Notes from Taiwan, Food, Business, and Taipei

Today’s notes from Taiwan concerns food, business, and Taipei.

First, food is obviously an important part of any society, but food in Taiwan is so much more than just eating. It is enjoying, savouring, and experimenting. Instead of having a meal of a main dish and some sides, our meals have several dishes. There doesn’t seem to be any side dishes. The vegetables are on the same level as meats. Tofu holds it own as well.  Fruits are celebrated and in many more tastes, textures, and colors than anything you will find back in the States. Rice is integral to most meals and it generally comes in a plain white variety. However, Ma and Ba mix their own rice concoction with purple rice, couscous, and oatmeal–it is very hearty, but also uniquely yummy. I have also been drinking the best green tea that I have ever had. Ba calls me the “Tea King,” because I drink so much of it.

Today, Ma and Ba took Y and I to a Hakka restaurant down the street from their house. We had at least seven dishes on the lazy susan that we shared: roasted pigs feet, pepper beef, fried shrimp covered in mayo and sugar sprinkles, clam soup, boiled chicken, stirfried tofu (the softest that I have ever had that was stirfried), and stirfried vegetables. After dinner, we had a cold tofu dessert and we picked up some pastries for later.

The thing that I like about business here in Taiwan is that there are few corporate conglomerate department stores. Everywhere you go whether in Jhongli or Taipei small businesses rule the roost. Here, there is still a sense of entrepreneurship. A person can run a small business that specializes in a single thing or theme and make a living from it. I am impressed about how every street seems to be lined with businesses that cater to every need imaginable without there needing to be soul-sucking places like Wal-Mart or Target. I believe that there is a greater sense of dignity for people who own, manage, and work at many of these businesses that serve the same needs that the mega-department stores attempt to do in the United States.

Counterposed to the small retail businesses are the large manufacturing companies in the industry and science parks around Taipei. Within smartly designed, immaculate looking structures, much of the cutting edge electronics and industrial work is being done. The number of businesses in these parks is awe inspiring.

Today was my first visit to Taipei. Y and I took the TRA train line into the city for her optometrist appointment this morning. Afterwards, we stopped by the Nova electronics marketplace (one building, but many many different stalls owned by different people who offer different kinds of electronics goods) and the toy shops: Hot Dog Toyz and Paradise. I am amazed at how many people there are in Taipei, especially on the trains and subways.

Unlike in Jhongli where I haven’t seen any other Caucasians, I saw several in Taipei. They were young and old, male and female. I wonder what brought them here, and where they are from originally. They all seemed much surer of their surroundings than I am, so I also wonder what makes them stay. Y and I have talked about the possibilities of jobs–Taiwan, the United States, and elsewhere. It will come down to where we can find work, but I can say that I am increasingly interested in Taiwan and what it has to offer.

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.