Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Taiwan Calling


This is the last in a series touching on our trip around the world, and Taiwan has to be the most foreign. Why? Because all of the other countries had strong colonial of some sort, and boast a common language, or so it’s claimed.

Taiwan is a busy, sometimes frenetic, place of great beauty and great danger: earthquakes, typhoons, snakes and China.  However, there is no day–to-day awareness of that danger to my mind: life goes on, and for many it is a good life.

We have rather a unique view of Taiwan since our eldest son lives there and is married to an aboriginal lady. Consequently, we spent Lunar New Year’s eve way up in the mountains where her father has built his own house with, perhaps, the most stunning and (for the vertigo sufferers such as myself) dizzying views that I have witnessed in Taiwan. There we barbecued food whilst alcohol ran freely (including the father’s own peach wine – very strong) and various members of the family, young and old dispatched hundreds of rockets over the peach trees which cling tenaciously to the mountainside: those fireworks exploding noisily in the valley far below. Meanwhile red envelopes containing money were given to the children and even some for us as honoured guests – how kind.

Though most of our time was spent with our son, his wife and their two children; we did venture further afield taking the rather famous Alishan Forest Railway up to the park of the same name. It’s a tortuous trip in a small, narrow gauge, train traversing a line that rises steeply by utilising switch backs, U-turns and spirals. Originally created by the Japanese colonists to bring down timber from Alishan, it is now a major tourist attraction and is certainly a memorable experience for all – especially the vertiginous. We stayed up there in Alishan’s wonderfully laid out park in a hotel which turned to be our most expensive, meanest and coldest of the whole trip! But the views compensated: so dramatic, especially from the railway station.

One night was certainly enough in that hotel so we moved by bus (another dizzying, but stunning, experience) to Sun Moon Lake. Here is what I wrote in my notes. “This is one of the most inspiring, tear jerkingly beautiful locations I have ever visited. The view from the hotel lobby this morning caused me to stop in my tracks and gasp. It’s probably impossible to put into words but I’ll try. The lake is suffused with sunlight and rippling softly. There seems to be many islands but some are actually low hills on the distant shore. In the background are many grey/blue mountains of random heights, the biggest looming right up towards the sky and each of them wreathed with the soft whiteness of clouds.

Though roads are constantly improving across the country and there are many overpasses to speed the flow of traffic, the scooter is still king. Margaret christened them “replacement legs” and she’s right, people do not seem to walk very much because it is so easy, and cheap, to hop onto the scooter and park on the pavement right outside the shop or eatery that you are making for, thus creating a street scene that is unsightly, dangerous and awkward to negotiate on foot. My son took me to places where change is beginning, where pavements are for pedestrians and there are more trees and some modern apartment blocks, but this will surely take decades to make a great impact.

I’ll finish by confessing to my love for the flora and fauna of Taiwan, particularly the former. Things grow so luxuriantly there, and on any surface: including each other. Not far from my son’s home the straggle of houses finishes and wild, almost impenetrable jungle abounds. It may soon devour the scooters as you can see. I call this a “natural ending”.

And so ends my trip. After three months covering four distant countries and twelve air flights we arrived back in Oxford, which was cold but still lovely and a complete contrast to the places we have visited. Now I must begin work on a book detailing our travels.

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