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Taiwan Today: A Modest Paradise

Perry Nunes |
June 10, 2013 | 10:39 a.m. PDT


(Perry Nunes)
(Perry Nunes)
Taiwan is often a misunderstood place. To many Chinese, Taiwan is a mere extension of mainland China, a quasi-rebellious subsidiary island under the rule of Communist Beijing. To some Americans, Taiwan represents an emerging opportunity for capitalistic expansion as the 19th largest economy in the world. To international backpackers and vacationers, it is an underrated getaway that offers escape and tranquility. And to many others, Taiwan is simply “the country that sounds like Thailand.” 

Taipei, the country’s capital, is located in the northernmost section of the island and functions as one of the largest hubs for economic and cultural activity in the country. With the exception of Taipei 101 — the city’s magnum opus that was the tallest building in the world, until the completion of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa —Taipei’s low skyline is largely composed of simple, unassuming buildings. Taiwan may be far from the prettiest country in the world, but what it lacks in modernity and sexiness, it makes up for in modesty and livability.

(Perry Nunes)
(Perry Nunes)
Even in my jet-lagged first few hours here, I picked up the friendly charm of Taipei and its people. As you walk the streets, you see families taking their kids out to the park for the day, hole-in-the-wall boutiques and markets lining each block. Lush green mountains serve as a backdrop to the buildings, constantly reminding you that you’re on a beautiful subtropical island. Unlike China’s overcrowded fast-paced lifestyle, life in Taiwan seems a bit more laid-back. People wait patiently in line for the subway, and cars stop for pedestrians. Unlike the smog-filled sprawl of Beijing, people can afford to take a deep breath every now and then. And they do. 

However, to reduce Taipei — and by extension, the greater nation of Taiwan — to a “modest paradise” would be misleading.

While there is an underlying sense of humility to much of the city, there are definitely pockets of luxury that signify a country on the rise. Especially in certain neighborhoods, like the growing business district at the base of Taipei 101, there are countless upscale shops, posh hotels and flashing neon advertisements reminiscent of the iridescence of Times Square. Jazz bars, rooftop pools and swanky nightclubs seem to be around every corner. The young, rich crowds seem to embrace their overindulgence.

Living amid this for a little more than week now, I sense a tension between the modest, traditional Taiwan of the past and this extravagant, wealthy Taiwan of tomorrow. As I spend the summer here working and living in Taipei, I am interested to explore this tradeoff between folksy tradition and modernization that defines modern-day Taiwan. 

But beyond making sweeping generalizations about Taiwanese society like I have done so far, I also hope to spend my time here bringing a more nuanced view of life on this culturally diverse island. Only eight days into my stay, my view of the country is admittedly superficial at best. By exploring the various distinct neighborhoods in Taipei, swapping stories with locals I meet and venturing elsewhere on excursions that explore the deep reaches of Taiwan, I will work to piece together a deeper, more complex understanding. I will eat, drink, talk and explore all that Taiwan has to offer, documenting my adventures along the way.

Tune in each week for a new perspective — through the people, food, business and more — on what life in Taiwan is like today.

Reach contributor Perry Nunes here.



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