Tokyo & Taipei 2014

Impressions of island travels…

I was there for the International Ornithological Congress (IOC ), held every four years, and the most intense meeting you can get with birders. Tokyo in August was a strange pick for the meeting, considering how bird-depauperate it is. The previous meeting had been in Campos do Jordão, Brazil, after all. Now that’s a birder’s paradise, I’ll bet. Still, we were in East Asia!

Anyway, Japan was.. interesting. The people are very polite, and even can be helpful (e.g. directions) though they rarely speak English and will just look up directions on their phone. All of the women wore some sort of heels, even just a little bit, and they all seemed overly fashion-conscious. There also seemed to be a lot of unconscious or unspoken mannerisms and customs that people followed that I could not recognize, like how to stand at the subway, or how to walk down the street, or even how to eat food. It’s tough to explain. But all of those rules made it feel.. confining. Restrictive. Like a society of robots — no one would do/say/act differently, even when they were behaving ‘oddly’. For sure, we were odd ones out. Oh, and the people in cosplay or other random/arbitrary colorful costumes were fun to see — I called several of them dolls (“Look at the doll!”) throughout our time. I’m sure they were dressed to be admired. And the salarymen were ever omnipresent, especially during rush hour, walking in the subway station you feel like a salmon swimming upstream against wave after wave of salarymen; again, all the same appearance, all mindless drones. Cogs in the bigger machine.

The food was good of course, although not Asian-cheap, but we did indulge in one tiny restaurant outside the Tsukiji Fish Market, and lived on affordable convenience store (hello 7-Eleven!) takeaway bento boxes the rest of the time — which I liked very much! We also tried the occasional conveyor belt lunch sushi or ramen house or even a Mos Burger. I was pretty open-minded about all food of course (I did not try live squid of course, but I love the BuzzFeed video). There are no dogs or cats in Tokyo, maybe five dogs in all the city, and at least two of them are Shiba Inus. We were fortunate in seeing a (rather sickly-looking) raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), also known as the tanuki.

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Taiwan was such a stark contrast because the minute we started walking around, we saw cats slinking about everywhere, and dogs sitting on little stools outside their owner’s shop. So cute! Taiwan was excellent. I know, I know, I am biased. Not as clean, but more vivid and lively and tasty. First off, the people. The Taiwanese people were just as polite as the Japanese, but somehow more.. personable. Warm and friendly! Taiwanese and Japanese people would both help us out if we were lost, but Taiwanese people would make jokes with us (they also spoke more English, even elderly people in Taipei, whereas not even “English speaking” Japanese really comprehended us and vice versa), or treat us like some family member, making us cut in the bus line in front of them, etc. Or a guy out jogging in the park couldn’t understand our question for directions, so he called a friend who spoke better English (who also couldn’t understand what we were looking for), but after I managed to convey what we were looking for (thank you Pleco app!), he offered to take us there himself even though he looked exhausted, was covered in sweat, and dusk was rapidly falling (we politely declined). Both cultures are respectful of the elderly, but Taiwanese really went out of their way to give up their seats on the train/bus instantly, as soon as an elderly person boarded, no matter how crowded it became. Plus, my mother’s friends hosted us for a couple of days, and my mom paid for our lodge on Dasyueshan, because Taiwanese pride themselves as champion hosts.

Second off, the food and the prices. There they use the New Taiwan Dollar (at the time of writing, 1 New Taiwan Dollar equals 0.027 €). The public transit in Taipei was so cheap! You couldn’t believe how little we spent, compared to Japanese hotels and food. And so the slideshow below is dedicated mostly to the wide variety and diversity of delicious, fresh, affordable foods we sampled. I should keep a travel diary again — there are lots of impressions that are better documented in the moment, with memory and impressions still fresh. The juiciness of a mango, the bitter crunch of some asian greens, the umami flavor of some braised pork on fragrant jasmine rice.

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Third, the birds. We saw more endemic bird species there than Tokyo. The mountain we visited (see my earlier Dasyueshan post, also some foodie photos there too) was the BEST birding place — cool and foggy at times, but really lush and gorgeous, and the birds so tame! They just hopped all over the road and came out at the randomest moments. It was a delight for any birder, and the cool altitude was a relief from so much August heat. Plus we saw a macaque up there, and I took photos of him/her but they all came out blurry. And so so many of the prettiest birds. We didn’t see everything we wanted, of course. But really, you feel lucky after a while, because it was the worst possible month/season to bird after all.

Can’t wait to go back to Taiwan. Once a decade has been my going rate so far. Not too shabby. ^_^



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