Hello! Here we go then, first blog from part two:
On my way to Australia from the UK I decided to make a stop in Taipei, capital of Taiwan, since I was flying with their national carrier and it didn't cost me any more to break the journey up. Prior to arrival though I knew very little about Taiwan, except that all my childhood toys appear to have been made there. I suppose I was expecting it to be somewhat developing, or to be riddled with sweatshops, like China or South East Asia, but I couldn't have been more wrong. There is essentially no poverty in Taiwan; it is very highly developed, and is one of the four high-income Asian economies, known as the Four Tigers, along with Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.
Taiwan was once ruled by Japan - and there is still a definite Japanese influence present in their food, art and architecture - but it was lost to the Republic of China (ROC) at end of WWII. Four years later the ROC lost mainland China in the Chinese Civil War to the communists and retreated to Taiwan. Taiwan was thus widely recognised internationally as 'China' for many years, but gradually lost that recognition in the 1970s to the 'communist' People's Republic of China (PRC), losing their seat at the UN in the process. The PRC now aggressively lays claim to Taiwan as a province and has promised to 'bathe the streets in blood' should Taiwan ever officially claim its (rightful) independence.
The flag of the ROC is despised by the PRC, and even the Taiwanese national carrier, China Airlines, is not allowed to use it on the tail fins of their planes. However, there were literally millions flying around the city of Taipei when I arrived because, completely unbeknown to be, I had arrived on the eve of the ROC National Day, known as 'Double-Ten' (10th October). It was a real stroke of good fortune as I was treated to a weekend of fantastic celebrations, parades, music and dancing, and I even got to see the president of Taiwan. The people on the streets were in a brilliant mood and, given that I barely saw another foreign tourist the whole time I was there, I was quite a novelty for the locals, and there was a constant stream of people waving at me or coming up to me to try out their English. I stayed in a cosy little hostel, called Camel's Oasis, run by an extremely laid back couple, right in the centre by all the festivities, and in the evenings I went to the various night markets to seek out some delectable street food, such as steamed dumplings, duck and various noodle dishes. I was told about a local delicacy of oyster omelette too, but was unable to find it - must be found in the more upmarket places that I was avoiding.
Of course, a major highlight and attraction in Taiwan is the 509m Taipei 101 Tower: the tallest building in the world from 2004 until 2010, when it was suddenly dwarfed by the 828m Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Coming from the European Union, where stumpy little Canary Wharf still ranks among the tallest buildings, this building was by far the most imposing I'd ever seen, just on another scale altogether - massive! The top of the tower is basically in the clouds nearly all of the time, which makes the view from the top a little pointless, but it does feature the world's fastest lift, and the world's largest wind damper - a great big ball suspended inside near the top. I had no idea about the lift until I stepped in it, and so it was all a bit of a shock; but it was seriously impressive, travelling up at 1010m/min (over 60 kph) and taking 37 seconds to reach the top! It is pressurised so that your ears don't explode, and is shaped like a bullet for better aerodynamics. I've never experienced vertical acceleration and braking sensations like that before, it was like you were being drilled into the floor for the first half and then floating a few inches off the ground for the last half! Anyway, geeky bit over; but I thought it was very good.
I was expecting Taiwan to be quite boring, as I had found Singapore to be, but instead it turned out to be one of the most fun and interesting places I had been to in Asia. I guess it might have been different without Double-Ten day going on, but I got a really good vibe from the place. I'd recommend it to anyone for a stop-over, or to work in to teach TEFL English, and also for anyone wishing to buy cameras or lenses - it is definitely very cheap compared to Europe, and I ended up snapping up a telephoto lens that would normally be way out of my price league... hopefully it will be all worth it once I get to Australia.