As I have mentioned a couple of times already in this blog, nowadays I find Taipei to be a very livable and lovable city. After spending almost a year there in the 1980s to improve my Mandarin, I lived there again from May 1999 to February 2018. Currently residing in Spain’s third biggest city Valencia, I plan to go back to Asia this autumn.
In those almost nineteen years I witnessed how Taiwan’s capital (and of course other places in Taiwan) improved from year to year. Especially, as I was able to compare the situation to how it was in 1988-89. At that time there was no metro and congestion was horrible. During the early evening rush hour, when traffic seemed particularly bad, it would take me one and a half hours by bus to get to my teaching job! Nowadays, for more or less the same distance you need less than 30 minutes by what is called MRT or Mass Rapid Transit. The first (actually elevated) line opened in March 1996, and I enjoyed the system’s convenience and reliability from the very first day.
Taipei was also quite dirty back then, and the old Formosa had the rather unflattering nickname “garbage island”. As far as I remember, an official recycling policy didn’t exist. People deposited their trash on the street at certain locations and the truck picked it up late at night. My girlfriend at the time lived near one of those “collecting points”. Around three o’clock in the morning we sometimes almost fell out of bed because of the noise. I started to think that even more of the already omnipresent cockroaches were to be found in those surroundings.
The air pollution was unbelievable, although never as bad as it got much later in Peking. A friend who has lived in both cities confirmed that to me. Although he quit cigarettes for a while being in Taiwan with me and even started jogging, he still joked that smoking appeared to be healthier than breathing. Before my sweetheart and I left Taipei in July 1989, she took quite impressive pictures on one of the very few days when the sky was blue. They almost looked as if they had been made for publicity! Nobody back in Europe would have believed that during those eleven months, such days probably didn’t amount to more than one week…
Still, I only got homesick once, more or less a month after arrival. When an older German friend I had at the time asked me on the phone how I was doing, I started crying. She invited me for a beer at her place, and the feeling was soon gone, never to return. Why miss divided Berlin anyway? Though that’s a different story!