Showing posts with label international_travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international_travel. Show all posts

Saturday, April 27, 2019

It's not just about calling Taiwan "China" as a destination (also, Air Canada sucks)

When Air Canada and other airlines around the world changed the way they listed Taiwan as a destination by labeling it incorrectly as "China", that was insult enough.

But another deeper issue is made worse by this change: that of mistaking Taiwanese for Chinese - that is, the Republic of China for the People's Republic of China - when they are trying to travel.

It's already happening, and rather than talk at you about it, I'm going to hand my platform over to someone this happened to recently. Her public Facebook post about the incident is in Mandarin, but no account exists in English. I'm providing one here (with my own translation):



I want to talk about the fact that I was denied boarding by Air Canada last month.

Recap:

My flight was from Toronto to Columbus Airport, then to Vancouver and back to Taiwan. I had already checked in online. When I went to check my bags, the ground staff first asked me if I had a tourist visa for Canada. I said that I'd applied for an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) and the clerk then asked if I had nationality in the US or Canada. I didn't. Then she told me that this meant I wouldn't be able to fly. She explained that the ETA only allows me to fly into a single city in Canada, but my flight transfers across two Canadian cities, so I had to call customer service to change the ticket.

It took me 20-30 minutes to get through to customer service (the last time it took about an hour), and my boyfriend also helped me check the Canadian visa/ETA regulations so we could show them that the transfer was within 48 hours and therefore within regulation. The ground crew still denied boarding, and the boarding time passed.

Here's the truth of what happened:
I had no idea what was going on with the strange regulations regarding the ETA, which I'd never heard of before, and which Taiwanese citizens are clearly exempt from. After returning home, I immediately began searching for answers. I finally discovered that Canada has this requirement for "Chinese" citizens. Of course my passport is from the "Republic of China" (ed: which is not the same as "Chinese") and I became extremely angry! 

After returning to the airport two days later, the ground staff was going to refuse me again. After I disputed this with the staff, they gave me the good news: "ok, you can board" - but didn't seem embarrassed about their previous mistakes at all. I was furious all over again.  Of! Course! I! Always! Had! The! Right! To! Board! 

Air Canada's attitude in dealing with this?  Terrible ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! (it deserves a hundred exclamation points).

The ground staff said the supervisor whom they queried at the time issued the rejection. The supervisor they said was on duty that day said that he was "not the supervisor that day". So I don't know why I was denied boarding, again and again. No one dares to tell me why I was rejected two days ago. Later on, with the same ETA, holding the same flight itinerary, this time I could fly, and nobody dared to just admit they'd confused Taiwan with China! ! ! ! ! ! (let's add another hundred exclamation points).


When I filled out the appeal form afterwards, I found that there was no Taiwan in the options for choosing nationality, only "Taiwan, China." Then I remembered that last year China put pressure on many airlines in the world to fall in line with the "One China Principle" (ed: China's policy that Taiwan is a part of China - not to be confused with the One China Policy). Perhaps this ridiculous mistake was caused by the fact that Taiwan is classified as 'China' in Air Canada's internal computer system. 

No one used to think that airlines had anything to do with politics. Just when you tell yourself that politics is just politics, that as you live your life doing other things like going out to eat or watching TV, and that politics is just a small part of that life - in the end, it turns out that everything is political.

I am even more curious whether you everyday people are really able to accept being treated as 'the same' as Chinese so readily. Are you really willing to sacrifice the existing rights you have as Taiwanese and become Chinese? As we reject the poor quality of 'Made in China' internationally*, do we have to give up being Made in Taiwan and be considered Made in China? 

*I think meaning, "when we stand up for ourselves as Taiwanese in the international arena and when China tries to force us back", but that's my own interpretation of what she means here as it sounds very metaphorical in a Taiwanese way


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

China won't do anything if you say 'no' to them

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I'm hoping to add to this list in the future, but willing to publish now - and here's what I want to say.

It's OK to say no to Beijing's demands regarding the naming and designation of Taiwan. China may push and whine and scream and threaten, but at the end of the day, if you hold the line, nothing comes of it. In specific, rare instances where it has, it's because an entire industry has caved and so the CCP can flex its muscles without worry.

Take the latest LSE sculpture controversy that Chinese students manufactured. As of now, The World Turned Upside Down has still not been changed. I can confirm this as of April 14th: 


Photo used with permission

No official decision has been made, but seeing as it's no longer in the news, I doubt it will continue to be an issue.

And what has Beijing threatened or done in retaliation?

Nothing. Nothing at all. I've checked every news source I can find on this, and there's nada. Zero.

LSE said they were going to shelve the issue, and silence reigned. The Economist intoned that China could threaten to cut off student enrollment as they said they might do at Oxford:


When Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, was asked by the Chinese embassy to prevent Lord Patten, the university’s chancellor (a largely ceremonial role), from visiting Hong Kong, she refused.... 
British universities have worked hard to court the Chinese, and the rush of students paying hefty international fees demonstrates the benefits of this approach. But as the LSE is now finding out, it is not without drawbacks. When threatened with receiving fewer Chinese students by the Chinese embassy, Ms Richardson of Oxford replied that there were many Indians who would be happy to take their place. 

But so far that has not materialized, and as far as I'm aware it never came to anything at Oxford, either. That allows us to add Oxford University to our list of institutions that have refused Chinese demands and suffered no real repercussions.

Then there was the incident at the Lions Club, which has chapters in Taiwan (in China, they have their own Lions Club which apparently cooperates with the Lions Club International). The China chapter tried to force the international organization to change Taiwan's designation...and failed.

Has there been any blowback against the Lions Club by Chinese authorities since?

As far as I can find, there has been none.

And here's one that may surprise you. Remember when we all thought that an Air New Zealand flight was denied landing in China because the Chinese government had requested that the airline change its designation of Taiwan to show it as part of China?

Turns out that's likely not the case. One website reported it, and everyone just took it as true. But even Reuters - that bastion of bad Taiwan reporting - didn't think there was enough evidence to the story to even report it as a possibility. And as The Guardian pointed out, there's no definitive evidence that this was the reason, and in fact reported that:


China’s foreign affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said the Air New Zealand flight had turned around on its own accord. “Due to temporary glitch in dispatchment, this airplane failed to obtain a landing permit with its destination and decided of its own accord to return en route.”

Beijing is quite clear on the line it takes with international airlines; it has no reason to lie about this.

So I went and checked. Guess what!

Air New Zealand still doesn't refer to Taiwan as a part of China. On its route map, it puts Taiwan in capital letters just as it does with every other country.



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At least in Taiwan, their website opens with a reference to Taiwan:


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...and Taipei is just referred to as "Taipei" as a destination they fly to, as with every other city.

 Are you hearing news reports about Air New Zealand being denied the ability to fly to China, because they never heeded the request that they change Taiwan's designation? No?

That's because it never happened. Air New Zealand doesn't call Taiwan "China" and yet they are still able to fly to several cities in China, and keep Shanghai as a hub!

What this means is that all those other airlines never actually had to change Taiwan's designation. There was no risk. There's no way China would have banned all of them, seeing as it won't even ban one.

The same could have been true for organizations that have already bent the knee to Emperor Xi - such as the international English proficiency testing organizations IELTS and TOEFL - I fail to see why they felt it was necessary. Do they really think China would ban IELTS or TOEFL testing? With all of the rich princelings that powerful parents want to send to study abroad? Please. There was no risk here; they just bent over because they like it rough, I suppose. If anything, organizations like IELTS bring pain on themselves when their own governments castigate them over their stupid decisions.

And, of course, while China might cause trouble for international news publications, the New York Times, The Economist and more who refer to Taiwan as "Taiwan" are already blocked in China. I suspect most would agree as well that censoring their content so as to appease China - assuring their reporters access or keeping their sites unblocked - would irreparably damage their credibility as sources of reputable journalism regardless. So, there is no reason going forward for them to make any changes either.

In short, let this be my announcement to the international organizations and businesses of the world: you don't have to give in to Beijing's demands on Taiwan.

It's clear that they don't actually do anything to retaliate if you show them the door.

Monday, April 8, 2019

When a "Taiwan separatist" goes to China...

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The temples here remind me of the ones in South Korea, and one of them (not this one) is a Matsu temple, of all things!  


I'm going to say something that should seem sort-of obvious but might shock a few people anyway.


I like China.

I still hate the CCP, though.

Some of you are probably thinking "why wouldn't you? The people are friendly, the food is great, the history, literature, architecture and culture are fascinating, the scenery is often stunning. There's a lot to like in China!"

And some of you are surely thinking "but they're our mortal enemies! And all the pollution! And the government! It's so oppressive!"

Both of these groups are right.

I've spent a week here running a training course, and was also in Shanghai recently. And I have to say that although I felt a little nervous beforehand for reasons I'll explain below, I would overall say that I had good experiences here. The people - the managers I've worked with, the trainees - have been so friendly and hospitable. Of course, I knew already that people in China are usually very welcoming to foreign visitors. The managers worked hard to ensure that I was comfortable, happy and well-fed while here; I ate like a king. The trainees worked their butts off, were an exceptional class and just all around great to work with, as well as being friendly and willing to learn. It was an honor to work with them, and more importantly, I genuinely like them.

Of course, the food is as spectacular as I remember it. I haven't had much time to go out and actually do anything, however, as these are purely work trips.

And I've found that if two conditions are met, this proud Taiwan "separatist" does like visiting China: the first is that it's only enjoyable on days when pollution isn't bad. The day a pollution and dust storm blew through was awful. The days the air has been breathable have been fine.

The second is that I have fast, consistent access to the open Internet. Without that, I can't even talk to my husband as neither of us uses any social media or chat apps that are allowed in China. I can't do much of anything: the majority of things I enjoy doing online consistently are banned in China, and in 2019 it's just not acceptable to me that my access be restricted.

VPNs don't work well - if you can get them to connect (which they won't always do), they can be slow and the connection can be lost. The only way to travel, I've found, is through one of those Wifi hotspots you can get at the airport in Taiwan. They bounce you right over the Great Firewall quickly and consistently, and cost a little under NT$200/day (my company paid for it).

This might seem like a dumb thing to say to some of you - white girl realizes China's not so bad after all! would be an uncharitable but possible way to characterize it - but remember I've spent the better part of the last decade devoting my time to writing about politics in Taiwan and Asia from a pro-independence standpoint. After awhile you start to think of China as 'the enemy' rather than a beautiful country full of lovely people.

The CCP is the enemy. China's just a country. How can one hate a country?

I'll only say one thing on the other side of that perspective: being here with unrestricted Internet access takes away the most obvious way that China's police state makes itself known. Everything else is normal: great bars with great music (though nothing with particularly thoughtful lyrics), great cafes, great shopping, great food. People living their lives. Fear doesn't lurk around every corner. Xinjiang and Tibet are far away. A great deal of literature is still banned, but they don't always check carefully.

Without the daily annoyance of wondering whether or not you'll be able to get online, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that you're living in a place run by authoritarians who want to annex a neighboring democracy and are perpetrating both cultural and literal genocides in their western provinces. The CCP seems to have figured out - after, uh, some trial and error - that if you force people to give up all cultural touchstones and push them into a gray Communist hellscape, they aren't going to like you very much. But if they can eat, drink, wear, listen to and buy whatever they like and you give them a home-grown social network, that's enough for huge swaths of the population. They might just leave you be.

If you're from China and are used to the Internet issue, you're used to getting state-approved news, you've never seen a banned book, you've been raised to think Taiwan is yours by right and Xinjiang and Tibet seem far away indeed, it must be easy to otherwise forget exactly who is running things. You might even support them: China's gotten a lot nicer in the past 20 years, after all.

I'm not the first to say it, but so much for the idea that economic growth inevitably brings political liberalization.


I prefer living in Taiwan for sure; it's my home. One of my requirements in a place to live is that it be free, and Taiwan is: I feel safe expressing myself openly there, and my friends enjoy democratic norms I feel are crucial. I do not, and will never, consider Taiwan to be a part of China, and I don't intend to live in China. I will still criticize the Chinese Communist Party until I draw my last breath. I'll stay in the fight against their aggressively expansionist policies. In that sense, I'm still in the trenches. You will never see me become one of those Westerners who apologizes for Beijing's brutal authoritarianism and aggressive expansionism. I stand for universal human rights, self-determination, and freedom and that will never change. The CCP will always be an enemy.

In other words, all the shiny things brought about by economic growth shouldn't be enough to tempt Taiwan toward China; Taiwan's sovereignty is about more than that. It's not enough to tempt me, either. My true freedom is worth more. 


But on a clear day, if you have a good portable hotspot, it's pretty good to visit - and I wouldn't mind coming back.

So what made me nervous? Well, being here for work, I couldn't just say what I thought about Taiwan because agreeing to come at all basically means I've agreed that I'm a representative of the company and not here in a personal capacity. That (Taiwanese) company treats me well; I want them to do well and this is good business for them. In any case, nobody asked.

To be honest, I don't know what I would have done if someone had.
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On a street of Hui (Chinese Muslim) restaurants in Shenyang


It's usually not that hard to keep my political views to myself at work, but when you know you can't say anything because it's your job to make your employer's Chinese client happy, being hyper-aware of it makes it more likely to slip out because what you can't say is always on your mind. Like how telling a kid she can't do something just makes her want to do that thing more, know what I mean? Though some managers here figured out, of course I never told any trainees, nor would I.


Because of this, I did feel a bit 'closed': advocating for Taiwan isn't the only thing in my life, but it's a big part of it. Ensuring that none of my trainees was aware of that part of my life, and that they knew me in a professional capacity rather than a personal and political one did entail pretending that part of myself didn't exist for a week, and not just during work hours. We all stayed in the same hotel; I saw them at every meal. In that sense, being only about 3/4 of who I actually am was like cutting off my left arm. I could function, but it wasn't the whole me.

That said, I never compromised. I stood for the national anthem because it's required, but I did not put my hand on my heart (I couldn't have sung it even if asked). I always referred to "Taiwan" and China": no "Mainland", "province" or anything like that passed my lips. Because it was relevant to a class discussion, I mentioned that NTU was founded "when Taiwan was Japanese". I didn't pretend or lie. I walked a thin line between holding to my principles in my language use, but also not offering that information about myself.

But I'll tell you, while the trainees never found out about my political views, the two managers who helped run the course did. One is Taiwanese so I just told him. The other is Chinese but figured it out through my language use and hearing me talk with the Taiwanese manager. She was surprisingly cool with it. If you are open, you will find people who can accept the whole you - the problem is, you won't find out who those people are until you say something, by which time it might be too late.

When she did find out and we could finally just talk openly about these things, the whole feeling just changed. We went from friendly work acquaintances who shared our meals with small talk punctuated with quiet periods to people who could actually have discussions.

And to be frank, that's what made me decide that I did, in fact, enjoy this trip to China. The air's been okay (which I'm told is unusual), the hotspot works, fine. But really, it's the ability to be not just myself, but my whole self, around at least a few other people.

So I'll end with this: pro-Beijing types love to talk about how Chinese and Taiwanese have some sort of special relationship or understanding due to cultural, ethnic and historical ties. A relationship they often claim no-one else can understand, a special affinity. I've heard it both hinted and said obliquely that this creates a special affinity between individuals as well in which they understand each other as ultimately culturally Chinese.

I'm here to tell you that it's not true.

Until that breakthrough toward the end of my trip, I found that when I was out with a mixed group of Taiwanese and Chinese, they were amicable. You might think there was some special cultural affinity or set of tacit understandings that we clunky interlopers could never comprehend which transcended politics.

And yet, I could see the ways in which my Taiwanese colleagues and acquaintances held back whenever it was a mixed group. It was very subtle, like buttoning a bit closer to the collar than one ordinarily buttons. Zipping up a jacket just a little higher than usual. You'd have to be watching for it to see it, but it was there.

The second the company changed and it was all Taiwanese, it was like a collective unconscious breath was let out. The belt loosened. The words loosened.

I know this because, although I am not Taiwanese, I was treated as one in these situations. I felt it too. I even mentioned it explicitly, and the others readily agreed. It wasn't dislike, they pointed out. They liked their Chinese counterparts - you just had to be careful what you said. Among other Taiwanese and the Honorary (that's me), you could speak more freely.

And that same feeling came back the second the Chinese manager indicated that she was fine with my beliefs. Jackets unzipped, collars loosened, guts unsucked.

It has nothing to do with ethnicity, history cultural 'affinity', or even being Taiwanese. If you understand Taiwan's situation and what it stands for, you're in.

If not, you could be as genetically similar as anything, but you're out.

While many of my trainees are likely openminded about Taiwan, it breaks my heart a little to realize that some of them might think less of me if they knew what my real views on Taiwan were - that I stand for everything they were taught to stand against. 


That's one of the great tragedies of Beijing's warmongering over Taiwan: if they'd just accept that Taiwan is already independent and wants to stay that way - if they'd just respect that Taiwan has the right to determine its own future - a lot more Taiwanese and Chinese would likely be truly open with each other on a personal level, and there would be a lot more closeness between them. More friendships would form, and the world would be a better place.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My first for MyTaiwanTour: traveling in Taiwan as a woman and a person

A piece of mine is featured in the MyTaiwanTour blog this week - hopefully the first of many - on traveling the world as a woman (it's not possible to unhook gender from experience especially when traveling abroad, among different cultures and people) and also as a person, pointing to the (mostly) good and (some) bad of being a foreign woman in Taiwan.

I hope you'll check it out!

I have to say, I wouldn't be here, in Taiwan, nor would I have stayed so long if I didn't feel comfortable as a person here - not just as a gendered person, but as a whole one. It's not perfect - no place is - but I do not feel nearly as constrained by my gender here as I have in other parts of the world.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Tourism Paradox

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Taiwan, have a look in the mirror. You are just as worthy of tourism as Vietnam.


Brendan and I spent lunar new year in Vietnam - as anyone who has lived in Taiwan knows, if you don't have family to visit, it's about as boring as Christmas Day must be for foreigners in the US with nowhere to go. We usually skip town, and have only avoided Vietnam so far because we were worried that it would be more difficult to visit because they also have a lunar new year holiday (Tet, which you know if you've heard of the Tet Offensive, which I hope you have). There were some Tet-related crowds and complications, however, overall I'd say our fears were unfounded.

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And that's where my regular travel post about Vietnam ends, because frankly, you can read all you want to about it anywhere else. I actually want to talk about Taiwan, then show you some pictures from Vietnam for a related reason. In any case, Vietnam is entrenched on the tourist map, with hordes of visitors from around the world coming every day. You might even say Vietnam is the new Thailand (but hasn't quite reached the levels of "Foreigner Playland" that Thailand seems to have, or Bali, for that matter). That's not necessarily always a bad thing, but overall you don't need my input - though I'll say one thing anyway: skip the lots-of-hotels-and-so-so-beach by the highway at Nha Trang and find yourself a quieter beach (we really liked Jungle Beach, well to the north of Nha Trang). We transferred from our ride from Jungle Beach to the bus there, and even in that short glimpse I was deeply unimpressed with what was essentially a tourist drag on a strip of sand.

That's it, though. What I want to talk about is more closely related to Taiwan. It's nothing new - other people have made the same arguments - I possibly have as well, and simply forgotten - but I'll say it anyway. 

Tourists who go to Vietnam - and there are many, from every continent - are likely to come away thinking something along the lines of "wow, Vietnam is a great place in Asia for lively street life, great street food, architecture and interesting night markets! Such a cool country! Really some of the best Asia has to offer!"

The compliment would be warranted - Vietnam is truly great. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. But I couldn't help but think as these masses of folks of all different colors, creeds and national origins - though let's be honest, they were mostly white or Chinese - wandered through Hoi An's packed night market oohing and aahing over the food stalls and shopping opportunities - that Taiwan has these things too.

In fact, I think I may have exclaimed to no one in particular at some point, "hey! Taiwan has all of this too, but so few people come!"

OK, this is not entirely fair: Taiwan has a fairly bustling tourism industry, mostly made up of visitors from nearby Asian countries, and it has been on the rise since the dreaded Chinese tour groups finally, mercifully left. But it's really a small slice of the pie compared to the people pouring into Vietnam, and with noticeably fewer Westerners or anyone from any other continent. That feels so rare in Taiwan - Western backpackers - that even though I hosted one briefly (we knew each other from the old Lonely Planet Thorn Tree - remember that? I was channamasala), when I ran into some at Yonghe Soy Milk I was genuinely surprised. 

Few people not from the region come to Taiwan, so few can leave thinking "wow, Taiwan is so cool - lively street life, vibrant night markets, street food, old buildings, traditional culture - really a great destination!" All these distinctions that could be heaped on Taiwan are heaped on Vietnam.

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I can basically see exactly this at a night market in Taiwan, but tourists are enchanted by brightly colored shaved ice street stalls in Vietnam, not here. 

I could go into the reasons why this is, but will keep it brief - in the end it comes down to China trying to erase Taiwan as a unique entity in the global consciousness, and the Taiwanese government doing a poor job of promoting tourism outside of Asia. I could write a lot more about this, but I'll save that for another post.

The central question, in fact, is this:

Part of me doesn't want this to change. I would very much like to keep Taiwan to myself. Possibly, because I am a curmudgeonly old git, I would see these backpackers I am now lamenting a dearth of, should they finally descend on Taiwan, and basically think GET OFF MY LAWN. I rather like living in an undiscovered gem of a country that isn't packed with the banana pancake set, or the wealthier set that includes their parents. I like that local culture is wonderfully uncommodified. I like that Lishan, my favorite mountain town, is a gritty little place where the most interesting things to do are read books and enjoy the view as you eat fresh fruit. All of the things that can make Taiwan annoying and inaccessible (like having to rent a car to go anywhere, and never being quite sure when temple festivals are) also make it wonderful and authentic.

It's uncharitable, but I must acknowledge that aspect of my thinking. If we did get all these tourists, we could expect every town of interest - Sanxia, Beipu, Daxi, Tainan, Lugang, Jiaoxi, Hualien, Kenting, Jiufen, Jinguashi and more - they'd all be exponentially more crowded than they already are (which is pretty damn crowded). This part is obvious, but what that means is that more businesses selling crap souvenirs - as though there aren't enough already - and other things aimed entirely at tourists will start opening, and soon enough what is now confined to a single awful lane in Jiufen will be found in every one of these towns. I do not relish that. I make no secret of my dislike for tour buses - I understand why people take them, but I always try to run ahead of the crowd of people about to be disgorged, and they do clog up the roads.

This is also uncharitable of me: what makes me so special that I get to enjoy these experiences but other foreigners shouldn't be able to come for a short time to do so as well? Of course that is a logical dead-end, and I admit this. When friends and acquaintances visit, I am delighted to show them around and try to give them valuable cultural experiences, so it's a bit hypocritical of me to be okay with that but not with a greater volume of travelers.

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However, rather like someone from Sesame Street might try to push Oscar the Grouch back in his trash can so he'll stop complaining for a minute, my better nature is telling the shouty old man who lives in my heart to quit it and think rationally.

Because, despite all of these issues, I do think it is worth braving the dreaded tour buses and banana pancakers that increased global (as in, beyond Asia) tourism would bring for the many benefits it could have.

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We have gorgeous historic architecture too!
First and foremost, one of the reasons so many people around the world don't know much about Taiwan is that they've never even considered visiting. Not everyone will read the history section of their guidebook or listen to a tour guide talking about it, but enough will do so that perhaps, just perhaps, Taiwan might escape the purgatory of having the world think whatever China wants them to think about this lovely country, because they don't care enough to inquire more deeply (that's just human nature) and haven't thought to visit and see for themselves.

Secondly, I have to say Vietnam has great tourism infrastructure. Public transport within cities is lacking - and that is a problem if you want to leave the central areas of either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City - but no matter where you are, it is reasonably easy to arrange a ride to anything you can't walk to. For those looking to save money, they can take small group tours to, say, the mausoleums and temples outside of downtown Hue, or a group tour - some small, others not - to My Son, about an hour from Hoi An. For those willing to spend a bit more, no town is too small to not have xe om, or motorbike taxis, to take you where you need to go, and you can always arrange a car and driver (at least in the more touristy areas we visited). Hotels are not only happy to do this, they expect it. It's part of their job.

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In Taiwan you might well find it impossible to see much of the scenic beauty of the country because, while you can usually get a bus to the general area of a place, to go beyond that you have to drive. There are often no taxis outside of the cities, and when there are, they are expensive to charter - not that it matters if you simply can't get one. Once in one of the smaller towns, including my perennial favorite place to get away (Lishan, in the far east of Taichung county - I refuse to call it Taichung city because it's not a city), you basically have to hike/walk/bike or depend on the kindness of locals to give you short rides. Otherwise, if you cannot or do not want to drive, you're basically screwed in much of the country. It's still one of my biggest complaints about Taiwan outside of Taipei. People defend it - oh you can just rent a scooter (not everyone can drive a scooter, nor wants to, and some foreigners have run into problems renting them without a specific scooter license) - but I'm sorry, it's really not okay and I do not accept feeble excuses. Don't even try, I'm not interested in hearing a weak-ass defense of Taiwan's crappy public transport at a local level (connections between cities are okay) outside of Taipei.

If we did start getting a larger volume of global tourists, I do think this would change. You'd have a lot of people who either couldn't or wouldn't want to drive, and suddenly people making money as hired drivers or running shuttle buses would start appearing in most places you might like to go. It wouldn't be complete, but it would be an improvement on a situation the government hasn't seen fit to improve otherwise. I'm not always a fan of the free market, but in this case it would probably fix the problem to have demand exist to facilitate the creation of supply. 

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It would probably also lead to more of Taiwan's heritage architecture being restored, though I could see a good amount of it being turned into yet more souvenir shops and hotels. But refurbishing a Japanese colonial building into a boutique hotel is better than letting it moulder, no?

There are downsides of course - the poor east coast would suffer terribly, with much of the best seafront property taken up by hotels and resorts a la Sri Lanka and Vietnam. All of the above issues regarding crowding wouldn't exactly go away. More of the beautiful parts of Kenting would start to look like, well, the not-beautiful part of Kenting (Kenting town, which I avoid). More of Sun Moon Fucking Lake(tm) would start to look like the annoying part of Sun Moon Fucking Lake(tm) where hotels blot out the lake view. A lot of the best of Taiwan is, frankly, too small to accommodate that many tourists. It's not a big country and the old streets, buildings and small towns are also, well, not big. Imagine tour buses descending on Beipu. A nightmare!

I don't really want to see Taiwanese culture commodified, either. I like my all-night aboriginal festivals and do not want to watch the most popular form of engaging with indigenous culture to be one-hour dances downtown, the way Kathakali, water and shadow puppets and Kandyan dance are commodified and pruned to fit tourist tastes, for tourist consumption. I can tell you a fair amount, although I'm no expert, on pas'ta'ai. I can't tell you much at all about Kandyan dance although I packed myself into a theater to watch two hours of it with about 500 other tourists. I can only tell you slightly more about Kathakali because I attended a performance while studying in southern India. But the connection isn't there the way it is with going to the all-night real deal in the mountains. I would not want the Hsinchu pas'ta'ai to become similarly commodified and agree with a friend of mine that the way these 'cultural' or 'eco' experiences are packaged for travelers is hugely problematic.

To take another example, the one temple festival I was able to pin down a date for while my cousin was in Taiwan was in Sanxia, and was so crowded with tourists - mostly domestic, probably some Chinese - that while I wasn't able to be there, my sister reports there were so many people that you couldn't really see anything. I don't want that to be every temple parade: I like seeing one go down the street, grabbing a beer at 7-11 and then chilling out, watching it go by. Some of the most attractive parts of the countryside are already crowded enough - I don't want them to become more crowded.


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On the other hand, consider Japan, where even the most rural destination usually offers some mode of transport, even if it's your hot spring hotel in the mountains picking you up from a bus station in a shuttle - and yet Japan does manage to have gorgeous countryside.

But, is it worth it to increase the international exposure of Taiwan, and get more people thinking about it as a unique place with its own unique culture and history rather than some country in Asia that they consider vaguely Chinese or confuse with Thailand? On a more secondary point, is it worth it to make the best of Taiwan more accessible to those who can't otherwise go?

Honestly - shut up Oscar - yes, I do think it is.

Not that we shouldn't do this carefully. I don't really want Taiwan to become another Thailand (as lovely as Thailand is, you have to admit, it's kind of a big-nose amusement park in some ways). I am heartened to see plenty of young, engaged Taiwanese grasping that simply swinging open the doors and offering "cultural experiences" devoid of depth to buses full of tourists is not going to be good for Taiwan. As it is now, to really appreciate and enjoy Taiwan, you have to dig. You have to do your homework. You have to know the history and cultural underpinnings to enjoy them. It's not as easy as taking a temple tour, grabbing a beer and going to the beach, the way it is in much of Southeast Asia.

I'd like to see Taiwan develop that way - if the main goal is to raise global understanding of Taiwan, then a travel experience that pushes travelers to learn more about it to appreciate it might be a good way to go (but of course would mean fewer people would come - plenty of folks do just want the easy vacation). A "you are welcome here, we have the infrastructure [please guys let's build the infrastructure, I hate having to rent cars] but we're not going to change for you" attitude, I think, is a good one to take. A "we have lots of history and historic sites, but you have to actually read the history to appreciate them" is one, too.

That may seem incompatible with attracting global tourists, but I do not think it is irreconcilable or impossible.

And now, please enjoy some photos from Vietnam.

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I will concede that outside of lantern festival in Taiwan, Vietnam has better lanterns. 


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But come on you can totally see cool tile floors and old dudes chillin' at desks in temples in Taiwan - not that most foreign tourists (outside of Asia) would know that, because they don't come. 
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No really, skip Nha Trang. This is better. 


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This is seriously the very first thing I saw in Ho Chi Minh City. 


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There was also a purple pigeon, and I have no idea how either of them got that way. 


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If you turn around and look the way Ho Chi Minh is facing, you'll see a grand boulevard full of profit-turning stores, which is kinda weird if you think about it.