It is incredible how Taiwan capably cradles 23 million inhabitants with its meager 36,193 square kilometers of land in South East Asia. Taiwan’s history is as fascinating as any other country made more riveting by its survival from colonization.
Before being called the now “Republic of China,” Taiwan is also formerly the “Formosa,” which means “beautiful island.” It was named by European sailors in the mid-1500s when they passed the unnamed beautiful waters of Taiwan.
Formosa became the country’s moniker known until World War II. Nevertheless, Taiwan maintained the alluring image of a “beautiful island” as it is one of the world’s richest and safest countries.
Taiwan and the Colonizers
The Dutch Republic first ruled Taiwan from 1624 to 1661. There are attempts from the Spanish colonizers, but the Dutch ousted them in 1642. In 1662, however, the Dutch forces were expelled by the Manchurian conquest under the Ming Dynasty.
The cycle of colonization continues. Taiwan became a colony of the Qing dynasty in 1683, and it was only until 1895 when the Qing dynasty surrendered Taiwan to Japan after losing the war. Japan ruled, and Taiwan was ceded back to China after World War.
Fast forward, Taiwan survived the colonization age and gained its independence in 1912. Nevertheless, the country’s independence became a sensitive topic to comprehend. The usual question is, “Is Taiwan part of China?”
Well, it depends on who you ask. The arguments can be dated back to the Qing dynasty with the bottom line that China thinks Taiwan is one of its provinces and will eventually gain the country even through force. On the other hand, Taiwan sees itself as an independent country separated from China.
Taiwan is populated, given its 23 million population. The country is 50% mountainous, leaving 90% of its people to occupy the east coast land strip. Most of the inhabitants are of Chinese descent because of the long years of colonization.
Taiwan’s culture is a combination of Japanese, Southeast Asian, and American influences. Though the national language is Mandarin, the locals can speak English, making it tourist-friendly to outsiders who don’t grasp the language.
The country’s culture is conservative and traditional like any other culture in Southeast Asia. And though most of their culture is from China, Taiwan has ingrained its identity by being famous for its friendly people, night markets, delectable cuisines, impressive infrastructures, historical temples, and many more.
Taiwan’s Night Market and Iconic Dishes
Night markets are everyone’s paradise, and Taiwan boasts a lot of night markets to visit. There are thousands of shops, stalls, and restaurants to choose from, and the only dilemma is seeing as many stalls as you can having limited time.
Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, has the most significant number of night markets. If you have limited time to visit, here are a few of the night markets you may consider.
Raohe Night Market – known for its seafood street foods and a huge selection of authentic Taiwanese cuisine
Shilin Night Market – largest night market in Taiwan established in 1899 and has a festive, carnival atmosphere
Jiufen Old Street – located in the town of Jiufen, is frequently visited not only for its food but for its similarity with the village in the anime film Spirited Away
Tamsui Old Street – located in a seaside town at the end of Taiwan’s metro. It is famous for its ah-gei, air-dried eggs stewed in tea and spices.
Fengjia (Feng Chia) Night Market – also one of the largest in Taiwan. It can get very crowded due to about 15,000 selection of shops and a crowd wanting to get a taste of its famous grilled kinds of seafood.
Taiwan is also where Bubble Tea originated. Before it even took the world by storm in the 20th century, it has spread all over Taiwan in the 1990s. Now, it is a permanent part of restaurants’ sales menu. Regular tea also comes for free in most restaurants.
Food connoisseurs are thrilled that Taiwan is home to flavorful dishes that one can experience, from a night market stroll to its famous restaurants. Almost all night markets offer hot pot, beef noodle soup, grilled seafood, stinky tofu, bread, flame-torched meat, rice cake, mochi, egg, fish balls, and many more.
Getting Around Taiwan
Transportation in Taiwan is fast, efficient, and cheap. The country has five urban transit systems which help everyone get to their destinations in a breeze. You can get around Taiwan by riding a bus, taking the HSR (High-Speed Rail) train, renting a bicycle, or taking a scooter.
Speaking of scooters, Taiwan is the scooter capital of the world. There are 15 million registered scooters in the country, with relatively the highest density of scooter users worldwide. The use of scooters has brought advantages to the country, especially during the price hike of fuels. Imagine spending only 5 USD a week on fuel to go back and forth to your destination!
To alleviate the air pollution emitted by excessive use of scooters, the government encourages its locals to rent bikes. YouBike is Taipei’s bike-sharing service, and renting a bicycle costs around $10 per 30 minutes. Free 30 minute-rides are also offered to renters originating from the city.
Taiwan Temples and Buildings
Years of colonization are not wasted as Taiwan’s Buddhist temples are still enduring as a symbol of the country’s rich culture. There are about 15,000 beautiful temples throughout Taiwan, reflecting its two main religions, Buddhism and Taoism.
On the other hand, the country has impressive buildings and is notable for its 508-meter, Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building in 2004. It has the 3rd fastest elevator globally, which could take you to the top in just 37 seconds.
Crowds flock to either the tall buildings of Taiwan or its scenic temples to witness the sunset and admire how the country is keeping up its heritage and improve its economy at the same time.
Taiwan is more than meets the eye. Its richness can be further understood by looking back on its years as an object of colonization. Now, this small but mighty country proves to the world that it also has its own identity to cultivate and protect.