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48 Hours of Lessons from Taiwan

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I have been in Taiwan for about 48 hours now, and already, I have learned so much.  I will, of course, have a much longer blog when my experience is over, including a culinary tour of the place, which, to put it mildly…will be exciting.  But in my first 48 hours, I have been fascinated again and again and again.

In no particular order;

Coastal and “countryside” Taiwan are stunningly beautiful.  City life?  Pretty much like some of the less scenic parts of NYC.

Starbuck was a welcome site in Hong Kong after 24 hours of travel.

There are more 7-11 stores in Taiwan than there are Dunkin Donuts in Massachusetts.

While most 7-11 stores in the US smell like hotdogs, 7-11 stores in Taiwan do not.  I can’t say quite what the smell was…but it was like fish.  They also serve boiled duck eggs like the US stores sell Slurpees.

There are hundreds of temples, many of them gorgeous.  Anthony says that they are encouraged to leave money in the temples as an offering to God.  I asked where the money went and he laughed and admitted he had no idea.

I remarked to Anthony about the number of palm trees on the island, during our drive from the airport.  He noted that they are not palm trees, but rather “Chewing gum” trees.  Apparently, the trees are fast growing and produce a betel nut, which Anthony described as “Taiwan’s Red Bull”.  Chewing on the nut produces a rush, or a high.  He described it as the equivalent of Red Bull.  But Google says is akin to speed or amphetamines.  It is damaging to the land because of its shallow root system. Apparently, it’s quite a problem here.

Just like the US, it is election season in Taiwan.  In non-city places, politicians fund “parades” thru the streets as a way to campaign.  There are usually 1-5 vehicles involved, with political messages being repeated over a loud speaker.  I’m not sure the effectiveness of this methodology, as the vehicle is usually out of earshot by the time a single sentence is heard, as the vehicles travel at normal travel speeds down streets.  So far though, the guy who also has fireworks going off out of one of his political vehicle would get my vote.  This, of course, based on very thoughtful consideration of that candidates policies and initiatives. 

Many in Taiwan use a scooter as their primary mode of transportation.  Scooter mechanics would be wise to take up residence in Taiwan, as some of the scooters can’t keep up with me on a bike on an easy ride.  I held pace with one, even, during my easy shake out run yesterday.

While the US has strict regulation about babies, toddlers, and small children and car seats, many Taiwanese ride their scooters with toddlers and small children standing between the driver and the handlebars.  My favorite site has been the few who have their dogs aboard as well.  I saw one family of 4 on a scooter the size of my own.  Clown car, anyone?

The Taiwanese are extremely friendly.  Despite the fact that it is painfully obvious that I do not speak a word of the language, I am always greeted with a smile and a nod.

I am continually embarrassed by Americans and our inability to speak other languages.  I find irony in the fact that my host and tour guide keeps apologizing for his English (which he speaks nearly fluently). 

Most the things I have learned about Taiwan and its people has been thru my host and tour guide Anthony.

Anthony apologized almost immediately for his driving skills.  He only recently got his drivers license.  When I asked if he’d lived close enough to work to be able to walk or use a scooter, he replied by saying, “I lived in the factory.”  I did a double take and asked “Is that normal?”  “There were 3000 of us.”  …so I guess so.  Fascinating that in China (where he was when he lived in the factory) houses its factory workers in a dorm.  I guess it makes for a short commute…but I simply can’t imagine it.

Anthony was not at all a bad driver.

Small children stare at me with a look of fear.  I guess 5’10” blond women are unusual in these parts.

I ran over a snake, at speed, yesterday during a ride.  He managed to slither away.  I was horrified by the event, but glad I didn’t seem to put on too many lbs in my post Mallorca indulgences.

All Taiwanese young men are required to do 1 year of military service following graduation from University.  It used to be 2 years.  Now it’s 1. 

On our drive from the airport, we passed a number of fisheries.  I asked Anthony what type of fish they were raising and he contemplated and said “Ocean fish.”  We both got a chuckle out of that and decided it’d have been something if they were raising “Land fish.”

When Taiwanese people learn to swim, they are only taught the breaststroke.  Anthony is just now learning to swim freestyle as a part of his transition from baseball to triathlon.  Freestyle is unusual in Taiwan, and the looks I get when swimming in the pool here would seem to confirm that fact.

There are 12 English speaking TV stations available.  This represents a 1200% increase over those available in Mallorca.

More soon….looking forward to racing, but also looking forward to this amazing cultural learning experience. 

Much appreciation to my hosts, Blue Bicycles.  Only 48 hours in, this has been a fascinating experience.

Persistence. Determination. Love. The Journey!

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