We arrived in Taipei two nights ago after a 50 minute delay out of Xiamen, and a switched flight through Hong Kong. Even that switched flight necessitated basically a sprint across the airport, so I didn't get to do one of my favorite things in life, kill time at an airport. (This is not a joke.) Kudos to Dragon Air who a) somehow knew the plane would be delayed the day before the actual delay and b) had backup plans for passengers with tight connections. Actually the "somehow" in the previous sentence was probably bookable anticipation of the throngs of travelers that the national holidays produce.
Yesterday we had a light tourist day. Don took us on a quick tour of Taipei American School which, like Singapore American School, underlines the shabby state of Xiamen International Skool. Although XIS has both of them beat on the "useless central plaza" and "ornamental tower" and "shiny metal detailing" fronts. Then, we took the metro into downtown Taipei, where we visited Chiang Kai Shek's memorial and Taipei 101, currently the world's tallest building. I paid a little extra to go up an extra two flights of stairs and walk out onto the open skydeck, which was actually a little bit of a letdown. I was ready to be really scared but the safety features were so predominant I never felt myself in the slightest danger of being blown over the side. We had omelettes for breakfast at a bona-fide greasy spoon diner, my first since last August, and Chinese for dinner which was about like Chinese food in Xiamen, only the establishment was cleaner and more pleasant.
Which is a neat metaphor for the entire experience thus far of Taipei. Taiwan is what Xiamen would look like if a) it had a little bit more money and b) anyone actually gave a damn about anything. Culturally, Taiwan is practically identical to Xiamen -- they speak the same local dialect (Minnanhua) and have the same Mandarin accents. There's even the same weird "Chinese" smell in the air. And yet: no garbage, the buildings are clean (and better-constructed), traffic is more rational, we haven't seen anyone spitting, the air is transparent, people queue in an orderly manner for escalators and subways, and young people volunteer their bus seats to the elderly. According to Jenny and Don (and Ellen and Michelle, too), Taipei was not like this at all 25 years ago. 25 years ago it was a lot more like Xiamen. Which leads me to wonder: in 25 years, will Xiamen be a Really Nice Place like Taipei? That I have opinions on this question will not surprise anyone, but I've only been here one day. I'm gonna let it sink in a little before I rush to judgment. Suffice to say: if we had moved to [Singapore|Hong Kong|Taipei|] we might be having a lot more fun with our lives right now.
Moment of Taipei Love: the iconic Taipei mode of transport is the scooter. It's really hard not to love a city all a-zip with scooters bearing teenagers, young families, besuited businessmen, construction workers, pizza deliveries, and yes, even a few hipsters. A city full of scooters is like a TV show with a prominent dog character. Sure, every week of Frasier followed the same tired formula, but one scene with Eddie was enough to tweak the whole 'sode.