For a third year in a row I find myself booked on a Singapore Airlines flight to Taipei, Taiwan in a month’s time. I tell myself that the trip is for business, but I can’t help feel a bristling sense of excitement to be embarking on the 14 hour trip over the Indian Ocean to the small island state yet again.
It’s not a place too many South Africans would ever consider as a desirable tourist destination. Our collective perception of Taiwan is perhaps one of ragged looking foreign fisherman stranded on-board a rusty old vessel perched up high in a dry dock at the V&A Waterfront, or maybe it’s the place that some ‘lucky packet’ toys just so happened to be made – that broke five minutes into throwing it down the stairs back when Michael Knight was still holding an intelligent conversation with a car.
In the last three decades, Taiwan has developed economically at a staggering pace. Since the 1980’s the country has invested heavily in their education system, producing thousands of engineers and scientists thanks to, amongst other initiatives, vast interactive, educational centres that inspire children with maths and physics. Their government has a sound economic vision and strategy of high-tech manufacturing with a laser focus on the global export market. They make everything from iPads, to most of the world’s solar panels, computer monitors, bicycles, tyres, cellphones, computer components – the list is literally too long to hold your attention.
What you’ll find over there today, is a country you will envy.
From the glistening high street cathedrals to consumerism of Uniqlo, Burburry, Banana Republic, Louis Vuitton that can be found in avenues of opulence right across the city, to the bustling night markets of Shilin and Keelung – the city is a mixture of shaved ice, freshly made pork dumplings and nights out on the town to shop.
Walking the city at night is completely safe and an adventure down a random side street will offer a reward of either a contemporary modern art gallery featuring a Japanese shadow artist who’s work will haunt your imagination for weeks afterwards, or a bubble tea stand that’ll have you sucking on a milky green tea mixture packed with globules of sago balls that explode in your mouth like gluttonous popping candy. They have pedestrian crossings with a digital countdown, motorists don’t try to kill you when you walk across the street, classical music is played in all of the shopping malls and they have an underground metro train network that’s clean and works better and more efficiently than any I have used in the US or Europe.
At the annual trade show that I’ll be attending, the President of the country always proudly opens the event – presenting to the world the vast array of innovative products and manufacturing breakthroughs that their hard-working industries produce each year. Every business showcasing their products at the expo is given an arrangement of orchids with a personal note from the Taiwanese government wishing them luck and prosperity with the international business people that are there to do trade with them. Their success is everybody’s success. The mindset of the place is different and refreshing – especially coming from South Africa.
So it’s back to Taipei, and this time with a stop over for a couple of days in Singapore too.
I know the food is going to be mind-blowing and the people overly respectful and courteous. I also fear the Taipei hangover as I have come to call it – that’s the three months post the annual trip where all I want to do is go back to a society that gives you a sense of what can be achieved if everybody sees each other as partners in their collective prosperity, rather than divided by their apparent differences.