It’s Speedy’s birthday next month and I’m giving him an early birthday gift — a trip to Taiwan.
I’ve been to Taiwan before on a five-day trip from north to south. I learned a very important lesson on that trip. Trying to cram too many activities in a span of a few days isn’t enjoyable at all. It’s stressful and, when the weather is hot, the stress triples.
So, it’s going to be a slow and leisurely trip for us.
Why Taiwan? The food, of course.
Many people have the impression that Taiwanese food is just an extension of Chinese food, but it isn’t. Taiwanese food is…
If Chinese food were the strictly traditional empress dowager and Japanese food were the disciplined but playful empress, Taiwanese food would be the modern and sassy queen — mindful of tradition, imbued with a sense of discipline but youthful enough to be daring, experimental and innovative.
Japanese? Where does Japanese food fit in? Well, Taiwan was a Japanese colony not so long ago. It has quite an interesting history, actually, which finds its way into how Taiwanese cuisine developed.
Is Taiwan a part of China?
The earliest inhabitants of Taiwan spoke Austronesian languages which would make them related to Pacific Islanders.
Chinese scholars, of course, say otherwise and claim that the ancestors of the Austronesian-speaking aborigines were, in fact, Chinese from the mainland. If that were true, they wouldn’t be speaking Austronesian languages, would they?
Whether you believe one theory or the other (all those scholars are just guessing anyway), what has been documented is that the Dutch East India Company arrived, was able to control some areas and, in the course of business, started importing laborers from China. Many of these laborers settled permanently in Taiwan.
When the Ming Dynasty of China fell, Zheng Chenggong, Prince of Yanping, a Ming loyalist who resisted the Qing conquest of China, sailed to Taiwan and drove out the Dutch. He and his heirs ruled for two decades until his grandson was defeated by the Qing Dynasty which annexed Taiwan and declared it under the jurisdiction of the Fujian province. This annexation brought in migrants from mainland China.
Taiwan under Japan
Then, China went to war with Japan over Korea. China lost and, in 1895, ceded Taiwan along with some of its territories to Japan. Japan ruled Taiwan until it lost in World War II.
While Taiwan was under Japanese rule, the Qing Dynasty ended in mainland China. The Kuomintang Party rose to power and Republic of China (ROC), referred to by Western historians as “Nationalist government”, was born.
When World War II ended, Allied Forced brought ROC troops to Taiwan to accept the turnover from the Japanese. The problem was that, in turning over Taiwan, Japan did not specify to whom it was surrendering Taiwan to leaving the legal status if Taiwan unclear.
Taiwan under the Kuomintang
Meanwhile, the Kuomintang Party under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek was defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party, and the People’s Republic of China (PROC) was born. Chiang Kai-shek moved his Nationalist government to Taiwan bringing with him over two million people that included intellectuals and wealthy businessmen, and declared Taipei as the wartime capital of China.
The Kuomintang was never able to reclaim the territories in mainland China that it lost to the Communist Party. Yet, it continued to claim to rule over all of China. The Communist Party, on the other hand, claimed to rule over all of China including Taiwan. Probably the only reason that the PROC did not physically invade Taiwan at the time was because the United States supported the Kuomintang at the height of the Korean War.
Taiwan was ruled by one party, the Kuomintang, and was under martial law until 1987. Hundreds of thousands whom the government perceived to be either unsympathetic to the Kuomintang or outright supportive of the Communist Party were imprisoned or killed. It wasn’t until after the death of Chiang Kai-shek and the succession of his son as president of ROC that martial law was lifted and the creation of opposition parties became legal.
The legal status of Taiwan
By the 1990s, reforms had been instituted that made it clear that Taiwan no longer claimed sovereignty over mainland China. Yet, the legal status of Taiwan — is it an independent nation of a territory of mainland China? — remains unclear.
In practice, the world treats Taiwan as a nation but, diplomatically, most nations, including the Philippines, adhere to the One-China Policy whereby the PROC is regarded as the only legitimate Chinese government. Taiwan has neither an embassy nor a consulate in the Philippines. What there is is an “economic and cultural office” which does the function of both an embassy and a consulate.
It may seem like I’m saying a lot just to explain why Taiwanese food isn’t exactly Chinese food. See, when I was in college, I had to deliver a two-hour oral report on the Kuomintang. The reading and preparation I did for that report were, well, let’s just say it’s impossible to forget the Kuomintang even decades later.
Taiwanese food is fusion
Given the history of Taiwan and the peoples that have inhabited it — aborigines, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese — it is easier to get a grasp of what Taiwanese cuisine it. It is fusion and it continues to evolve.
I’ve had a taste of Taiwanese food twelve years ago and it’s high time that I go back and discover how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.
So, we’re off to Taiwan.
Taiwan in May is warm. We’re packing accordingly.
Granted, the weather in Taiwan is not at its most pleasant in May. But June and July have historically been hotter than May. If we wait until after the summer months, it will be monsoon season and that’s an even worse time than summer. So, we might as well go in May.
What I didn’t count on was rain. According to Accuweather, there might be rain showers on the days that we’re going to be there. And that means humidity.
What is the appropriate clothing for such weather?
- Light clothing.
- A light raincoat might be in order.
- Preferably waterproof walking shoes. Or, simply bring extra shoes in case we get drenched.
What’s the itinerary?
I could bring Speedy to all the places in Taiwan that I’ve been to. You know, like act as his tour guide. But that won’t be fun. I think it’s a better idea for us to discover new places together. Well, with three exceptions.
- Din Tai Fung. I was fortunate enough to dine at the first (and, at the time, the only) Din Tai Fung in Taipei. I’ve since eaten at Din Tai Fung in two other countries but there’s nothing like experiencing Din Tai Fung in Taipei.
- Taipei 101. I’ve read that aside from the 89th floor observatory, there is now an open air observatory. So, we’re dropping by Taipei 101.
- Shilin Night Market. It used to be spelled Shih Lin but Shilin is now an accepted, and more popular, spelling. It was so hot and humid when we went to the night market twelve years ago that I was able to eat nothing but shaved ice. I took a lot of photos though. This time, I intend to eat to my heart’s content.
Other than those three, we’re exploring destinations — and food — that neither of us has experienced before.