Gorge-ous, delicious, scoot-scooting, better China
These are the five words that sum up my recent spring break to Taiwan. Though much can be said about the stunning sights and scrumptious grub I had the pleasure of encountering, my main focus is on the discovery of a better China.
After residing on the mainland for half of a year, I’ve identified plenty of standard behaviors, misconceptions, cultural differences, and spectacles worthy of criticism or sometimes, albeit rarely, praise. I approached a visit to Taiwan with great curiosity and intrigue given the obviously deep, conflicting connections between China and Taiwan and the endless commentary I’ve collected over the years from fellow travelers comparing the two nations. What I found in Taiwan was, without a doubt and simply put, a better China.
International travel seemingly promotes constant comparison–your mind approaches every new experience as though you’re completing a venn diagram, charting the distinct differences and charming similarities between all that you’ve partaken in prior. Arriving in Taiwan, I immediately felt a surreal sense of being somewhere intensely familiar–Chinese syllables engulfing my eardrums, signs scrawled with intricate, unknown characters, views of dilapidated constructions long past their prime, food carts touting intimidating cuisine, etc..
However, as swiftly as I recognized these totems of my current home, there came a barrage of clear signs that I wasn’t behind the Great Firewall any longer. Those unknown characters flooding my field of vision with every glance were noticeably depicting traditional characters (much preferable to read for beginning Chinese learners, such as myself, as the characters tend to depict pictures that clue one in to the meaning of the word, a value lost with simplified characters, which are commonly used in mainland China); wifi was accessible all over the place and so were beloved social media sites, even the NYT, rendering my VPN wonderfully useless; the chaos of using public transportation was completely absent as people waited patiently in line, in the demarcated space, for passengers to exit before calmly stepping onto the train; sidewalks were shockingly clean of bodily fluids and other general waste; gorging on street food didn’t instantly make one’s stomach turn inside out from questionable hygienic practices or mystery ingredients; the hurdles to obtaining train tickets or just about anything were nonexistent and missing the oft expected bureaucratic nonsense.
Taiwan was a delightful shock to the senses and provided an appreciated view of what China might be like if I could simply wipe away so many of the grievances that induce a general tension and irritation when trapped inside this monolithic place for too long. By no means is China a lost cause; in fact, I encourage everyone with the means to experience this weird and fascinating country, rich with history and dense with power to reshape the world, for better or worse–just be sure you’re ready to see a baby shit on the sidewalk if you do pay the mainland a visit.