週末的華爾街時報旅遊版登了一個大大的標題：The Forgotten China
The Forgotten China (Wallstreet Journal)
-struggling in the mainland's shadow, Taiwan tries carving out a new identity
By Stan Sesser Feb 3, 2007, Page 4
The waitress brings two big bowls to the table, empty except for a dense, round flat bread at the bottom of each. Tear up the bread into tiny pieces, she instructs us. Then the bowls reappear filled with soup, one lamb, the second beef with cubes of congealed duck blood. The bits of bread have puffed up into little pearls that taste like barley.
These dishes -- unlike anything I've ever tasted in a Chinese restaurant despite two decades of eating in Asia for pleasure and for work -- are from Shaanxi province in central China. But I'm in a restaurant a thousand miles away, on the island of Taiwan. Taipei, Taiwan's capital of around three million, offers a virtual tour of the provincial cuisines of China, a reflection of the diversity of the Chinese who fled to Taiwan in 1949 when the Communists took control of China.
Taiwan is the other China -- increasingly lost in the shadow of mainland China's expanding global influence. For years, Taiwan defined itself as "free China," the democratic counterpoint to its Communist neighbor. But as China liberalizes and increases economic ties with the West, the contrast isn't quite as sharp. To carve out its own identity, Taiwan is increasingly highlighting its Aboriginal culture and promoting the island's natural features in addition to its more traditional Chinese cultural attractions.
It's also resulting in a more open attitude. Taiwan is the world's first Chinese society that has turned into a vigorous, freewheeling democracy. It's a source of tremendous pride for Taiwanese -- a pride that translates into a friendliness and helpfulness toward foreigners. The hospitality I encountered almost daily in Taiwan is something I've almost never seen in Hong Kong or China.
Unlike China, Taiwan doesn't suppress religion, and Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism have long flourished. The result is a richness and depth of Chinese culture unmatched on the mainland. At a Taoist temple I visited in the southern city of Tainan, for instance, students write details of upcoming examinations on pink slips of paper and deposit them on the altar, praying to the deities for good grades.
Despite the opening two years ago of Taipei 101, the world's tallest building, Taiwan isn't on the map for most tourists. Last year, for instance, a relative trickle of American tourists visited Taiwan -- 86,000. Thirteen times as many Americans, more than one million, went to Hong Kong alone. "We're the best-kept secret in Asia," a tourism official says ruefully.
The sparse visitor statistics belie the variety of attractions that Taiwan offers. The countryside is breathtaking, with spectacular mountains, gorges and fast-flowing rivers. A high-speed train inaugurated just last month reduces travel time to the second city, Kaohsiung, from four hours to 90 minutes, making the entire west coast an easy day trip from Taipei.
At the end of last year, the National Palace Museum also reopened after an extensive interior renovation. What is one of the world's best collections of Chinese art can now be viewed in a much more pleasant environment. Another attraction is the infectious impact of democracy. When I walked out of the National Palace Museum, for instance, a large group of Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) members -- a movement that can't be mentioned, much less practiced, in China-- were holding a demonstration on the front steps.
There is one major drawback to Taiwan, and that's a general lack of proficiency in English. While English is spoken in hotels, railway stations and other tourist centers, and while subway and street signs are in Roman as well as Chinese lettering, you'll need a good tourist dictionary to order food and get around outside of Taipei. It's a real problem because, despite the fact that the Taiwanese are so approachable and so friendly to foreigners, you won't be able to engage many people in conversations.
No translation is needed to revel in the spirit of the world's first true Chinese democracy. In the three decades since the death of Taiwan's dictator Chiang Kai-shek, China has become much more of a threat to Taiwan, pointing missiles at the island and making thinly veiled threats about running out of patience for reunification. (In turn, Taiwan's governing Democratic Progressive Party has periodically threatened to turn de facto independence into a more formal independence.)
It can be surprising how little some in Taiwan talk about China. Many Taiwanese who reject China's territorial claims still do business with Chinese companies or have investments there. "We talk about good food, not reunification," says Tsou Min Huai, a young government official. "Who can predict the future?" Mr. Tsou attributes the absence of discussion to a fatalism bred from 50 years of Japanese occupation, until just after World War II, followed by years of dictatorship.
As China becomes more of a focal point for both business and tourism in Asia, Taiwan is responding to this challenge by loosening restrictions instead of tightening them. When I first visited Taiwan in 1979, I had to undergo two hours of interrogation at the airport, and even Western residents chose their words carefully when talking about politics. This time I was whisked through immigration and customs without a question asked, and no Taiwanese I spoke to hesitated to denounce either the independence-leaning government or its opposition.
The renovations at the National Palace Museum exemplify this new spirit. The bulk of its collection was brought from China by Chiang Kai-shek's forces after World War II, and the formality of the museum symbolically represented the last vestige of the Old Guard, which ruled Taiwan with an iron fist. Now, the museum has shifted gears, bringing itself into the modern era. It has been opened up with a grand staircase and better lighting.
The opening exhibit is a knockout, alone meriting a visit to Taiwan. On display through March 25 are 42 invaluable, rare paintings from the Northern Sung dynasty, which dates from 960 to 1127. Most of them are so fragile they're hardly ever shown. In addition, the museum has put together an exhibition of Ju ware from the Sung dynasty; prized for their brilliant craftsmanship and unique blue-green glaze, they're among the most valuable ceramics ever to come out of China. Of the 70 Ju pieces known to exist today, the museum owns 21, and they're on display along with others borrowed from museums around the world.
Taiwan is more than museums and food. There's the impressively scenic Taroko Gorge in the east, the historic temples of Tainan in the south, and the quaint mountain villageof Jiufen , a one-hour train and taxi ride from the capital.
If you're surprised at the friendliness of the people of Taipei, wait until you see the rest of the island. At a tea shop in Jiufen, a young employee happily gave me an hour of free tastings to sell me $15 of tea. Then I asked him how to find the historic Fushan temple. He picked up an umbrella, led me on a 20-minute walk to the temple up staircases and steep streets, then showed me how to light incense sticks and place them as offerings. He waved away any attempt to give him a tip for the hour-long tour.
- Feb 27 Tue 2007 21:52
週末的華爾街時報旅遊版登了一個大大的標題：The Forgotten China