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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Taipei or not Taipei?

Actually I'm in Taichung, but that doesn't lend itself so well to puns. It was a long journey from Bristol, but I whiled it away by finishing Wuthering Heights, a book I'd not read since I was about 16. It made quite an impression on me at the time, to the extent that I found I remembered almost every scene - but my emotional response was quite different this time round. On the first occasion I think I was secretly rooting for Heathcliff throughout - not as a romantic figure but as a youngest "sibling" exercising his revenge on the whole pack of his oppressors. This time I just wished he'd get over himself: his narrow obsession was tiresome rather than sublime.

Anyway, a couple of hours before landing in Taipei I was given a landing card to fill in, which had a section asking me for my visa type and number. Reader, it had never occurred to me to apply for a visa, and I spent the last two hours of the flight fretting about whether I was going to be unceremoniously booted off the island before I'd properly set foot on it.

I needn't have worried. Taiwanese customs were a dream, visas unnecessary, queues non-existent, my hostess exemplary, my hotel sumptuous, my bed soft, and I knew no more until I awoke at 9 this morning.

Random first impressions of Taiwan - more will follow, at random intervals, randomly ordered.

Anyone fleeing to Taiwan in order to escape Christmas muzak and plastic Santas will be making a big mistake. Both are here in abundance, along with Mcdonald's and Starbucks, who are my hotel's next-door neighbours. You know how people in the West always think that a Chinese restaurant must be good if they see lots of Chinese people eating there? I wondered whether I could create the same effect in reverse by buying a Big Mac. ("She must know what she's doing - she's a Westerner!") I find this an unrealistic scenario, but I'm not sure why. At any rate, I didn't put it to the test.

The Taiwanese like to deal in big wads of cash. So far I've been given one wad to reimburse me for my plane ticket, and another (unexpected) as a gift for the talk I gave today. I remember my Japanese teacher telling me that the Japanese don't use credit cards as much as one might expect for such a gadget-happy nation, and I wonder whether it's the same here. There is certainly the same love of gadgetry, as this parable in today's news illustrates.

About one in five people wears a surgical mask - including our waitress this evening and several of the students in my talk. I thought at first this was about pollution, but apparently it has more to do with a wish not to spread (or catch) germs. This information makes retrospective sense of a multiingual announcement I heard on the escalator yesterday at Taipei station, which in addition to reminding us that we should should keep hold of the handrail added the dubious assurance that it was "periodically sterilized". I hadn't been thinking about handrails as havens of dirt until that moment, but you may rest assured that I promptly let go.

So far, so good, anyway. Everyone is amazingly friendly, the students all wanted their picture taken with me, and I feel valued above my worth (but not so far above as to be awkward). I also heard my first Westminster chimes to signal the start of a lesson: little did I ever dream that the lesson would be my own. Pictures will follow at some point: the one above is for kalimac.

According to a Taiwanese friend, the four in five people who don't wear masks find the whole thing a little odd and more than a little disturbing. I guess it's that covering the face thing again.

Yes, my hosts also find it odd. I haven't been keeping very strict watch, but I'd say most of the people wearing them are young, and most are female. I can't say I find it disturbing, but handrails notwithstanding I've always taken the attitude that you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die. (This works out at about a pint every five years.) Coddled immune systems never grow up strong and healthy.

kalimac rolls his eyes at the picture, as you might have expected.

The bigger question is, if all the Chinese restaurants are full of Chinese, how will you tell which are the good ones? Many of them will be, but not all.

The most intense Christmas shopping display/carryings on I've encountered was in Charleston, South Carolina. Hot, muggy, but full of Christians.

You really don't want to put your hands on the transit escalators here in San Francisco, and you might want to sterilize your shoes after walking on them, too. You don't want to know what it is that periodically gums up the works and has to get cleaned out.

I found the Germans, masters of technology, to be singularly uninterested in accepting credit cards the one time I was there in 1992. I expect it's changed since; they've certainly become more accepted in the UK (already ahead of Germany in that respect) since then, and even - hard as it would have been to believe it was possible - in the US.

It's strange how unevenly these things move. I remember hearing a report by an American journalist on the strange habits of the British, maybe a dozen years ago, and one of the things that struck him most forcibly was the British habit of texting rather than calling people on the phone - a practice born no doubt of a very natural horror of real-time human interaction. From this I inferred that texting was uncommon in the US, but with the advent of smartphones it seems that they have joined the Brits in prodding their phones rather than addressing them.

O,brave new world!


It is indeed! (Much of it is so new as to be still under construction.)

haha, I noticed that about the periodic sterilisation of EVERYTHING THAT COULD POSSIBLY BE STERILISED when I was in hong kong visiting the fam! it does make you slightly paranoid about germs.