Roof of the Taiwan National Theatre with cloudless blue sky above

Taiwan has been on the bucketlist for a while. In the year 2000 I was an exchange student in Kyoto learning Taiwanese from a fellow exchange student who was so excited for elections that he flew back to Taiwan to vote. That was only the second presidential election since the military dictatorship (which ruled from 1949) had transitioned to democratic elections in the nineties. In 2000 things were very exciting since it was the first time an opposition party won the presidency.

My wife too had a Taiwan connection in 2000. She was friends with a different exchange student, a Korean Buddhist nun, who went on to live and study in Taiwan for many years. That was when I first learned how much of a Buddhist religious center Taiwan is, hosting monastics and scholars from all over the world. Taiwan’s religiosity also contributes to its high percentage of vegetarians, which is second only to India.

In the intervening years I have had many friends travel and live in Taiwan. When I said I was finally going, everyone was excited and encouraging: “You are going to love it!” And you know what? I did love it. And I would love to go back someday. Mostly because so many of my questions about the place were not answered… but more on that later.

I am no expert on Taiwan. Our trip was only 8 days and we mostly engaged in sight-seeing. Thus, I cannot bring you any deep insights into the politics and culture of the country. Furthermore, travelling with kids meant my opportunities to spend hours in museums or engaging in discussions at teashops was severely restricted. All I can offer are impressions, to paint with a very broad brush. If my impressions are off, you are wholly invited to correct me in the comments. I encourage it, and want to learn more!

We flew into Kaohsiung in the south, drove to nearby Tainan for a day, then took the high speed rail up the west coast to Taipei. From there we drove out to Jiufen for a night, and then spent the rest of the time back in Taipei.

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I took a lot of photos. I have whittled them down and posted to Flickr, but here I will accompany each album with a bit of explanation to give you some context.

I am going to break this up into a few posts which I will link to here:

  • Introduction (this post)
  • Kaohsiung and Tainan, featuring Fo Guang Shan
  • Spirited away to Jiufen, featuring tea houses, graves, and (lots of) rain
  • Taipei, the famous jade pork, and the hotel emergency escape slide
  • Conclusions (where I may put my foot in my mouth, we shall see)

So, if you are ready, let’s fly to southern Taiwan! 🛫