It’s been about eight years since I’ve traveled to a country as developed as Taiwan. From the first day, I felt like a child on her first trip to Disneyland—I oohed and ahhed over the smallest of things, many of which you just don’t find in countries that are less developed, such as clean, wide sidewalks that you can walk on without worrying about where you step; orderly traffic that doesn’t make you feel as though you’re under attack every time you cross the street; people politely lining up, even when there doesn’t seem to be a need; and an absolutely amazing public transportation infrastructure that could put my hometown of Portland to shame (and Portland is praised for its own system!). Even more noticeable was the refreshing lack of visible pollution, save for the random brown betel nut splats on the sidewalk.
Taiwan has a population of over 23 million in a country only slightly larger than the state of Maryland (for some perspective, consider that Maryland’s own population is about 6 million). Despite this population density, the country’s inhabitants have managed to create a culture that represents the utmost in civility. Next to Japan, Taiwan is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. People will smile openly at you and are unfailingly polite, considerate, and willing to talk to you. In fact, there were several occasions in which an older person, completely unsolicited, struck up a conversation with us in their native tongue, clearly trying to give us tips and unperturbed by the fact that we simply smiled and nodded, uncomprehending. Younger people, on the other hand, do their best to speak to you in English, many having mastered it better than we have. The Taiwanese’s consideration of the public is apparent everywhere: people who are sick and afraid of spreading germs wear surgical masks—a practice so common that you can buy more fashionable masks to coordinate with your outfit; people speak softly in public spaces and actually abide by signage that asks for quieter cell phones; ample accommodation is made for people with disabilities; and many major tourist attractions are free to the public to ensure they are available to everyone.
Taiwan’s history has been a long and complicated one that includes European “discovery,” trading settlements and disputes, and being tossed between the hands of one Imperial power (China) to another (Japan), and then back again. Today, Taiwan is a democratic sovereign state that has fought hard for its right to be recognized as such by the rest of the world. While the country’s contentious history might have had more negative ramifications in a weaker society, in my eyes, Taiwan has taken the best from the cultures that have played a part in its history and created something greater…something to which other countries can aspire, including my own.
I will definitely miss Taiwan. I will miss the food, the cleanliness, the friendliness, and the bakeries. (Yes, we could learn a thing or two from Taiwan about lots of things, but we mustn’t forget about the food and bakeries!)
Thank you for joining me on another incredible trip. Until next time…