Taiwan: An Experience Of Zen

Green rolling hills, beautiful country views with a Buddhist temple perched austerely on a hilltop. Holistic accommodation, serene vibes, friendly people and easy vegetarian food. This is the image of Taiwan that a Canadian friend of mine had shared with me many years ago. It was the first time I ever really thought of exploring Taiwan! And when the plans to visit this island country happened a few months back, I was totally over excited.

😀 A whole month in Taiwan!

So following my cycling adventure in Australia and tryst with some very cold temperatures, I was really happy to jump fly off to Taiwan which was at pleasant 30C! 🙂

When I landed here however, I had a pretty crazy day, but I kept picking up these amazing small touches in this country that were so thoughtful. I had not seen such thoughtful user design anywhere else in Europe nor Australia. And over time I found myself telling people to visit Taiwan to experience some Zen. And it was completely unexpected.

Here is an attempt at capturing this feeling and sharing it with you,

#1) Small, attentive touches: Reading glasses for the elderly

As I walked off the plane, I saw something odd at the immigration booth where we had to fill our forms. There were many spectacles lying there. I looked at the oldish folks at the booth and wondered if they put their glasses down. But it didn’t seem right. Then it struck me the reading glasses for elderly were kept for public use! And later I noticed these on many information counters across the country. I just thought of my parents who are always a bit flustered about where they put their reading glasses, this is so useful for the elderly.

And I came from the Australian countryside where there are so many elderly people everywhere, I never saw such specific consideration for them anywhere!

Taiwan Zen
I didn’t take any picture of the reading glasses but here is a basket that I was offered at a restaurant to keep my stuff like bags and cycle helmet. Such a small and simple touch but so useful!

The most precious gift you can offer anyone is attention – Thich Nhat Hahn

#2) Long pedestrian signals

The Taiwanese road dynamics are really worth a deeper look.

There are a lot of motorized two wheelers and they typically remain to the right of the road (usually cyclists take this spot in western countries). And cycle lanes are often clubbed with pedestrian pathways. So there are distinctly 4 forces – the vehicles, motorised two wheelers, cycles and pedestrians.

All of this diversity & chaos culminates into some very leisurely pedestrian signals. There is ample time for the pedestrian to cross the road. In fact I could walk halfway, spot a Pokemon 😉 catch it and then finish crossing – the pedestrian signal will typically be 1 minute long or sometimes even longer. Ample for a person to relax and cross the road. I loved this feeling of simply waiting for the pedestrian sign to turn green and then cross the road leisurely without worrying about it turning red midway and having to jog the rest. It may sound crazy but it really imbibed a sense of zen in me. Relaxed waiting, relaxed walking… zen… 😀

Such a simple thing, but Taiwan made me realize that simple urban design can deeply impact peoples thoughts and moods.

Taiwan Road Crossing

Taiwan Traffic

#3) Encouraging LOVE

There are a lot of places in Taiwan with a LOVE theme. They seem to be areas developed as romantic spots but also aesthetic enough for friends, family and different groups to also relax and indulge in non-romantic love. 🙂 They are warm, cozy, community areas with a romantic theme

Taiwan Love
Went to the Taipei riverside to check out the bicycle tracks and I found a path full of love 😉
Taiwan Love
If the huge LOVE structure with space for locks wasn’t obvious there was a board exlaining about the Endless Love and Lock culture across the world 🙂

Being from India, this amazes me. Here we are facing serious clashes between the young folks indulging in unwanton ‘public display of affection’ and moral policing from administration and also a distinct clash of public cultural sentiment. So for a country to officially promote a romantic theme was amazing for me.

I don’t know what this phenomenon is exactly about. My Taiwanese friend was also not clear about the intent or origins. Is this only for the younger people? In Taiwan there is a trend of divorce amongst older people. So maybe it is also for older couples and that is really thoughtful! In India no one is thinking about the poor old couples stuck together often in bad marriages of 20 – 25 yrs. It would be lovely to create some space keeping them in mind. But as I said these Taiwanese places are not just for couples, they are aesthetically made so they also extend to the whole family, friends and other social groups. Moreover I saw a lot of couples possibly dating but no blatant (I mean overtly sexual) interactions which would make me uncomfortable.

The Love River in south Taiwan city of Kaohsiung, with romantic gondolas, live music, LOVE signs and a cozy park.

Taiwan Love
LOVE sign in a school in Taiwan countryside. As I was saying this is not necessarily a romantic love.

The more you are motivated by Love the more fearless and free your action will be – Dalai Lama

#4) Cycle infrastructure

Of course one of my major interests was to take a look at the cycle infrastructure in the country. And I was blown by what I found. It was easily at par with what I have seen in Germany & Denmark countryside. Maybe not so much as with Copenhagen, but then the road dynamics are very different in Taiwan compared to Copenhagen.

Taiwan cycle infrastructure
Taking the cycle by train
Taiwan Bike Infrastructure
Most of the stairs near bike paths had such ramps for cyclists. All flyovers also have such stairs going up, so cyclists can easily use flyovers to go to the other side of the river
Taiwan Bike Path
Beautiful cycle paths by the River in Taipei

#5) Safest Country So Far

At the end of my month I consider Taiwan one of the top 3 safest countries in the world (the other two being Japan and Iceland which I haven’t yet visited). Number of times I left my cycle (with luggage) at a random corner of the city and it was untouched even after a few hours. It is so good to feel so relaxed about my personal safety as a person and also for my stuff. 🙂

Taiwan Safety
Just left the cycle with luggage here outside a cafe, and went in search of a vegetarian restaurant a few km away. Came back in 2 hours or so.
Taiwan Taipei safety
In case you thought I am the only crazy one to leave luggage on my bicycle. Here is another bike with luggage on it. The owner is nowhere to be seen. And it is right outside a tourist spot in main Taipei city!

 

I was really happy to read very similar sentiments about safety in Taiwan on Heike’s blog – she is a solo cyclist who has been traveling around the world for years now. I closely follow her blogs. 🙂

If you light a lamp for someone else it will also brighten your path – Buddha

#6) East Asian Warmth & Hospitality

I was aware about the deep hospitality one can experience at times in Japan, but I wasn’t expecting it here in Taiwan too. It is amazing to be treated with so much of interest and concern in the shops and restaurants. Despite the language barrier, a lot of people were totally over excited to help me out. Kind of similar to how excited I was about visiting this country 😀

For example the airport staff who took keen interest while I was fixing my bike. He offered me hot drinking water, paper napkins to clean my greasy hands and also guided me to the bathroom. At this time, my Chinese language skills were fairly useless, so all of this interaction happened without conversing a single word! Truly hospitality is a universal language. 🙂

Same language situation when I went to buy my mobile data sim at a T star shop in Taipei –  but the salesperson did absolutely everything to process my sim. He even offered me hot tea while I was waiting, and cleaned my mobile screen. Moreover when I was leaving he thanked me profusely and bowed down as I left. Mind blowing.

Every where in vegetarian restaurants serving people took keen interest in me and were overjoyed when they found out I was Indian. Again a lot of broken conversations but full of excitement, shyness and joy. It was really beautiful for me. I have never garnered such positive interest being an Indian anywhere else. And it was a big privilege for me that these people respect India this way and took so much interest.

A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers – Chinese proverb

And so Taiwan has been one of the most special and unique places I have visited, I was blown by how peaceful and Zen-full I felt in this country.

But remember,

Taiwan hills
Near Jiaofen

 

So visit Taiwan and find the zen within you! 🙂