Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Taipei

Now that I've flown from Hong Kong to East China, South China, and Taiwan, I can safely claim that going from China to Taiwan is easier than going from China to China. With an American passport, I can go to Taiwan for 90 days, no questions asked. I need a visa just to cross into Shenzhen.

It gets easier as soon as you get off the plane. In Mainland China, there are emotionless people in uniforms all over the place. I have never had a problem getting through passport control, but I have had more than a few people look at me as if I was coming into the country to kill their dog.

The mood in Taiwan is much lighter. The people who stamp your passport still seem like they hate their jobs, but at least they're looking forward to going out and getting drunk after their shift. I don't know any of these people personally, but I always get the impression that their Mainland counterparts have fewer options.

What I can't report is how different Taiwan is from Mainland China. I know there are political issues and you have to be careful when you use the words Taiwan and China together, but I can't tell anyone anything about life in Taiwan. I stayed in one neighborhood in one city for one weekend.

Coming from Hong Kong, I know that not all of China is the same. I've been to several Mainland cities often enough to see that Hong Kong might as well be a separate country. Taiwan may or may not be a separate country. I'm not qualified to get into that. But from what little I saw, it's nothing like the Mainland or Hong Kong. Or even Macau.

Taipei is a large city, and I agree with Mark Twain or whoever said that you have to get out of the cities and go into the countryside to see what the people are really like. Hong Kong is a great example of not being a great example of typical Chinese behavior. Taipei might not be a representative example of the real Taiwan.

Fully aware of all that, I liked the neighborhood where we stayed. We were at the Home Hotel in the Xinyi District. This was a nice little boutique hotel that had some of the best customer service I've ever seen at any Chinese hotel. Someone in our group said that this hotel caters to foreigners and that was supposed to explain the attentive service, but I've been to hotels in China and Hong Kong that cater to foreigners. Chinese customer service has a different definition from Western customer service.

Xinyi is mostly government offices and shopping. Our hotel was close to the City Hall, Convention Center, several shopping malls and Taipei 101, one of the country's top tourist attractions. There are several high end hotels for visiting dignitaries and rock stars. The entire area seems to have foreigners in mind. I'd be surprised if the rest of the country looks anything like it.

The hotel's selling point is that most of the rooms have great views of Taipei 101. Taipei 101 is in the middle of the Xinyi District and the hotel is one block away. Unfortunately, there is a massive construction project on the block between Taipei 101 and the hotel. It is still in the early stages, but it looks like once it's finished, it will completely block the view of Taipei 101 from the hotel.

Far more important to me, the hotel was 100 steps from a Krispy Kreme. I didn't actually count, but it was very close. There is also a California Pizza Kitchen across the street, but I never went there. I don't care for California pizza. With no less than 5 shopping malls within an easy walk from the hotel, there were plenty of food options. Most of it was Chinese, of course, but whenever I travel, I want to eat something I can't get at home. Obviously, Krispy Kreme was a top priority.

I saw a Burger King, Subway, 2 McDonald's and at least 4 Starbucks, but I never saw a KFC. I thought that was odd. KFC is more popular than McDonald's in China. Then again, they were all probably around corners I never turned.

There was a decent little pizza place near the Krispy Kreme and a small restaurant that served nothing but potatoes and beer. I never tried their beer, but the French fries were average. The shopping mall at Taipei 101 was more upscale, so I spent less time there, but they had a Jason's Market, which is the same as the Market Place at Telford. Shopping was never on my agenda anyway. The city where I live is a giant shopping mall.

I spent most of my time at the theater, which was only a few blocks from the hotel. Aside from a few rehearsals and our actual performances, it was a nice place to walk around. The theater was near yet another shopping mall, only this one always seemed to be empty. Everything was open. There were simply far fewer customers than at all the other malls. This was during the weekend, so it was noticeable.

There were a few tiny green spaces, but this was a business neighborhood. People went there to work and shop. Serenity and reflection did not seem like high priorities. The tiny park next to our hotel was under construction and completely closed.

I learned pretty much nothing about Taipei and even less about Taiwan, but this trip convinced me that I need to go back some day. It's so easy to get to and I have the feeling there's more to see than shopping and office buildings.

2 comments:

  1. I live in Taiwan and your description of the XinYi shopping district is very accurate. Was the place you performed upstairs in a building with mostly restaurants on each of the different floors of the building? I personally haven't gone to see any stage performances since I moved to Taiwan, but I remember there being a performance space/room in a building that has a bunch of restaurants inside called NEO 19. I believe the performance space inside the NEO 19 building is called Neo Studio: https://www.facebook.com/neostudiotw

    Is that the place?

    You are correct in that, the XinYi shopping district is not really representative of most of Taiwan. It is probably the biggest concentration of modern shopping and entertainment on the entire island. It used to be a lot more crowded, but I have noticed in the past few years, there have been a lot less people coming to spend their money/time there. I think it is partly because the economy is not so great now and really a lot of the stuff they sell there is like way more expensive then the average person on a Taiwanese salary should be spending. But, it is a nice place.

    There are a lot of places to go see in Taiwan - some very nice - some very boring and uninteresting. In Taipei, I personally still find new interesting places to go to in the city, even after already living here for a few years.

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  2. The theater complex was a combination theater/shopping mall. There were a lot of restaurants, but also a lot of shopping. I think it was more shopping mall than anything else.

    Taipei didn't seem all that expensive to me, but I live in Hong Kong. It did look like it could have been one of the more expensive areas. I'm sure I'll notice how much cheaper other areas are the next time I go to Taiwan.

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