Arrival in Taiwan - Day 1

Thanks to an IT conference that was taking place in Taipei, I had a chance to travel to Taiwan. When my paper was accepted at the conference, I set up my mind to learn Chinese as fast as I could to enable me to tour the country in a much more interesting manner. In effect, I was aware that outside Taipei, English was an entirely foreign language and that knowing some Chinese could enhance my trip there.

The Far East being indeed far, the trip from Toronto to Taipei lasted 15 hours. Though, a few rewarding sceneries made the journey a bit less monotonous. For instance, when flying over Greenland with a sky free of clouds above the floes and ice mountains. Another fantastic view was just before landing in Hong Kong. A few old junk boats amid the modern container ships were lazily navigating over the greenish ocean. Hither and thither were scattered a few islands covered with trees. The whole pictures had a déjà-vu flavour. Was this impression a mere product of my imagination or did it echo some sceneries seen in Cantonese movies?

After a brief stop-over in Hong Kong, my plane headed for Taipei. Many Westerners among the passengers. From their witty looks, I could guess that many of them were other researchers attending the same conference. As soon as I reached the terminal, I was struck by the Chinese atmosphere overwhelmingly present there. Aiming to apply my limited Chinese skills I headed for the bus terminal rather than taking a taxi. Not without difficulties, I managed to find my way through the adequate bus stop. I mockingly noticed that a few other white guys, who at first entered the bus terminal to find a cheaper transportation mode, retreated to the taxi terminal when they realized that the bus terminal was not English friendly.

In the bus heading to my hotel, I am gazing at the city. In this entirely new environment, two different things are surprising. The first one is a hotel on the top of which is painted a gigantic swastika. Even if am well aware of the significance of this Buddhist symbol, it makes me feel exceedingly uneasy. The reverted direction does not hide the hideous connotation this symbol as taken in my old Europe and echoes its darkest age, an indelible stain on the occidental civilization. I then spotted some Betel nuts whose rare clothes merely hide their curves, which happened to be very pleasant. Seeing some half-naked girls standing on the boulevards was indeed surprising.

After a 24-hour-long journey I finally reach my goal: the Grand Hotel, my accommodation during the conference. A luxury haven for Japanese businessmen and (rich) American tourists. A couple of light years away from my daily life. The various concierges and receptionist seem to speak correct English but it is a mere façade. There is a hierarchy among the employees depending on their English (or Japanese) proficiency: receptionists, concierges, room staff and finally all the hidden ones working in the kitchen or in the laundry. All of them are exquisitely polite. The hotel, as evidenced by its peculiar architecture and the numerous artifacts displayed here and there, aims to stand as a symbol of the traditional Chinese culture.

Heading for dinner, I wander in the narrow streets of Taipei, which is far from being safe due to the flocks of scooters which don't hesitate to use the sidewalks as shortcuts. Out of thin air, I spotted a shop whose sign reads "Carcassonne", this medieval city in the South of France which, among other virtues, happens to be my hometown. I am puzzled but the shop is closed, so I shall go back there another day.