Only in Taiwan

Flag of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
Flag of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
Welcome to Only in Taiwan, a on-going series of photo-essays with a unique and particular perspective. It’s not meant to be an authoritative one-stop shop for all things Taiwan.

To many, Taiwan is either (a) China, (b) in China, or (c) the same as Thailand, right? While tourist guide books gush about the majesty of Taiwan’s natural beauty and emphasize the island’s rich cultural heritage, expat online forums are front-loaded with negative, infantile rants about life in Taiwan and all its inherent bullshit. Both have their place and time of utility.

Can you locate Taiwan on this map?

The truth is somewhere in the middle. Nobody sees the “real Taiwan” until they get here. Long-term expats – affectionately called “crocodiles” – might say you have to go at least 100 km from an urban area (or marry a Taiwanese woman) to understand the intricacies of Taiwanese culture. They’re called crocodiles due to their prehistoric lineage, penchant for lurking beneath the surface, and the only time you ever see them is at the watering hole, sizing up this season’s knobby-kneed wildebeast.

Taiwan does in fact have a healthy crocodile population.

In the major metropolitan areas of Taipei and Taichung, city life is no different than any other concrete jungle – except many signs and maps are in Chinese and English, the “sidewalks” are considered extensions of the roadway, making life very frustrating for pedestrians, and the vast majority of the population is some ethnic or genetic variation of Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese or aboriginal. But a city is a city. It’s busy, dirty, unstoppable and without conscience.

Just like any other city, in Taipei, you can pretty much find whatever you want, but it isn’t always easy and some things are just unthinkable. There are infinite things Taiwan doesn’t have the average foreigner takes for granted. Taiwan doesn’t have Wendy’s, strip clubs, medicinal marijuana dispensaries, Wal-Mart, decent pizza or Mexican food, mass shootings, a visible homeless population, or self-service car washes. Of course, opinions vary wildly among the crocodiles when it comes to what Taiwan has or has not. Yours truly might say that the only place you can get a decent burger is at such and such place, while others see it much differently. In the most concrete terms, Taiwan is not your hometown and there’s no point in trying to bring the comforts of home with you. Therefore, you might have to hit five or six different stores to finally find a packet of Old El Paso Taco Mix or a jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, but you will find it.

However efficient, orderly, and relatively clean, Taiwan is not a fantastically creative society by any account. The majority of shit you will see here, you’ve seen somewhere else. Nevertheless, there are an infinite number of things that Taiwan has or does that are uncommon or non-existent in the rest of the so-called Western world, (which includes most of Europe, I guess). Only in Taiwan is designed to engage and expose these cultural differences from an outsider’s point of view, with an experiential point of reference.

Feedback, tips, or suggestions are always welcome, however trolling will be ignored. Thanx. Email or leave a comment below.

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