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telegraphing taipei (part 3): people, places, and past presidents


the friendly bar owner in my last post, who apparently played a game with his waiter and bartender trying to guess my nationality that when i joked i was from thailand, the waiter exploded in burst of joy as if he had just won a bet, insisted that i spoke very good english, different from the kind of english spoken by most filipinos he knew, asked me what i thought about the taiwanese, and here was my response: i found them to be warmer and friendlier, as compared to the chinese i have encountered in hong kong, malaysia, and singapore. i know it isn't fair to build on stereotypes, because bigotry and racism have the same elements, but these boxes are based on fact, although they are rather sweeping generalizations. having said that, i felt that despite the language barrier, and perhaps because of it, i found my encounters with the people of taiwan to be rather pleasant: they are always smiling and respectful. you can walk inside a store, look around and linger, and leave without buying anything and not hear anything disparaging from the store owner. nonetheless, if i were to describe them, i would say that the lines between many east asian countries continue to blur. i am not a fan of these dubbed, imported soaps, but what we've seen in meteor garden are nearly exactly what you'd find in taipei. men dress like the men in singapore. they like to squeeze themselves into tight-fitting shirts, have short haircuts, and seem to be spending a lot of time in the gym. the women are trés façonable, like those in macau, and take public transportation in strappy and high-heeled shoes and attention-grabbing clothes. in general, the people are lithe and small boned, which makes me tend to think that among asians in the far east, filipinos probably tend to be more prone to being overweight. nevertheless, and perhaps due in no small part to the fact that all of taiwan was once part of the japanese empire, the japanese influence is quite apparent, from old, ancient practices, to current pop culture and fashion. some women look like they'd just given life to some animé characters, while a lot of teenagers like to walk around in these outrageous outfits: it's a small circus in some parts of ximending.


now anyone remotely aware of taiwan's history would know basically the following: that it's considered by the PRC as a rogue province, that the one-china policy sort of isolates taiwan diplomatically, and that it is a fairly recent development, resulting from the triumph of communism in mainland china. for this reason, taiwan, and in particular, taipei, is a new creation, whose recent, rapid growth and development is far too obvious but also provides stark contrasts. as it is, progress in the 1980s is different from progress nearing the 20th century. so there are all these buildings with their narrow frontage squeezing each other like rows of books on a shelf. it's a pastiche, really, with the ultra-modern mixing with the post-modern, and simply, the past. there aren't any grand ancient structures as one might find in beijing, but there are grand structures nonetheless. the chiang kai shek memorial hall is a case in point. it was built in chinese imperial style, with sprawling grounds, high staircases, and a big room filled with nothing but a big bronze statute. in the same complex are two other monuments: the national theater and the national concert hall, both built in traditional chinese style, from which period i can only guess. the gate itself is something to behold. but all these are only about 30 years old, if not younger.


the only other person important to taiwan's young history is sun yat sen, who also has his own memorial hall, which is admittedly less grand, but no less impressive. it has its own museum. while i was there, i noticed some members of falun gong meditating outside the hall and i took pictures. an elderly lady approached me and she happened to speak rather good english so we spoke briefly. she asked me if i was familiar with falun gong, and i said yes, only in so far as knowing they were being persecuted in PRC. she found my knowledge remarkable, and added: in china, there are no human rights. she pointed out that it was very peaceful. i couldn't agree more. there were about 5 persons holding these poses for a few minutes, changing when a small electronic timer sounded a gong.



apart from these two places, taipei tends to keep its most interesting parts in secret pockets. people would suggest a number of things if you'd like to see fine examples of chinese architecture, but anyone who has been to china might not be impressed. i haven't, so i wouldn't say i was disappointed. but i was rather impressed with the contrasts that taipei presented. one might be walking past a stack of identical buildings, then suddenly, from out of the bushes of concrete, a temple pops out. and oddly enough, i didn't find any male monks in taipei, but women with shaved heads in many-colored garbs who didn't want their photos taken. the temples themselves are rather odd, and i really could not put a finger on it. taiwan is supposedly multi-denominational, and there are statues of buddha in the mahayana style, but there are also a lot of other elements that drown out any basic knowledge i've gained about this religion from my travels through southeast asia. in longshan temple, for example, i watched as the faithful flipped wooden chips, burned incense, thumbed prayer beads, and submitted themselves to a routine of bowing and rising. i was possessed by an inner peace which i couldn't describe, and i could have spent the better part of the day there just observing people.


another thing about taipei is that it doesn't seem to have a very defined center. it's a large, sprawling city, and i couldn't say that one place is more accessible than the other. it does not have a backpacker's quarter such as bangkok or vietnam. its business district isn't confined to a specific area such as in manila and singapore. shopping centers are disjointed and they have an entirely different concept of malls. modern architecture isn't as astounding as kuala lumpur, but an efficient metro has resulted in few traffic woes unlike manila and bangkok. nevertheless, the skyline of taipei isn't as impressive as singapore or bangkok or kuala lumpur. remove taipei 101 and we have taller buildings in makati. in fact, it would seem like it was intentionally done that way: taipei 101, the tallest built skyscraper in the world, seems to be a spire or a needle in the middle of buildings of less stellar height. there is nothing, absolutely nothing, around it that would seem to challenge its height. the design itself fuses asian traditions with modern technologies. unfortunately, i only got to walk around the mall as going up to the top to look at the damper costs a lot. why would i pay NTD400 to ride on one of the world's fastest elevator? it didn't seem right to me.


finally, let me conclude my observations about taipei. it is a lot different from the few expectations i had formed prior to my visit. which, i suppose, added to the thrill. i didn't encounter any filipinos there, probably because most of our workers who are in taiwan are employed by booming factories and growing industries based in taichung and kaoshiung. lastly, i never realized that it was possible for me, with my big eyes and deep tan, to be mistaken for chinese. but in the end, my incomplete picture of taiwan left me wanting, desiring to find the details that would allow me a better view.
(Anonymous)
sana dito ka sa kaoshiung pumunta para dinala na lang kita sa hai lai masarap tang pao doon. haha
(Anonymous)
ay paano eh di ko naman alam na andito ka sa taiwan. hehe.di bale pagpunta nyo na lang sa kibungan saka kita imbtahin paakyat mt. tagpew o sa mt. kabunian pag uwi ko ng pinas. ha hayy..