Being accompanying spouse this week meant I had a lot of time on my hands. Undaunted by my previous solo forays, I booked a couple of tours to while away the time in between reading and cataloguing my mother’s letters (by the way we have reached 1957, and I am born to much excitement after 11 years of marriage).
I hit gold on the first outing, and had W all to myself. W, who in the temple as we were looking at our Zodiac signs – being 55, I was a pig, asked, ‘Am I 46 or 58?’ ‘Oh 46,’said I gallantly. ‘Heh heh,’ he chortles ‘ 58, dye my hair yesterday’. Such a character, and 12th generation Taiwanese.
Sitting beside him in the front seat I was privileged to learn much about Taiwan, its people and its politics. How the KMT, despite winning the last election (by a slim margin) is very disliked – the President only has 13% popularity rating – and they only got in because many businessmen with interests in China told their workers to vote KMT, whose mantra is ‘One China’. The fiercely independent original Taiwanese do not want to become a province of China – this is after all how they feel the world considers them, as they are not recognised in the UN.
The current trouble with the Philippines has exacerbated this sense of isolation – Aquino is treating them as an unimportant scion of the greater power, hence the Taiwanese aggression: ‘We should fight them, we have armies and weapons’, says W. After the war many – doctors and teachers especially – went to Japan rather than live under the KMT yoke.
As part of this One China campaign, the government opened up travel to Taiwan two years ago – every day 6000 Chinese come in by plane. The Taiwanese fear this is another means of the PRC trying to control their economy.
Apart from the Chinese en masse having few manners – as I had noticed already, see Taiwan part 1 – some of the tour operators have also upset the locals by not paying their bills, so it’s a cash only basis now! Another great injustice, in Taiwanese eyes, is the $30,000 per month paid to Chinese students to study here. This does seem outrageous, as Taiwanese students get nothing
Our objective was Sanhsia, home to an old Ming dynasty Taoist temple, made from elaborately carved stone and camphor wood, and one of the last remaining ‘old’ streets in Taiwan, now cleaned up and kitted out for tourists, but uncharacteristically tastefully so. W told me a lovely story about an Afro-American woman, who worked in a restaurant in the US, and who had a regular Taiwanese customer, to whom she always gave extra large servings. Eventually he asked her why she did this. ‘Oh, when I visited Taiwan and all the temples I was thrilled to find it is the only place in the world where the Gods are Black.’ ‘And it’s true’, exclaimed W ‘they are Black, but only because all the incense has made them so!’
Next stop a porcelain factory and showroom, where I meet the artists who decorate the vases with elaborate designs, including in gold imported from Germany, and learn about the various firings that result in the high quality ware that is on display. Inspired by the National Palace museum exhibits, I am thrilled to find some modern day celadon ware and buy a teapot and matching cups.
The factory charmingly has a workshop for folk to come and paint their own designs on china, and I meet an engaging 80 year-old who is sticking gold and diamante sequins on to her intricately painted peacock vase.
My second tour to the Chiufen Gold Mining Village was interesting in other ways. This time, ironically, I was part of a Chinese tour, although Danny also spoke English and gave briefings for my benefit. Five ladies, two from Singapore, three from PRC and a gay guy: but I worked out that these were more up-market visitors than the normal busloads we meet, as there were no flags or megaphones, and they also spoke a little English.
Our route took us to more wretched rock formations, where I was photographed by some ladies from Tamshui, who told me I was ‘beautiful’ – well, that made up for the ‘attraction’, and a couple of uninteresting stops, until we wound up to the old gold-mining village, which boasts a mile-long ‘old’ street, not unlike the Shilin Night Market we had visited the night before, complete with food stalls – contents ranging from disgusting innards to delicious-looking pastries, and other local delicacies, purveyors of leather and clothes, and a more up-market variety of shop selling oolong tea and nicely wrapped sweetmeats.
Yet again, besieged by hundreds of visitors and many, many tour buses navigating the winding U bends in an alarming manner, horns blaring at poor unsuspecting walkers like me!
In between my tours, I went to the gym which was full of elderly gentlemen exercising, including one old boy who beat his chest in order to emit loud belches! Perhaps it was him I witnessed the next day hawking and spitting in the pool, or perhaps he was the one practicing his putting poolside!
One thing is certain – and I asked all the chaps in our group, the Taiwanese women are among the most beautiful in the Far East. Many of them are tall and willowy, with long legs, often clad only in the shortest of skirts or hot pants. Paleness is a sign of great beauty here, so many of them have milky-white complexions and are beautifully coiffed and made-up. Sorry, no photos!
In between my adventures I deigned to go out with Ross – to the Shilin Night Market, Taipei 101 and to various eateries, all to be revealed in next blog, for foodies!
People seem to love it here – whether it’s due to the charming people or delicious food I am not sure. Interestingly I was told that, like China, where there are still one-child restrictions, some professional families in Taiwan CHOOSE not to have children as they are so career minded. Not unlike the new breed of Superwoman in Singapore, who choose to remain single. I must investigate all of this further – for another time.