Digging Deeper into Taiwan

Written and photographed by Kim Dong-hun (8ball)

Seven years ago, I hadn’t been interested in Taiwan at all, like many other Koreans, and I didn’t know much about the country either. But now I am head-over-heels in love with Taiwan. I have visited Taiwan seven times and even stayed there for about three months back in 2014 simply because I wanted to do so. This experience helped me to better understand the country and its people.

Before telling you more about Taiwan, let me begin by asking you one simple question: When you think about this country, what are the images that pop into your head?

Possible answers:
–Taiwan is a tropical island country.
–It belongs to China but is a breakaway province.
–People often mistake Taiwan for Thailand.
–Tourists often buy or try bubble tea, pineapple cakes, daewang (big-sized) sponge cakes, and nougat crackers.
–Taipei 101, the tallest skyscraper in Taiwan (509 meters).
–Taiwan is frequently and severely affected by earthquakes and typhoons.
–Through the Korean TV travel-reality show, “Grandpas over Flowers,” starring some old TV actors, Taiwan became better known to more people.
–Many night markets are across the country.
–Taiwan has relatively cheaper prices compared to those found in Korea.
–Chiang Kai-shek was a founding father of the Republic of China.
–Tainan City is a sister city of Gwangju City (“Gwangju Road” is in Tainan).
–Jeremy Lin is an NBA player, once known as “Linsanity” and whose parents are from Taiwan.
–The 2/28 Incident, which was an anti-government uprising that caused 10,000 deaths.
–The 2017 Summer Universiade is to be held in Taipei this summer.

First of all, I want to clarify the wrong perception that some of us might have about Taiwan – that Taiwan is a part of mainland China, like an independent state or province such as Hong Kong or Macao. I know some Chinese citizens, including their government, continue to maintain that Taiwan belongs to China under the notion of the “One China Policy,” but Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China (ROC), has always been an independent country, although it has been, and still is, strongly influenced by China, officially known as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) amid ongoing diplomatic and military conflicts between the two countries. Thus, Taiwanese national athletes cannot wear the uniform that bears their national flag and official name when they participate in some international sporting events like the Olympics. Instead of ROC, “Chinese Taipei” should appear on their uniforms. Currently, there is no Taiwanese embassy in Seoul as there is no Korean embassy in Taipei because Korea, as the last country in Asia with official diplomatic relations with the ROC, ended its diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1992.

Although few Koreans know much about Taiwan, Korea and Taiwan have several things in common in terms of history. For example, when Japan tried to advance into China in the 16th century, the Japanese leader, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, considered Korea and Taiwan as gateways to China, so he demanded the way to be cleared for his troops. But, since Taiwan was further away and the troops were highly likely to face chopping waters and typhoons on the way, Korea was chosen as a better option. This is what led to the so-called “Japanese Invasions of Korea,” ending in 1598 following the withdrawal of the Japanese forces from the Korean Peninsula.

Both Taiwan and Korea had been under the rule of Imperial Japan for decades, although there are stark differences in the two countries’ perceptions and attitudes towards Japan. These similarities are what led me to read books on Taiwanese history, search for relevant information on the Internet, and visit the National Museum of History in Taipei. While thousands of people were killed, tortured, or went missing during the May 18 Democratization Movement here in Gwangju in defiance of the then-military junta, an estimated 10,000 Taiwanese citizens were reported killed during the February 28 Incident (or Massacre), also known as the 2/28 Incident, an anti-government uprising that was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government. During the Korean War in the 1950s, Taiwan provided material aid to South Korea.

So, apart from the above-mentioned facts that link Korea and Taiwan, I decided to go to Taiwan and stay there for 90 days because I wanted to better understand Taiwan in every possible way and explore all options available in case I was to settle there later. During my stay from June to August, the weather was extremely hot and humid. When it was scorching hot, it was like my face was being blow-dried by a hair dryer. As a lot of heavy rain and typhoons are expected throughout the summer season, I recommend visiting Taiwan from October to March.

The Chinese Ghost Month falls either in July or August, depending on the lunar calendar, and people believe that during the ghost festival, the gates of hell are open, and all the hungry ghosts are unleashed into the world to search of food, money, and entertainment. The following is a list of don’ts during the Chinese Ghost Month:

–Don’t go swimming.
–Don’t go out alone at night.
–Don’t whistle after dark.
–Don’t turn your head around if someone pats you on the shoulder.
–Don’t urinate on a tree.

Instead, the following are what people are encouraged to do:

–Go to a temple and make offerings.
–Burn joss paper on the sidewalk in front of your house throughout the month.
–Wear or carry a protective amulet.

Lu Rou Fan (rice with minced pork)

While I stayed at my best friend’s and his girlfriend’s parents’ home for nearly three months, I learned even more about Taiwanese society, especially the difference in garbage disposal methods. I discovered cockroaches inside and outside the house. Of course, it depends on the type of residence or the surrounding neighborhood, but cockroaches are common because of the high humidity. In Korea, garbage is separated and placed outside the house for the garbage truck to take away. However, in Taiwan, you need to keep your garbage at home and wait until the garbage truck, playing some cheerful music, comes to your neighborhood. Then, people come out of their house and toss their garbage bags unto the truck. Although we throw away or remove receipts, Taiwanese people keep and collect them because they are like lottery tickets when receipts are drawn and their numbers announced, providing cash prizes for the receipt holders.

Taiwan never ceases to amaze me. I never tire of this country. Therefore, I am planning to visit Taiwan and my Taiwanese friends again in the future. When I finally get there, I will first try my all-time favorite food, Lu Rou Fan (Taiwanese minced pork rice), with my best friend, Steven. I can’t wait!

I hope my story interests you and hopefully also motivates you to go visit this amazing country. So why don’t you book a trip to Taiwan sometime? Taiwan is waiting for you!


* The views expressed here are solely those of the author, purely based on his own experiences.

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