Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why the Taiwanese Don't Hate the Japanese Even After a 50-Year Occupation

"Why would you want to write about that?" asked a puzzled Samurai T after I pestered him to give me a 30 minute crash course on China-Taiwan-Japan relations. When I bombarded him with even more questions, he finally told me in exasperation, "Please go and read Denny Roy's 'Taiwan: A Political History' for more information." Which I won't, of course. Much as I love history, reading the texts is like watching paint dry. I would rather take a nap. Or play "Kawaii Megu" on my iPad.

My inspiration for this post came from my brilliant observations during my recent 8-day family tour to Taiwan that the Taiwanese remain quite enamoured by all things Japanese despite the fact that they were under Japanese occupation for 50 years from 1895 - 1945. For example, our local tour guide, Mr Ge, spoke about the Japanese and their contributions to Taiwan's infrastructural and industrial advancement during those years with a tone of reverence. Contrast this to his often dismissive and sarcastic remarks about the hordes of PRC tourists who have been invading their shores since the warming of cross-strait relations after President Ma Ying-Jeou's election."Locusts," was what he called them. (Although, I have to admit, they were really like hordes of locusts in the many places I went to, which diminished our enjoyment significantly. In particular, Samurai was very pissed that he could not view the exhibits at the National Museum "Gu Gong" in Taipei because of the SWARMS of loud PRC tourists surrounding almost every national treasure. We had been to so many museums around the world, and this was truly the most disastrous.)

But back to my main point of this "essay" (hur-hur). I found the Taiwanese' fond memories a stark contrast to the Chinese and other Southeast Asians who virtually spew vitriol at the thought of Japanese occupation during World War I and II. Samurai T concluded that this was because the Japanese colonisation of Taiwan was mostly a "positive time" for the locals, in that they brought many technological advances to the country and built quite a bit of modern infrastructure like dams and railways. However, the occupation of parts of China and Southeast Asian countries were often marked by cruelty, death, and dire conditions for the living. So that explains the wide difference in attitudes.

Some interesting titbits shared by our knowledgeable tour guide: 1) A part of the famous Sun Moon Lake was actually created by dams built by the Japanese in the area. 2) And before the recent invasion of the PRC hordes, the country with the highest number of visitors was Japan. The Japanese apparently also have very fond memories of its former colony and love Taiwan's mild climate. 3) A significant number of Taiwanese are able to speak Japanese, and they remain greatly influenced by Japanese culture. 4) Besides contributing to the hardware of the country,  it appeared that software has also been successfully transmuted. From my personal observations, just like the Japanese, the Taiwanese are very warm and polite and retail service is impeccable, although F&B service may vary slightly between urban and rural areas. 5) The Taiwanese are also very big on recycling. There are hardly any rubbish bins on the streets, just like in Japan, and Taiwan is generally a very clean country, except maybe for its night markets.

The gorgeous and mysterious Sun Moon Lake - part of it man-made - thanks to the Japanese.

A brand new high speed rail from Yilan to Hualien. Very Japanese indeed.  But in actual fact, the rail network in Taiwan is not as extensive as Japan's.

The bustling and sparkling Ximending in Taipei at night. Reminded me of Shinjuku.

A close girlfriend, who has been to both Japan and Taiwan, asked me, "So, in view of the similarities will you continue to visit Taiwan over Japan? Since Taiwan is 2 hours closer." Immediately, I replied, "I would still choose to go to Japan any day." My reasons are as follows:

1) I am not a big fan of Taiwanese food, even the famous street market food holds limited appeal to me. In fact my stomach rebelled against the local tour food during this trip. Not a pleasant experience for sure. Give me my sashimi and tempura!

2) As a tropical dweller, I have had enough of heat and humidity. Mild weather does NOTHING for me. I was very disappointed to find that the supposed "winter" in Taiwan meant temperatures of 20 - 28 degree Celsius when I was there. Seriously, give me the snow and the blizzards!

3) Since I am also Chinese, there isn't that a sense of "newness" when I visited sights like temples and night markets. Nothing I haven't seen in Singapore. At least the shrines in Japan are different (although one can get "shrined out" after visiting too many of them.)

4) Some cheap shopping available (but you have got to look VERY HARD to get good bargains). Fashion capital of the world (or at least Asia) is still Japan, no competition. A zillion times better shopping. If you have no money, Japan also offers a more interesting WINDOW shopping experience.

I had fun in Taiwan, but I will definitely be going back to Japan this year!!!

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