From Taiwan

16 Sep

My first encounter with the far east’s, and more particularly China’s, emphasis on the importance of face  came not in China but Bangkok in 2009. I was at the snake farm attached to one of the city’s several world class hospitals. A Chinese herpetologist was addressing a group of farang tourists, me included. Between introducing various deadlies – in the scale, as it were, and with pauses for selfies with specimens we were assured had just been ‘milked’ – this gifted presenter held a Q & A session. The difference being that, as in school, he asked and we answered.

And what is world’s most venomous snake?

If you’ve followed my posts you’ll know I find snakes – and our reactions to them – fascinating. (That’ll be tested on this my first visit to to Taiwan. I mean to wild camp. Should I survive typhoon and earthquake – the one in high season right now, the other always lying in wait – the next hazards are heavy rains and their potential for landslides, then green tree viper and banded krait. Both are common and highly venomous but, even for snakes, mild mannered. If I don’t mess with them – which I guess would include rolling onto one after forgetting to zip my tent – they’ll return the compliment. Do unto others and all that.)

Eager to please I shot my hand up.

Brown snake.

Very good answer ...

The guru beamed his approval, as at a favourite pupil who’s again excelled. I basked in the glow.

second most venomous.

His emphasis on second   was barely perceptible. Other than the content you’d be hard put to realise I’d been corrected. A teacher myself, I gave silent applause to this mini master class in respectful pedagogy. And to the most gentle of introductions to the importance of not causing others to lose face.


I  flew into Taoyuan International yesterday. The forty klicks to my downtown Taipei hostel were a breeze thanks to (a) having three seats to myself so sleeping like the dead; (b) brilliant and cheap metro; (c) hostel location fifty metres from station in the city’s buzzing Da’an district. I have upper bunk in a spotless four bed dorm. Facilities include cooking, washing machine and wifi, all complimentary. Price is £18 a night. (I promptly booked a second night. Will likely stay longer but securing the Saturday night was a priority.) That’s dear compared to India or Vietnam but I’m told remarkable value for Taiwan, and Taipei in particular.

That Taiwan is cheaper than the west but dearer than most Asian countries outside Japan and South Korea reflects its status as one of the little tiger economies: early entrants to a global value chain kick-started in the eighties as the north shifted from direct foreign investment to outsourcing as means of extracting super profits. Which brings me to the fact of dollars, euros and even our sagging sterling going so much further in the global south. While that makes my travels affordable, it’s also reflective of a grossly unfair world order. The persistent gap in north/south currency purchasing power defies mainstream – but not Marxist – economic orthodoxy. If you’re interested, read up on the Penn Effect or purchasing parity anomaly. Note the convoluted theoretical acrobatics performed in this arena, as in others where the name of the game is to avoid at all costs a labour theory of value and the fact of exploitation at the point of the wage labour contract.

Still, this is supposed to be me in travel writing mode. Will henceforth strive to refrain from political comment. Shouldn’t be hard. Due to camping plans I’m travelling lighter than I have in years: Galaxy 7 Edge my only camera and computer. Wish I had Charis’s flying seventeen year old fingers but I don’t. Expect fewer and shorter posts.

Taiwan is friendly even by Asian standards. The ride in from the airport gave ample glimpses of the verdant and spectacular mountain scenery whose photos – viewed on a friend’s phone back in June – had persuaded me to come in the first place.

I’m moderately confident of a fab time provided I survive typhoon, snake and quake.

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