Taipei Street View

February 15, 2011


I really like balconies, in fact I would just love to have an apartment that has one.

On a balcony  (of course depending on its size) with preferably Southern aspect, I would have a deckchair. When the sun comes out, I would sit in this deckchair and I would either read or doze. And, I would have a table and some chairs so that me and some friends could have breakfast/brunch or dinner and of course BBQ under the open sky on my balcony. For sure my balcony would have plants, flowers and home grown herbs and vegetables. And because it would be a magic balcony (with Southern aspect) these plants, flowers and home grown herbs and vegetables would potentially survive.

Meanwhile I am rather sure Taiwanese people don’t have that same romantic association with balconies. First of all, which Taiwanese who is not completely out of his mind, would deliberately expose himself to open sunlight. Second, what a waste of precious space! There is more than enough tables and chairs i.e. stools in the living room already, how silly to put even more redundant furniture on the so-called Yang Tai (lit. ‘Sun’ and ‘Terrace’. Taiwanese balconies are usually neither the one nor the other being super narrow and mostly roofed).

No. The balcony has many functions but certainly none of them involves hosting people or looking pretty. Storage of things you can’t stuff in any of the already filled-to-the-brim cupboards, wardrobes and drawers is one of these functions. Hanging up laundry is another.

And because in many (or most as it seems) buildings each and every apartment has a different balcony design, the overall impression is rather äh savage. But, as with many things in Taiwan, this distinct feature of the country I also learned to appreciate. Which is especially remarkable since I am not only from Germany but from Munich, a city where it is prescribed by municipal law how windows, doors and balconies have to look like to match all the other windows, doors and balconies. At least that applies for heritage-protected buildings. In fact I find Taipei refreshingly liberating.

And no matter how much the sight of Taiwan’s buildings might insult your eyes, you have to give Taiwanese people credit for their dedication to plants and flowers. I have barely ever seen a city so green as Taipei!

Germany is the country of inconvenience. We love our traditions, our rules and our principles. We don’t love change and we dread disturbance of any kind.

But in our defence: Germans really don’t know what convenience is! That concept is rather abstract for us. It was to me, anyway. I remember when I first traveled to China I repeatedly came across this one term: convenient. Digging up my Oxford grade 10 English I remembered that word and it’s German translation (‘praktisch’), I hadn’t used it a lot by then though, there was just no need to. But little did I know about the huge impact of this word on a whole culture! I should have been suspicious – even people with very little proficiency in English would definitely know the word ‘convenient’.

But it is not really China that is world famous for its obsession with convenience. In fact Japan, a country with so many people and so few time, is most reknown for not only its high density of so called convenience stores (or combini, the mandatory katakanisation) but also for… quite original inventions like the cultivation of rectangular and therefore stackable water melons just to name one (there is a very entertaining book: ‘The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions’, I highly recommend it).

And Taiwan was a good student. The density of convenience stores in Taipei feels even higher than in Tokyo. But what makes a convenience store so convenient? Well, except that they have an astounding assortment of things that belong to everyday needs (nappies, throw-away-panties, stationery, booze, …), most stores have an ATM, you can get fresh Cafe Latte, you can pay your utility bills, have your photos developed, recharge your public transport card, fill up on instant noodle soup, japanese curries and other dishes, you can even fax, copy, print and purchase train or concert tickets.

Convenient stores have become such an important part of Taiwanese life that they are among the top 3 criteria when chosing an apartment (the other two being transport and restaurants). When asking young Taiwanese exchange students who spent a time in Europe studying what they had missed most they envitably reply: Seven Eleven, the mother of all convenient stores.

But not only convenient stores are convenient. One kind of store I really like going to in Taiwan is the household supply store. Every time I discover new treasures, things I always needed but that don’t exist in Germany, things I didn’t even know I could possibly need and that I cannot live without now and things I still haven’t figured out what they are good for. However, they are all made for one purpose, to make my life more convenient. And I love it.

 

(This time in German)

Strandszene in Kenting.

Wir haben uns einen Schirm gemietet, reißen uns die Klamotten vom Leib und sprinten ins Wasser – perfekte Badetemperatur! Nachdem genug gebadet wurde, wird sich auf die Badetücher drapiert und in der Sonne getrocknet und an der Bräune gearbeitet. Schließlich war der ganze Urlaub für nichts, wenn nach der Rückkehr nicht eine angebrachte Menge an Freunden und Bekannten das erholte und attraktivierte Erscheinungsbild bemerkt. Und dazu gehört natürlich eine anständige Hautfarbe.

Dass die Asiaten da noch nicht auf dem neuesten Stand sind und noch immer an der antiquierten Sichtweise festhalten, braun seien nur die Bauern, führt ja schon zu merkwürdigen Produkten wie ‘Weißmachercreme’ usw. Diese Weißmach-Substanzen sind in Körperpflegeprodukten in der Tat so verbreitet, dass man da als sonnenbefürwortender Kaukasier schon ganz schön aufpassen muss, nicht versehentlich zum falschen Produkt zu greifen, was für die mühsam herangezüchtete Goldbräune fatal wäre. Dass sich daher unsere soeben in großer Gruppe eingetroffenen taiwanischen Strandgenossen im Gegensatz zu uns nicht in die Sonne legen, lässt sich also erklären.

Schon schwieriger ist die Beantwortung der Frage nach dem Wasser. Die der westlichen Bevölkerung schon in die Wiege gelegte Begeisterung für Spaß im Nass, scheint bei den Taiwanern nicht im selben Maße verwurzelt zu sein. Nur ein Bruchteil der immer zahlreicheren Strandbesucher macht Anstalten das Wasser auch tatsächlich zu betreten. Abgesehen von den mehr halbherzigen Badeversuchen, wird gehüpft, posiert, drapiert, frisiert und fotografiert.

Überhaupt das Wasser und die Taiwaner. Die Nichtschwimmerrate in TW scheint Befragungen von Freunden und Freunden von Freunden nach exorbitant hoch zu sein. Kinder lernen (wenn überhaupt) erst mit 10 Jahren schwimmen. Diese Angst vor dem Wasser macht auch nicht Halt vor dem gerade mal knietiefem Babybecken im Taipei Wasserpark. 7-jährige Kinder mit Schwimmwesten sind hier kein seltener Anblick. Meine Chinesischlehrerin kommentiert das auf mein Nachfragen hin nur lapidar mit dem Hinweis auf die jahrzehntelange und immer noch bestehende Bedrohung vom Festland. Das hätte die Taiwaner so fern vom Wasser gehalten wie möglich. Inwiefern das nun auch erklärt, weshalb man nun im schönen Sonne-Mond-See, dessen Lage in Taiwan als eher mittig bezeichnet werden darf, nicht baden darf, sei dahingestellt. Vielleicht ist da das Bedrohungsgefühl durch die in die Berge verdrängten Ureinwohner der Grund.

Aber zurück zu den Fotos. Es lässt sich eine bemerkenswerte Fotoausstattung bei den Spaßfotografen beobachten. Was sich ebenfalls bemerkenswert beobachten lässt, ist die Ausdauer und Energie, mit dem einen ganzen Nachmittag pausenlos posiert und fotografiert wird.

Als kunstbeflissener und ästhetikbegeisterter Europäer möchte man mit seiner hochpreisigen Kamera selbstverständlich unvergessliche Momente festhalten. Die Taiwaner scheinen kurzerhand diese Beziehung zwischen Apparat und Situation umzudrehen. Sie sind vielmehr mit der Erschaffung von Momenten für die Kamera beschäftigt, als umgekehrt dem geeigneten Motiv zu harren. Also Spaß zu haben um den Spaß zu dokumentieren.

Das funktioniert natürlich nicht nur am Meer. Fotos beim Weggehen, bei Ausflügen, beim Essengehen, bei jeder Gelegenheit, bei der der Spaß (und freilich das Essen) dringlichst für die Nachwelt festgehalten werden muss, es könnte sonst ja wer den zweifellos gehabten Spaß anzweifeln. Oder noch schlimmer: Anzweifeln, dass man den Spaß auch noch wahnsinnig gut aussehend gehabt hat.

City Exhaustion I

November 2, 2010

This is certainly not the first post or acknowledgement of people taking a nap in public in Taiwan/Japan/China. But it still fascinates me in what sort of environment, under what cirumstances people here can fall asleep. It also seems like a contradiction that it is so much accepted by the same society that actually dictates ungodly working hours. Or maybe that’s why they are forgiven to be exhausted in public: The more exhausted one looks the more he or she works (respectable).

On the opposite end there is Germany where sleeping in public seems to be very inacceptable. There are areas of tolerance, though. Moving vehicles for long distances for example like plane and train. And in parks on a picnic rug or bath towel on the floor. Napping on a bench on the other hand is not as popular since it carries too much the stigma of being homeless and who would want that!

Mainland China by the way apparently tries to get rid of the inglorious appearance of loitering comrades, at least on sites they find are representing nation and culture.  I personally got chased off a piece of grass next to the West Lake in Hangzhou. Being exhausted from extensive sightseeing and overindulgence of all sorts of Chinese food I desperately needed a rest and I had the wicked idea to do so on the grass next to the nation and culture representing West Lake in Hangzhou. Oh, I shouldn’t have! Not even a minute after I had put my scandalous plan into practice there came along a very angry looking Chinese police officer (he must have been following me). He would shout and gesture furiously and chase me off the lawn.

I moved to a bench instead to take my chance but I was unlucky again. Not even a minute after I had put my shameless plan into practice there came along the same but even angrier looking Chinese police officer (he definitely must have been following me). He would shout and gesture furiously and chase me off the bench.

One of the reasons I decided to move to Taiwan instead of Mainland China by the way. But I do like China, yes I do!

Anyway, I will share photos I have taken of people resting in public on this blog. Unfortunately the most interesting sleeping-in-public situation could not be captured on camera because I didn’t have the latter with my that day: MRT Station, while waiting for the train to arrive we notice a grandfather with his grandson, standing. Grandad himself fast asleep (standing!!), the little boy behind him, clamping on the old man’s shirt.

One of the great and enlightening things about living in another country is all the stuff you can learn about the other culture. You learn to like all sorts of new food, watch different TV programs and meet new people. And if you want you can learn a lot about your own culture (The one where drivers know how to drive and sausages, beer and bread just taste better, where quality is valued and where the grass is greener).

For things I don’t understand I have a Weishenme-List, my Why-List about Taiwan.

At the very top of the list is: “Why (on earth) do Taiwanese people have dish dryers and not have dish washers or even laundry dryers?”

I see most people here hang their clothes out on their balcony to dry. Not only that Taiwan is not the Sahara in terms of dryness. Moreover there are hundreds of cars and scooters that drive past that balcony blowing their dirt into the air. The same air that is supposed to be drying the laundry. In a country where humidity is around 80% all the time that can take a while especially during Chinese New Year. When you take the laundry down after a couple of days you could just wash it again – grey from fine dust and still damp. One friend had the theory that it just might be too humid for dryers in Taiwan. I don’t know a lot about the needs of a laundry dryer. My Taiwanese friends don’t know about that either but they don’t seem to miss laundry dryers anyway which is of course quite foolish.

But: There are dish dryers. When I first spotted that thing in my kitchen I thought it was an interesting type of dish washer. Fortunately I didn’t have any detergent at hand to test my theory. Eventually I figured that the purpose of that interesting machine was to dry dishes, not to wash them.

Some people tried to justify that thing arguing that dish towels were very unhygienic. I’m still not very convinced. Especially because I don’t see a point in dish towels either. I just let the dishes dry by themselves, they are pretty capable of doing that. It only takes half an hour and I haven’t seen any scooters or cars in my kitchen yet so they actually stay clean in the process of drying.

Turning this over in my mind again and again it suddenly occurred to me there might be things in Germany (where drivers know how to drive and sausages, beer and bread just taste better, where quality is valued and where the grass is greener) that foreigners who live there don’t understand either.

In my bewilderment I turned to my friend the journalist Klaus (this is his extremely interesting blog about Taiwan) and he was so great to point me out two very entertaining but also educational blogs about Germany. The author of the former is an US-American who used to live in Germany and now literarily digests this time on his blog “Nothing for Ungood“. Even more interesting than the excellently written posts are the comments of the mostly German readers. Of course no mistake will be left without comment. If the blogger complains about the stingy choice of soda and chips in German supermarkets an outcry emerges amongst the crowd of German readers. Counting and listing every type of soda and crisps and documenting that with photos.

The latter is written by an English-speaking New-Berliner who seems to be familiar with the Berlin Mitte scene (“Ich werde ein Berliner“). He tells the Auslander-Reader how “to blend in wiz ze Germans” but not wiz any Germans – no, but wiz ze cool and elite Germans! Unfortunately I can’t seem to find comments on posts of this blog. There might be a reason for this.

Anyway. I learned that we Germans eat 1.7 times faster than Americans, that we look goofy throwing a ball, that in Germany everything is impossible, that Germans are very reluctant queuers (I think I just invented that word) and that we hate convenience (I personally didn’t know what convenience REALLY meant until I came to Taipei). Aha!

News from home

April 29, 2010

“German police are investigating a man for theft after he siphoned electricity off a high-voltage overhead transmission line for one month with the help of an ordinary meat hook, authorities said on Tuesday.

The 36-year old man from Sibesse in Lower Saxony concocted the plan to steal electricity after the power company cut him off for failure to pay his bills, police said.

The man attached a cable to the meat hook and tossed it onto an overhead power line. He then drew power from he transmission line to his home, located about 150 meters.”  Taipei Times 29/4/2010

That man should get the MacGyver-Award.

(…)

April 28, 2010

Was this picture taken in

A) Landshut a. d. Isar, South of Germany

B) Taipei, North of Taiwan

C) Turrialba, Central Costa Rica

Ok, I know, this was very easy.

In Bavaria (Germany), of course, the whole point of having flowers and plants in front of your house on display is for decorative means only.

And why on earth would one put a decorative green in a not-at-all decorative, rancid and even less decoratively cut open (totally inacceptable) plastic bottle?

Well, because one is Taiwanese (Yes, well done! The right answer was Taiwan!) and being Taiwanese one loves his flowers and plants. And because using an old plastic bottle is just extremely convenient. And so environment-friendly! Efficient! Sustainable! And because in a country where most people seem to think mood lighting is an era in French history there is just no reason to put plants in something you have to spend money on, something that can break or fall on other people’s heads – and then break. 真沒道理!

Oh, by the way, I don’t know about Costa Rican home gardening habits, sorry to have lured you… needed a C) option ^-^… But if anyone can tell me more about it, that would be great (Manuel!! Where are you?!).

By the way 2, personally I think it is unintentionally artistic. It could as well be an installation for some contemporary art exhibition. Ha, maybe it IS contemporary art and my Auslander-arrogance tricked me into thinking it was an interculturally interesting observation……………………………………….

How much time does it take to cross a street?

It takes surprisingly long, actually it is even a little disconcerting if you think about how much time you spend on crossing streets and waiting for green light. Every day.

I mean you probably guessed that before.

But Taipei – always concerned about its citizens – provides the service to inform you – exact to the second – how much time you are precisely wasting while waiting and crossing.

For those who are missing out on this enlightening piece of precious information, I am going to share it with you.

Following indications are benchmarks only. Variables such as leg length, flat foot, splay foot, injured foot, cakewalk, silly walk or double quick cannot be taken into consideration.

1 lane: 13 seconds

2 lanes and right-turning motorists, 23 motorcyclists: 35 seconds

4 lanes and right-turning motorists,  79 motorcyclists and traffic island: 61 seconds

6 lanes and above: 4 minutes up to half an hour.

(The law of the Taipei street is men vs. machine. In this case right-turning vehicles vs. traversing pedestrians. Generally speaking the bigger the street crossing mob the better the chances to win that fierce battle and to reach the other side in time.)

Of course usually you don’t only have to calculate how  long it takes to cross the street but in fact how many seconds you will need to get to the street from where you actually are in the first place (which is most often around 40m before the auspicious traffic light) PLUS to cross it and get to the other side in one piece.

Oh blissful unawareness on German streets!

Where red light is merely the mild warning that anytime soon (but not too soon) safe crossing can’t be guaranteed (and is of course very illegal). No countdown will make you bite your nails – it’s green until it’s red. And German red is not as red as Taipei red. And mob or mouse – green illuminated pedestrians have always right of way. And you can choose to live in sweet denial until your very last day and tell yourself it only takes you 5 minutes to uni because there are no walking, talking traffic lights that confront you with the unwelcome truth.

Taipei traffic light