The immigration counter is usually the first experience of a country by a visitor. The lady at the Taipei airport immigration smiled and wished you an enjoyable stay in Taiwan. The person who showed me how to get a bus ticket to the city centre and the bus driver were equally helpful and friendly. Taiwan is a friendly country and the people appear relaxed and content. It is where one experiences a certain harmony in the rhythm of life of the population. This seems to be absent in parts of mainland China where people appear rushed and somewhat traumatised and where officials seem to be trained not to smile and be suspicious of foreigners.
Every morning in Duan park in Taipei various groups gather to meditate, dance to music or just walk and exercise. One is free to join any particular group and will be helped by one of the participants to learn the moves of Tai Chai or rock and roll. It is an excellent way to start the day from 6am onwards.
The other great place to visit is the national palace museum of Taipei which contains almost 700,000 pieces of Chinese artifacts and paintings which came to Taiwan from mainland China before the invasion of China by the Japanese and again before the cultural revolution. It contains over 8,000 years of Chinese history and the collections and treasures of Chinese emperors are on display there. If one was to delve into Chinese culture and history this museum is a must see.
What is obvious in Taipei is the number of visitors from the mainland who come in their thousands to visit. More flexible travel restrictions to and from from mainland China is a boom for the tourist industry and is also a great outlet for the people from the mainland who are free to experience another world in Taiwan. An ex -labour camp intern from mainland China who now lives in Taiwan expresses it this way '' in Taiwan one can say or do what one wants ''. Perhaps this freer movement of peoples from inside China to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan may lead o an unfreezing of the strict controls the Party has on the people in the mainland. It will sure raise awareness amongst the visitors that life can be lived and organized otherwise, free from suspicion and fear of speaking and meeting as one pleases.
It is important is to visit the mountains south of Taipei. They are beautiful but it is more important to meet and greet the indigenous people. Some of them suffer as much as the immigrants in terms of labour opportunities, social conditions and low standards of living. A number of NGOs and Church groups including the Jesuits and the Jesuit inspired sociall centre Rerum Novarum, work to advocate to bring about better conditions of these marginalized groups. The beauty of the mountains can hide the struggles of those who live there and the freedom given to many different groups to work amongst them to improve their lot is both inspiring and encouraging.
Perhaps of all the Chinas, mainland China, Macau and Hong Hong, Taiwan seems to be more at ease with themselves and with one another as a people in spite of the future political uncertaninty.