I have had the pleasure to see many different places in China.
I have seen the neon and glitz of the Hong Kong skyline, the dour sobriety of Beijing, the mutated fungus of a Qingdao seascape.
I have experienced an old Buddhist monk take a shit next to me during a Tibetan mountain trek, I have experienced a small child take a shit above me from a Chengdu overpass, I have experienced a Fujianese hooker take a shit whilst giving me a handjob.
I have had diarrhoea in at least ten different Chinese provinces.
Yet until now I have never had the pleasure of visiting (or indeed watching somebody there take a shit) the Treasure Island, the Renegade Province, the Free China… Taiwan.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be “What I did on my holidays by Arthur Meursault aged 33 and 3/4”. I am not going to bore you with photos of every single dinner or lunch that I had over the 10 days I spent in Taiwan. There are plenty of young female Asian bloggers already who can provide you with endless photographs of themselves eating noodles. All I am going to do is provide a few observations on a couple of quirky differences between the two sides of the Taiwan strait.
As commentator FOARP pointed out, unlike the Mainland, there are at least four competing systems of Romanisation in use: Pinyin, Wade-Giles, Tongyong and utter nonsense. The Mainland is behind Renegade Province in many areas (hygiene, public manners, sanity – take your pick) but it definitely has its act together with its sensible and solid use of pinyin. You read Beijing, you get Beijing. In Taiwan though, you’re probably better off learning actual Chinese characters themselves rather than the mess of competing romanisation systems that seem to exist everywhere.
Here’s an example. There is a city in southern Taipei called 高雄. Here is how it can be romanised:
I strongly urge Taiwan to implement 100% pinyin romanisation immediately so that it no longer suffers the embarrassment of having road signs that look they were typed out by a spasticated monkey on amphetamines.
The Kaohsiung MRT
I would like to give a special mention to my favourite attraction of my entire trip to Renegade Province: the Kaohsiung MRT. It’s a great train system, runs really smoothly, and never seems to be crowded. It has a beautiful glass ceiling at its main interchange station and the loudspeakers play delightful little tunes every time a train arrives or departs.
All of these things are great, but my absolute favourite thing about the Kaohsiung MRT system was its liberal use of mildly erotic anime cartoons. Every station is covered in dangerously young looking wide-eyed sluts who titillate the commuter into standing on the correct side of the escalator or not leaning against the doors. Just take a look at these little minxes. I’m surprised the floor of the Kaoshiung train stations wasn’t knee-deep in semen.
Taipei, on the other hand, has a perfectly functional train system but not a whiff of eroticism. At times it can even be quite scary:
Strange calendar system
Upon arrival in Renegade Province, I was bewildered to see these lines painted everywhere upon the floor:
What were these strange lines? What did the 104 mean? Were they messages to visiting Mainland tourists that they could only spit 104 times during one visit? Later, when attempting to visit a cafe in Taipei’s Zhongshan Hall, there was a strange sign pinned to the door stating that the cafe had closed down in the Year of our Lord 104. 104? I knew already that the worthless Lonely Planet Guide to Taiwan was shockingly out-of-date on many things, but even they couldn’t have listed a cafe that closed down during the Han Dynasty, could they?
It was only when a nice young man on Twitter corrected me did I finally realise the meaning of the strange 104. Like their imperial predecessors, the Republic of China have a separate calendar system that runs alongside the Western one that begins at the formation of the Republic of China in 1911. So the cafe had actually closed in 2015 and the mysterious markings on the floor weren’t coded messages from extraterrestrial lifeforms, they were merely painted last year. Kim Jong-un would wholeheartedly approve.
Upside down maps
This caught me out several times. Maps in Taiwan don’t necessarily point north. In fact, they seem to point in any direction EXCEPT north. When looking at signs outside train or bus stations, you’ll see maps that are placed with south at the top of the map, or even oriented towards east or west. I found one map in Tainan that was oriented towards the fourth dimension of time and only showed the nearest restroom as it appeared in 1867. I was lost several times due to these strange map systems, which is why when my wife came to meet me in Taipei she found me in a massage parlour with a fifteen year old prostitute sucking me off rather than at the dumpling restaurant we had originally agreed to meet in. Bloody maps.
Regular readers of this blog will know that you won’t find any serious comment here, but I will say that Taiwan was a fairly pleasant place to visit and well worth anybody’s time. The people are a lot nicer than their cousins across the Strait; everyone seemed genuinely friendly and didn’t give me the hassle that I’m so used to in China. The only “China moment” I had was in a Taipei bar called Cafe Bastille. The slightly “special” waiter had refused to sell me a Taiwan Beer because he had no cold ones left. I told him that he could just serve me the beer with ice instead (a Singapore trick). Thirty minutes later when I inquired where my beer had disappeared to, the waiter showed me: he had placed the beer in a bucket of ice out in the back yard and was waiting for it to cool down before serving me. Special.
My only issue with Taiwan is that anywhere even vaguely touristy is crawling with loud obnoxious tour groups from the Motherland. Every time I heard a “Lai, lai, lai” or the clearing of a throat, I was immediately transported back to some tier-z city slapbang in the middle of the armpit of China. I was like a mentally-scarred Vietnam war veteran who upon hearing his kettle boil or a car reverse thinks that the Vietcong are about to get him and so kills his next door neighbour in a blind panic. There should be a word for this phenomenon: PCSD (Post China Stress Disorder). Look out for an upcoming blog post about PCSD and how to watch out for the warning signs that you are a potential sufferer.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.