Monday, July 9, 2012

A Trip to Tainan

Last weekend, I visited Taiwan’s fifth largest city—Tainan—with the Chens, a Taiwanese family that has helped me a lot while I have been in Taiwan.  Mr. Chen, who is in his mid-forties, is the founder of a small memory products company named AXPRO, which primarily manufactures USB flash drives for the Chinese and Latin American markets. Mrs. Chen is a stay-at-home mom who takes care of her two sons, one of whom is ten years old and the other seven.  I met the Chens through Mrs. Chen’s older sister, who I see regularly in DC at a Chinese Bible study I go to.
Before arriving in Taiwan, I was planning on traveling to Tainan because my guidebook recommended it as one of the “must places” to see when one visits the island. This is because Tainan is the former capital of Taiwan (prior to 1887), and is considered to be the center of traditional Taiwanese history and culture.  Thus, when the Chens invited me to accompany them on their annual summer weekend trip to Tainan a few weeks ago, I leaped at the opportunity.
Getting to Tainan was fascinating in itself, as we drove from Taipei to get there.  We took one of Taiwan’s two major highways that run across the western side of the island on a north-south axis.  Most of Taiwan’s population lives on the island’s western side (the eastern side is very mountainous), so these two highways serve as crucial transportation channels between Taiwan’s major cities. Despite the fact that Tainan is one of Taiwan’s southernmost cities, it only takes around three and half hours to get from Taipei in the north of Taiwan (Taiwan is really small!).  However, because Mr. Chen stopped at several rest stops along the highway during our recent trip to Tainan, it took around 5 hours for us to get there. Taiwanese highway rest stops are not like the rest stops one would find in the States—they are bustling centers were travelers can end up spending hours.  At the first rest stop we visited (which was about a two hour drive south of Taipei), there was a large, air-conditioned building where one could find restaurants, gift shops, and convenience stores.  I also spotted a woman singing traditional Chinese opera songs in an outdoor plaza. This particular rests top also overlooked a valley, so many travelers were enjoying the view while taking a rest.
We got to Tainan around 8 PM and, after placing our belongings in our hotel, we set out immediately for local restaurants and street-side food vendors that were known for their tasty snacks. Indeed, Tainan is not only known in Taiwan for its historical and cultural significance, but also for its delicious food.  If I had to pick my favorite food item in Tainan, it would be the lemon tofu pudding (dou hua) I ate.
In addition to eating Tainan’s most famous food, the Chens and I also visited Anping Fort. Anping Fort was built by the Japanese during their colonization of Taiwan (1895-1945) on the ruins of Fort Zeelandia, an early 17th century Dutch fort that was built to better oversee Holland’s burgeoning trade in Asia at the time. However, the Japanese destroyed much of Fort Zeelandia in order to build Anping Fort in the early 1900s, but did manage to preserve one section of Fort Zeelandia’s outer brick wall. Besides Anping Fort and the wall remains of Fort Zeelandia, Tainan has so many other historical sites that it would take forever to describe them all!
Another last interesting aspect of Tainan is that the majority of its residents come from families that have lived in Taiwan for centuries.  That is, the ancestors of most of Tainan’s residents did not come to Taiwan from the Chinese Mainland with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 or in the early 1900s, but in the 17th and 18th centuries from Southeast China. Because of this history, most people in Tainan today speak “Taiwanese” (a dialect of Chinese that originated in Southeast China) instead of Mandarin Chinese. Moreover, most Tainan residents do not identify themselves as ethnically “Chinese,” but “Taiwanese.” This is one of the reasons Tainan and other Southern Taiwanese cities are strongholds for Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose party platform advocates for de-jure independence from China. Taiwan’s former and only DPP president, Chen Shui-bian, who was in office between 2000 and 2008, was born in Tainan, and all of Tainan’s current representatives in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s legislative body) are from the DPP. Thus, Tainan’s political atmosphere is vastly different from that of Taipei, which has historically supported Taiwan’s current ruling party—the KMT, or Nationalist Party.
Thanks for reading!
Kyle Churchman
Elliott School of International Affairs
BA International Affairs, 2013

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