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Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Taiwan primer

Well, the time has come for a trip to Taiwan. As I was preparing for the visit, I realized there were a few interesting tidbits about the country that most people probably don't know. In fact, more than a handful of people got it confused with Thailand.

"Isn't that where they will execute you for having weed?" asked one friend.

"Asia confuses the hell out of me," said another after making the common mistake.

Well, here are some facts about Taiwan you can talk about at dinner parties (compiled from a variety of sources):

• Taiwan is an island located in East Asia off the coast of China. The People's Republic of China (PRC) acquired the island from Japan in 1945, although the PRC has never controlled it. On occasion, the red dragon will breathe fire on the tiny island when it is perceived as being too pro-independent, but things generally calm down again.

• With a population of 23 million people, Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, second only to Bangladesh. In Taipei alone Taiwan, there are an average of 25,219 persons living in each square mile.

• The earliest inhabitants are of Austronesian origin, Malay and Polynesian more specifically.

• Taiwan's National Palace Museum houses more than 650,000 pieces of Chinese bronze, jade, calligraphy, painting and porcelain. The collection moved from the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1949 when the Kuomintang party lost control of mainland China and fled to Taiwan. The collection, estimated to be one-tenth of China's cultural treasures, is so extensive that only 1 percent is on display at any time.

• Popular sports in Taiwan include basketball and baseball. Cheerleading performances and billiards are quite fashionable. Badminton is also common.

• Karaoke, drawn from contemporary Japanese culture, is extremely popular in Taiwan, where it is known as KTV.

• Taiwan has a high density of 24-hour convenience stores, which in addition to the usual services, provide services on behalf of financial institutions or government agencies such as collection of parking fees, utility bills, traffic violation fines, and credit card payments.

• Taiwan is the world's largest producer of computer goods.

• A Taiwanese company has begun manufacturing dinnerware out of wheat, effectively allowing you to eat your plate after you've finished your meal. Inventor Chen Liang-erh spent 10 years and $1.4 million developing the product.

• Bubble tea and milk tea were invented in Taiwan and can be tried at many restaurants in the U.S. (I recommend trying one at the Mint Cafe in Cleveland).

• Ang Lee, a native of Taiwan, has directed critically acclaimed films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, and Lust, Caution

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