Arrival in Taipei

I’m dead tired. I arrived in Newark airport at about 10pm New York time tuesday night. Boarding at 12.30 Five hour flight to Seattle. Two hour wait. Twelve hour flight to Taipei’s Chiang Kai Shek airport, arrival 7.30am. Bus to Taipei station. On the way I pass Mosburger several times. Mosburger is the Japanese answer to McDonald’s, and the absolute unrivaled king of burger-form fastfood. Not aware that it existed anywhere outside of Japan I am thrilled far out of proportion to the actual significance of this discovery.

Arriving at the train station it takes me a few minutes to figure out exactly where the hostel is. Thirteenth floor of a building, above an electronics mall with Acer, Apple, iRiver, Asus, MSI, BenQ stores is not the place one you would expect to find a youth hostel, but when they said “right across the street from Taipei main station” they meant it-doubting only causes me to walk back and forth a few times, the strap of my portable computer carrying case wearing out my shoulder muscles.

I check in, I prepaid on the internet but I don’t have an Internation Youth Hostel membership card so I give him a few dollars to register for one of those before I’m allowed in. I’m sharing a room with a couple of Japanese guys who just arrived from Korea and leave for the Phillipines in a week. They are planning to travel all the way around the world. “How long will it take”, I ask.” Hmmm, maybe a year”, Ohta ventures. Clearly their plans are not fixed. I ask what their plan for the day is? “I think we’ll go see this”, he says. “What?” I ask stupidly, when I realize he is wearing a yoda shirt, and his friend (whom I think is named Kobayashi) has Darth Vader on his chest. “Ah yes, I saw that last week. Definitely better than the last two. But of course, if you’re enough of a fan to wear a t-shirt there’s really no question about going is there?”

I go to take a shower. Slightly confused at first, as the toilet stalls and shower stalls are the very same. Let me be clear, because I thought my eyes deceived me at first. The shower is mounted above the toilet, and the toilet seat becomes soaked as you shower next to it. I suppose it’s an efficient use of space, but I am a little shocked. This design would be anathema in Japan, where they don’t generally even allow the toilet and shower to be separate stalls in the same room, much less so… interactive.

I go down the block to the subway station, and look around the underground bookshop for a while before I go into the purchase area. I’m pleased to see that a moderately sized general bookstore has specifically marked off sections for fantasy and science fiction. It is all in Chinese, but I notice that much of it is translated from Japanese authors, and probably most of the rest from western languages. I also note that there are books in English scattered throughout the store, mixed in with the appropriate topical section, not segregated in an English corner. I recall what I had read about the linguistic history of Taiwan. Originally inhabited by aborigines speaking Pacific island languages, Fujianese and Hakka settlers from southern China, colonization by Dutch, expulsion of the Dutch and a larger influx of Chinese, speaking a mix of southern dialects. Annexation by Japan around turn of 20th century, imperial rulers gradually implement replacement of Chinese with Japanese, particularly effective in education and literary worlds-for a time in the 30’s and 40’s even native Taiwanese are writing literature in the Japanese language. Following Japan’s defeat in the second world war Taiwan is given to the Republic of China, the government of which decides to supress Japanese as well as all non-Mandarin dialects, a policy which continues in full force until the 80’s and I believe is still gradually leveling off. The author’s theory seemed to be that the history of language on Taiwan has led to a culture in which many people have a more relaxed distinction between native and foreign languages. I consider that a single bookstore in which English books are shelved alongside Chinese books does not make for a broad sample.

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