When I was a teenager, everything was ‘Made in Taiwan’. I could find Taiwan on the map, and that was all. My winter break from cycling is drawing to a close, and I leave Taiwan with fond memories of a friendly, staunchly patriotic people, of visionary city planning and public policy, and an extremely obedient, orderly society. Where else in the world do you throw out your rubbish at 9:10 pm into a rubbish truck to a backdrop of ice-cream van music?
I am absolutely amazed at the speed a modern public transport system has been created out of nothing in Taipei. Twenty years ago there was traffic gridlock. Rather than building more new roads, like the new policy of the Australian government, the Taiwanese government has implemented an amazing public transportation network that reduces traffic, increases accessibility, and improves health.
Twenty years ago, there was no metro. Now there is a brand spanking new one, spanning the metropolitan area. In the last year they have rolled out a massive public bicycle system – YouBike – similar to that in Paris, London and other European cities. The result is a huge reduction in traffic, a better, less polluted environment, and a healthier, more active population.
‘You can’t eat that!’ said the little boy, scolding the grandma.
‘There are video cameras watching you,’ I have been warned by multiple people. ‘If you’re chewing gum, just stop chewing. They may not see you, and you should be ok.’
The metro trains run every two minutes or so, and while waiting for a train, you can watch a video of metro etiquette.
No eating, drinking, chewing gum. People religiously wait in lines marked out on the platform. No-one sits in the seats for the elderly and handicapped (except the elderly and handicapped). Everyone – but absolutely everyone – leaves the left side of the escalators free for people walking up. Each station has a spotless, free toilet. I could go on and on. Part of the overarching public transport strategy, the metro has been coupled to societal education to make it a big success.
Rubbish and recycling
‘A dearth of rubbish bins,’ I have heard it described as. Indeed, there is hardly a rubbish bin to be seen. You just have to keep your rubbish until you shout with joy – ‘there is one!’ and you can unload your stuff.
Household rubbish? Well, everyone knows that has to be thrown out personally at 9.10pm. At that fateful hour the rubbish truck passes my house playing a simple tune that will stay in my mind forever. People congregate, throwing out the rest waste in expensive rubbish bags from the council in the first truck, the recyclables in the second truck, and the biodegradables in the third truck. Paper is only collected on Mondays and Fridays. It was the government’s goal to raise awareness on the amount of rubbish we produce. As a result, a lot less rubbish is produced.
The big place
China is called 大陸 (Dalu – or ‘big place’). Taiwan lies in China’s shadow across the sea. In Taiwan (different to the mainland) they use the traditional Chinese script. In Taiwan there are many words that are different to mainland Chinese. I have decided to no-longer use the mainland China words – I have caused enough irritation already. I know how they feel. Coming from the antipodes, I spell colour with a u, I drink from a tap, I used to wear nappies when I was a baby, and my parents took me for walks in a pram.
Chinese New Year in front of the television
I was lucky enough to be invited to a traditional family Chinese New Year celebration. I was warmly welcomed by my hosts, but I then realised how foreign I am in Taiwan. The celebrations involved a spread of traditional Chinese food.
‘Its chicken,’ he said.
I looked at the alien soup – black flesh floating in a clear broth next to a tangle of ginseng.
‘Really! Its chicken.’
It was black chicken. A new-year’s tradition.
Then there was a bright orange soup with floaty white bits. And another soup with some unrecognizable things. I pride myself on my adventurous appetite. Here, I just ate some fried chicken and rice. In Holland I have welcomed Korean cyclist guests. All they wanted was a Korean supermarket where they could buy noodles. At the New Year’s Eve dinner, all I craved was a piece of chocolate.
After the dinner, the new year’s eve continued on the sofa in front of the television. The odd fire-cracker was let off outside at random intervals. As the evening continued, I didn’t hear any crescendo in the fire-cracker activity, and was asleep by midnight.
People ask me, aren’t I missing cycling? Don’t I have itchy feet to jump on the bike and continue. While in Taiwan, I was studying Chinese. I love learning languages – another one of my passions, and didn’t notice the time fly by. I was proud and happy as I felt my Chinese improve every day. In the last few days I have been having regular long conversations in Mandarin, proudly using the latest grammatical structures I have learnt.