Taiwan Journal, Part III

The Mona Lisa of the National Palace Museum.


Welcome to the third installment of these jottings from Taiwan. For the first two installments, go here and here.

This particular morning, Taiwan is awoken by an earthquake — at about 5. And the earthquake is a 6.5. It lasts 30 seconds, which is a longish time, when an earthquake is in progress.

No harm, no foul, though.

Mountains ring Taipei, or so it appears to me — and Taiwan itself is a very mountainous place. I’m told that three-fifths of the country is mountainous, and not really habitable. The country’s 23 million people are bunched in relatively small areas. Taiwan is the size of the Netherlands, I understand. Or, if you prefer, the size of Maryland and Delaware combined.

It’s wonderful to have a fresh guava in the morning. (Not that I’m knocking chocolate Pop-Tarts.)

In a restaurant — a large one — a waitress or hostess runs toward me, so that I don’t have to wait a second longer than absolutely necessary. I find this terribly embarrassing.

What can you do?

The people of Taiwan have a reputation of being very, very friendly — particularly to foreigners — and, out on the streets, I find this completely true. It’s like they’ve all been ordered to be on their best behavior during Be Kind to Foreigners Week.

Taiwan is a great maker of gadgets and electronics at large, and they are, by the visible evidence, great, great users of gadgets.

Hang on, let me quote you something interesting from Professor Rigger’s book (which is all interesting, really): In 1999,

a power transmission tower on a remote mountain in central Taiwan toppled, blacking out the island’s high-tech industry for a day. The interruption nearly doubled the world price of memory chips and the supply of TFT-LCD flat screens took six months to return to normal.

On the streets, I see many a New York Yankees baseball cap. I see none from any other team.

As at home, I see girls with tattoos around their arms — like bracelets, higher up. Such a strange style.

Up and down one boulevard, there are signs for a Natalia Gutman recital. Gutman is a Russian cellist (and widow of Oleg Kagan, a violinist). I’ve never heard of her giving a recital in New York. Interesting that she appears here.

In the bright sunshine, lots of people sport umbrellas — I mean, girls and women do. More than one person explains to me why this is so: Women like to be fair, considering it more attractive, and men have the same preference, where women are concerned.

Is there any society, anywhere, that is not completely effed up on the subject of skin color?

I’m glad to see baseball played, in this baseball-passionate land! In America, it seems that the baseball diamonds are grassed over for soccer fields . . .

Good to know baseball is someone’s national pastime.

A foul ball bounces toward me, and I throw it back. It is . . . not a real baseball. Too rubbery. Strange. Never seen such a ball.

Some Westerners think that Chinese-speaking people always sound mad when they talk. That’s not true, and it’s a terrible slur: Sometimes they sound merely perturbed.

From a distance, I see a road sign, and the name on it looks like Roosevelt. Getting a little closer — I see it is Roosevelt.

People will tell you that Taipei’s not very attractive. I don’t know about that. But I will say this: It’s a city made for living in, made for business, not made for looking at.

Which is fine.