think this is another substantial contributing factor to people being more relaxed here than in the rest of Asia.

The Taipei Grand Hotel: I saved just enough money to book one night here when my girlfriend came back to visit over the weekend. I don't typically stay in nice places, I'm actually more likely to sleep on a train or in an Internet cafe when I'm traveling, but this place is just about the coolest hotel I've ever seen. It's a giant red building that looks like a traditional Chinese palace and overlooks the entire city of Taipei. The service is great, there are tons of things to take pictures of and it's away from all the traffic and noise of the city. If you ever come to Taiwan, you won't regret spending a night here.

Heated politics: In China people can't criticize the government so obviously you won't see anyone arguing much about public policy. In Japan until this year's earthquake almost everybody was ambivalent to Tokyo's inner workings. However, people here have some pretty strong opinions. Much like the United States, Taiwanese politics appear relatively polarized due in a large part to the way opposing parties present issues on television. My teachers were not supposed to talk to me about politics but if I asked questions they answered them. I've had some tell me they want to reunite with the mainland as soon as possible while others advocate independence. They all told me they do not have these discussions with other Taiwanese people, however, as it is considered rude here to talk about politics at all because of the radically differing points of view.

Anyhow, these are all issues I never got to touch on while I was here. Overall I had a great time; I met some new friends, got to see a lot of new places and my Chinese improved after eleven weeks of not using much English. If you're a China enthusiast or if you just like traveling I strongly recommend giving Taiwan a try. For such a small island there's a lot of diversity and countless things to see and do. Hopefully I'll be able to come back in the future.

Shawn Lynott
MA International Affairs 2012
Taipei Language Institute
Taichung, Taiwan

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