Taiwan is such an underrated country. Oops! The secret is out ;)
Day 2,031 since October 10th 2013: 179 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).
Statistically you probably don’t care.
Will I after another 24 countries become the first in history to visit every country without flying? A group of people support me and say I will. Another group says no and argues that it has been done before. The largest group of all however, is the one that doesn’t care. Is Taiwan a country? A group of people say yes. A group of people say no. The largest group of them all is however…
In that perspective you might always want to take a step back and get some perspective. When you are fighting for something which is important to you it helps to have the big picture. Do other people care? Is it of importance for many or for few? Is it really important? What in life is important? Oh well…if we wander too far down that path then we will never get anything done. A much more fun debate is the one which involves a seemingly simple question: “how many countries are there in the world?” That is a great conversation starter and a solid debate on the topic requires time. My short answer is that it is really up to you. It depends largely on how you define a country. The United Nations (UN) is not a definition of what a country is. The UN is a club and it has 193 members. It also has two observatory states which are a part of the club but with limited membership. 201 countries in the world are recognized by at least one UN member state. The Olympics have 206 countries competing against each other. There are between 204-207 De Facto Sovereign States (self declared countries). FIFA has 211 countries eligible for the World Cup and finally there are 249 country codes in the ISO standard list. So good luck agreeing on a number. The Saga is 203 countries by the way.
My childhood home. Photo credit: Poul Lubbert.
Did you know that my parents divorced when I was fifteen years old? I have two siblings and they moved out of our childhood home and into a new one with my mother. My father and I stayed in the house until it was sold. I had my own room in that house. I knew all the rooms of that house. My parents bought it but it was “my house”. I would come home after school and play in the backyard. I would eat dinner with my family. I would sleep in my bed. My house. That was 25 years ago. A few days ago a childhood friend of mine (Poul) sent me a picture of that house. I recognize it but it is no longer my house. I have not entered the garden and much less the house for 25 years. I have no idea what my former room looks like today or what the living room smells like? It was once my house but that was long ago. I think you see where I’m going with this?
Anyway, just to enforce my point. Greenland is an autonomous constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark. The population up there counts around 56,000 people. The country is the size of Algeria (Africa’s largest country). In other words there is a lot of space for the inhabitants. The Kingdom of Denmark needs to ensure sovereignty over the vast land masses and does that by having the navy patrol the shorelines and the Sirius Patrol (dog sledge) cross the landmasses. In other words there is a frequent presence and that ensures that nobody suddenly claims a part of it. The two China’s of the world are not like the two Sudan’s or the two Congo’s. When South Sudan was created in 2011 it became the world’s youngest nation and received UN status. (North) Sudan kept its UN status and they are both UN members today. Sudan means “black” in Arabic. Likewise the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of the Congo are two separate countries which both hold membership with the UN. The name Congo stems from the Bakongo, a Bantu tribe that populates the area. Taiwan is an island nation with a long standing history of settlements and colonization. The situation which exists today began when there was internal strife within mainland China about who should be the legitimate power. Civil war followed and so did some intervention from Japan under their pursuit of increasing the size of their empire at the time. It is all a little complicated but in broad terms one side, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), took control over Beijing while the other side, Republic of China (ROC), retreated to Taiwan (1949), an island which was under Japanese control from 1895-1945. Both claimed to be the legitimate government of China. To begin with the UN backed ROC in Taiwan and ROC held the UN membership. However in 1971 the UN began backing PRC. Today Taiwan (ROC) is recognized as a sovereign entity by the Holy See as well as 19 member states of the UN. It maintains diplomatic relations with 57 other member states of the UN, although they are unofficial. Taiwan is, and has since its beginning in 2013, been counted as a country within the Saga.
Sometimes I feel like that too...
All of the above is super simplified but should still give you some idea about how complicated the situation is. You should also know a few more things. Within Taiwan, which is a democracy, there are various political voices. Some say that mainland China (PRC) should gain more influence over Taiwan. Others say that ROC is still the legitimate government of all of China, although that voice is pretty quiet now this many decades after the separation. A voice also speaks of recognition as a sovereign nation on the large international stage. Wouldn’t it just be easy if Taiwan became a UN country? Well…while some want that to happen others do not. Mainland China (PRC) is a powerful member of the UN and can veto such a decision…and I hear that they would. Another layer to all of this is trade and regional power. There are a few very powerful countries in the world: USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and China are the most powerful in my experience. Those four dominate the countries which surround them through military might, population and trade. In broad terms any of those four countries can take what they want or bully surrounding countries to follow the sound of their pipe. So look at these numbers for Taiwan’s export: China: 28.8%, Hong Kong (special administrative region of China): 12.4%, USA: 11.8%, Japan: 6.9%, Singapore: 5.2% and South Korea: 4.8%. The same numbers represent power and if you want to accumulate power then you only need to look at who can become your ally. So when push comes to shove I bet that most Taiwanese simply want the situation they enjoy today to remain unaltered. You know what you have…you don’t know what you will get.
I managed this photo with my iPhone SE from 2016. "I wish that I could fly, just like a firefly..."
So what is Taiwan like? Before reaching Taiwan I was told different things. Someone said that if I liked the food in Japan then I would love the food in Taiwan! Someone cheeky said that Taiwan is like China…but nice. Now just to be clear I love the food in Japan and I am very fascinated by China. Don’t shoot the messenger ;) I heard another version which went something like this: “China and Taiwan is like a married couple where the wife wants a divorce but the husband won’t allow it so now they live separately and hardly speak”. It was a Taiwanese woman who told me that a few countries ago. Here’s my own version after a week of observing and thinking about Taiwan: take a pot and add water. Lots of water. Then add some China. Add some Japan too. Sprinkle a dash of USA on top of it. Let it boil for a while with occasionally stirring. Don’t forget to add some sea salt and a lot of island mentality too. Serve with a bunch of colonial interference and plenty of tropical fruit. Enjoy! ;)
Iris is the General Manager for Maersk Taiwan. Lovely woman. Amazing staff :)
I can’t believe that a day only holds twenty-four hours?!? It’s simply not possible considering everything I’ve done since I arrived last Friday? And last Friday feels like a month ago! I was collected in Kaohsiung, by Joey, for an early morning disembarkation of the good ship “ALS Vesta”, and was brought through customs and immigration before Joey put me on a train to Taipei. In Taipei I was brought to Maersk’s office where I met Iris and her team. I made a presentation and then we had lunch. The office also helped me print some new Saga cards which I could collect the following Tuesday. Then I said farewell to Maersk and found a café where I could "quickly" get the Friday Blog online. However the café had poor internet and I needed to race off to find another café. I found one with a solid connection but couldn’t connect my laptop to the power outlet. Twenty minutes later I solved that and got the blog online after some three hours. Then I sent a message to my host saying that I would be a little late as I was meeting a friend. Bjarke and I were shipping trainees together a few decades ago. He eventually settled in Singapore but we stayed in touch. He just so happened to be in Taipei meeting with a client but would be flying out the following morning. So this was our chance to reunite. Bjarke sent me to a place called ‘In House Café’. I was told I could find it near Taipei 101 next to ‘Breeze nanshan atre’. I jumped into an Uber and raced into the night. A while later I walked into ‘In House” near Taipei 101. I was tired, my beard was bushy, my hat was on my head and my luggage on my back. It was a fancy café and a man in a tight dress with makeup on he’s clean shaven face approached me with a smile: “are you looking for someone?” I replied that I was meeting with a friend. “Man or woman?” I replied man and saw his/her smile get bigger. Then I walked through the café and noticed that a lot of the guests appeared same sex oriented. I was at a café for homosexuals. Interesting.
Bjarke!! I will see you "soon" ;)
Taipei 101 was officially classified as the world's tallest from its opening in 2004 until 2010. Bold move to build that in an earthquake prone zone.
My mistake was quickly discovered as I explained to the waiter/waitress that I was looking for ‘In House café’ and was told that I was at ‘In House’. However fortunately in the same neighbourhood so it did not take long before I reunited with Bjarke. We rejoiced and began talking about the good old days. Then we followed up on new affairs. Bjarke got married just two weeks ago - so once again congratulations! We left the café after a while and headed up into a very tall building and sat down in a very fancy restaurant. Bjarke’s treat! The view was spectacular and so was the food and company. At one point I visited the men’s room and found three urinals facing a large window with a view of the city below. What a view for a urinal! Beats staring into a wall. It was just brilliant seeing Bjarke again and I look forward to seeing him once more when the Saga reaches Singapore. That should be sometime around June 20th. My next stop was at the doorstep of Chris and Kitty’s home. They live on the first floor in an apartment building and have been married for 26 years. Chris found the Saga several years ago and has been an active follower ever since. He once wrote me that I had a home once I reached Taiwan. And that I had! It was pretty late before I arrived but they were still up and ready to greet me. After a few handshakes and polite fraises I was shown to my room which had all sorts of accessories. Kitty and Chris had made the bed for me and left two towels for me. On the nightstand there was a note with the wifi password, earplugs in case the neighbourhood was noisy, a set of keys for their home and a charged card for using the public transportation. WOW! Then we sat down and spoke over a cold beer before heading to bed.
A stranger is a friend you've never met before! ;)
Kitty was born and raised in Taiwan while Chris comes from California, USA, and has been attached to Taiwan since the 90s. Chris is quite well travelled himself and has been to 78 countries with hopes of someday reaching a hundred. They speak both English and Mandarin and made for some excellent hosts while I stayed with them. But I figure you gathered that from my welcome ;) Kitty works for an insurance company while Chris makes various translations and works from home. Chris just so happened to have translated a guidebook about tourism in the New Taipei region so that became our very first stop the following day. However we first paid a visit to a shoe repair shop as my Salomon boots seem to be struggling more and more. The shoemaker said he could fix them but required weeks. That was a big surprise for me now that I am used to having repairs made in minutes on the side of the road. However Chris ensured me that this guy was really good. As I did not have weeks the shoemaker reluctantly suggested to make some minor repairs for $13 USD. I found that to be a bit more expensive than what I had thought it would be but I was there and had my shoes with me. We were told to come back after the weekend. Then we went sightseeing. I cannot possibly go into detail regarding all the things I managed to do with Chris and Kitty over the week. We were very busy! However here is a list of what we managed: Shoe repair, sightseeing at Tamsui (historic area), visit at Little Longshan temple, visit at Red Fort (Spanish Fort), visit at George Lesley Mackey residence and his dental clinic, visit at the University which was founded upon the college Lesley Mackey created, visit to Hobe fort, had Agei (local dish), strolled down Fisherman’s wharf, took the ferry-bus, strolled on the promenade, went out for noodles walked around in Ximending (lively gay neighborhood) and visited red house (old market turned theatre). That was the first day!!
Taiwan is safe, friendly, economical, easy going, interesting and a great altrernative to many other countries. Why I didn't see more western tourist is beyond me?
The following day we went hiking, we took a few metros (MRT) before taking the Gondal up to Zhinan temple, hiked about for a few hours and nearly saw the sunset which disappeared behind the clouds. We then had chicken and dry noodles at a favourite restaurant of theirs before returning home. That evening I had a $3.24 USD haircut which I was happy with. The price suited me well and so did the quality. Interestingly the hairdresser vacuum cleaned my head afterwards?
Getting jiggy with it at Taiwan Red Cross: "One, two, cha cha cha!"
The next day Chris joined me for a quick visit at Taipei’s well known Longshan temple. The temple was built in Taipei in 1738 by settlers from Fujian during Qing rule in honor of Guanyin. It served as a place of worship and a gathering place for the Chinese settlers. Traditionally incense is burned but Longshan Temple has quite remarkably moved away from that practice in a realization that it is bad for the air quality. Amazing! The world is constantly changing. A stone throw away from there I met with the Taiwan Red Cross which made Taiwan the 175th country in which I have had the pleasure of meeting either the Red Cross or Red Crescent. Taiwan is accident prone as it lies where two tectonic plates meet which causes plenty of earthquakes. Taiwan is also mountainous and packed with volcanos of which some are still active today. However not violently. Flooding is however an issue. Especially when the typhoons hit, which they do every year. It was however an aerobics class for the elderly which became my first meeting with the Taiwan Red Cross.
We are "clearly" making hearts! Because that is the kind of country Taiwan is ;)
Taiwan Red Cross has a rather impressive engagement on the humanitarian scene both nationally and internationally. Within Taiwan you find them active within disaster prevention, disaster risk reduction and disaster response. They are also guarding the beaches making water sports safe, offering first aid courses, supporting and activating the elder community and much more. Since 1999 they have been highly active on the international stage. Taiwan Red Cross has been present in the relief of major natural disasters all over the world: Haiti, Iran, Japan, China…you name it. Quite impressive I must say. Taiwan is a country of “only” 23 million people however is the largest economy which is not a member of the United Nations. And the nation has a large heart. As such Taiwan Red Cross enjoys national support on a very large scale. They have an excellent webpage which I encourage you to visit if you would like to learn more: Taiwan Red Cross Website
This is a mushroom! It is called Lion's mane. Uhm good!
That night ended late with a delicious vegetarian dinner and I have hardly had more mushrooms in a single meal than I had that night. However it was spectacular and I doubt that I would have guessed that some of it was made of mushrooms if I wasn’t told. Taiwan and good food is something absolutely synonymous.
I AM VERY HAPPY ABOUT WHAT CHRIS DID!!! Kitty and Chris invited me for another short hike in Taiwan’s beautiful nature. I noticed Chris began picking up litter right from the beginning. Within a few hours he managed to fill a bag and brought it with us to a place where he could sort it into recycling. You da man Chris!!! I’ve been to enough countries to realize that plastic is a serious problem on earth. Why ANYONE would throw it on the ground is beyond me?!? Good job Chris!! Let’s keep Taiwan beautiful :)
The Next day Chris, Kitty and I went hiking again as we followed the Pingding old trail, then we stopped by the world class National Palace Museum which was far too large for me to get a good overview of. Our visit mainly focussed on a few historical periods along with seeing the jade and porcelain displays. Apparently the story goes that the museum houses over 690,000 artefacts! All of it was evacuated from the Forbidden City in Beijing to Taiwan in 1948 amidst the panic of the Chinese Civil War. As such the collection provides an in-depth view of the beauty of Chinese history from the Neolithic to the modern era. Thankfully for me Kitty was there and has a profound interest in antiques and could give me a background story on some of the pieces we saw. Because frankly I was not impressed with the information offered by the museum. Often an item on display would simply read something like: “plate, Ming dynasty, 1471 CE”. Once you’ve seen enough plates you kind of want more info.
This bowl is very rare and from the Ming Dynasty. One just like this was sold for $32,345,850 USD!!
Listen…we did so much that I can’t go into to detail on it all. Chris and I also visited Taipei Zoo, we picked up my shoes, the three of us visited one of Taipei’s famous night markets, stumbled upon a 1,060th birthday, drove up to the north coast, visited the unique Laomei Algal Reef and dropped in for a view of the calla lilies at Zhuzihu (Bamboo Lake). Meanwhile I had to manage emails, logistics, bureaucrazy, research, preparations, interviews, long distance relationship and so much more. There MUST be more than 24 hours in a day?!? Most of my nights ended between 02-03:00am as I would work late nights to make ends meet. And in reality I could have said no to hiking, visiting the night market or something else but that is maybe my problem in general: I want it all! I want a full and reach project to be delivered to those who care and want it. I want to see and discover. I want to be a good fiancé. I want to promote the Red Cross. I want to do public speaking. I want to meet strangers. I want to make friends. I want, I want, I want. Maybe I should get better at saying no…or simply say no to more. But it all worked out although I am exhausted and really need what is coming next!!
Click HERE or on the picture to see video.
I tried stinky tofu. It is not for me although I can eat it if there is nothing else. Why would they even make it? I also tried bubble tea. Also not my favorite. So strange to find things like that in a country with sooooooooo good food ;)
Duck tungue is not uncommon in Taiwan.
7-11 convenience stores are everywhere, and they are basically open all night with various amenities. These stores are owned by a Japanese company. In these stores, you can print a document, call a taxi, send a parcel, pay your bills, buy train tickets and do much more.
What’s next is another voyage onboard another containership. SeaLand has helped out again and as a Maersk company I am grateful to both. I boarded the good ship “Pontresina” last night after saying farewell to Chris and Kitty, two strangers who became friends, then taking the fast train back to Kaohsiung, getting this entry online and meeting up with Joey again. Joey brought me back through customs and immigration and onboard the good ship. And that is where I will be when you read this. This entry was incidentally written at a café at Kaohsiung train station. In exotic terms “the world is my office” but in reality I often struggle with getting these things done from the seat of a bus, in a noisy hostel or riding a train. But they get done. Because we keep on keeping on. Enjoy, I wrote it all for you ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - I care!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga