Sunday, August 28, 2011

Taiwan: 2011 Summer Fellows – Taipei

Taipei, the city I spent most of this summer in, is the capital of Taiwan . Although the city does not represent every aspect of Taiwan, understanding the everyday life of Taipei people has a considerable meaning to the study on contemporary Asia; it demonstrates us, the future of Taiwan, as the most developed area of the country and model of harmony between Western and Asian culture as one of the most Westernized place in Northeast Asia. This blog post will introduce you to the general life among Taipei people and provide some useful tips if you plan on visiting Taiwan.

If you are planning a trip to Taiwan, you do not have to worry about food, thanks to a variety of cuisines. Taiwanese food is arguably one of the world’s most enjoyable foods. Using various ingredients and spices, Taiwanese cooks make diverse flavors in dishes that can satisfy all tastes. Even if you do not enjoy Chinese style cuisine, you may also have a diverse alternative. There are so many choices you can have due to Taiwanese people’s open attitude toward foreign culture. For instance, I saw German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine specialty restaurants in the National Taiwan University area.

In addition, Taipei is a vegetarian heaven. Because Buddhism is the most popular religion in Taiwan (some people believe that eating vegetables brings them peace of mind), there are quite a few vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan; you can enjoy a variety of vegetable cuisine. Regular restaurants usually serve some vegetarian dishes on their menu. Because chefs usually use small amounts of spice and sweetener, these vegetarian foods have light flavor. They might be less delicious in my opinion, but taste healthy.

Furthermore, it would be pointless to discuss Taiwanese food without mentioning their exotic fruits. Taiwanese fruits are well known for its heavenly taste. In Taipei, you can enjoy various fruits such as pineapple, mango, papaya, litchi, dragon fruit and many more unique fruits, with a cheap price, too. Besides fresh fruits, you also can have numerous snacks or drinks made from these fruits including fenglisu, a delicious pineapple pastry; dried fruits ; lattes; and sorbe. If you visit Taipei during the summer months, you should not forget to try mangguobing, it is an amazing dessert of shaved ice with sliced mango.

Like most highly populated cities, Taipei’s traffic is congested. Streets are fully filled with automobiles during commuting times. That is why numerous Taipei people own scooters. Although, public transportation of Taipei is well developed such as the Massive Rapid Transportation (MRT) system, which is quite fast and clean. If you ever choose to ride the MRT train, never eat or drink there. If you do, you may be slapped with a huge fine and there are no excuses for foreigners. Besides MRT, bus lines are also well organized.

What you should keep in mind is that drivers in Taipei do not respect pedestrians very much. Some automobile and scooter drivers do not stop their vehicles at crosswalks, even when the traffic sgnal is red. Policemen also consider auto traffic flow first rather than pedestrians when they control traffic. My Taiwanese friends always warned me to beware of autos when I cross the street. It took several weeks to adapt myself to such an environment.

Night Life
As any country in a tropical region, Taiwanese people enjoy a rich nightlife . People usually leave their houses after dawn since it is too hot and sticky to be outside during the day. There are night markets in almost every single town in Taipei. They sell various foods such as oyster pancakes and stinking tofu. One night in Taipei takes you through an ordinary person’s life living there. But watch out, some popular night markets are extremely crowded!

Interestingly, Taiwanese people seem to not like drinking alcohol. It is quite difficult to find a bar or pub on the streets and most restaurants are closed before midnight. There are, however, areas around the city hall where large numbers of clubs and bars for foreigners are clustered. For more specific information, you may ask Kazu.:)

Language study in Taiwan was quite productive and delightful. As a future expert of Asia, I equipped two precious instruments for my future research. My Mandarin Chinese made huge progress, and I was able to gain further understanding of Taiwan through numerous direct/indirect experiences. I want to express my gratitude to the Sigur Center for granting such a wonderful opportunity through this blog post and want to encourage students who are interested in Taiwan or Mainland China to apply for the 2012 Language Grant in Taiwan!

Seung Joon PAIK
Ph.D. Political Science, 2015
Sigur Center 2011 Chinese Language Fellow
National Taiwan University, Taiwan

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