I USED to own a decent BMX bike when I was in elementary. My parents let me picked my first bike as a birthday gift. While there were so many units to choose from, I limited my focus on Japan-made products. So I ended up taking home a GT bike and I was happy with it. When we were kids, there was this notion that bikes made in other countries other than Japan were built of less quality; Taiwan was not spared from this old belief.
When I was given a pass to drive our car to use it as my daily service in college, I had to make friends to chief mechanics in order to get discount in case something needed to be fixed. And when I had to bring my old car to one of my "suki" motor shops, two options were usually offered to me whenever a spare part needs to be replaced: the pricey genuine part, and the cheap Taiwan assembly with a limited to no warranty.
And so, this vague impression retained in me for so long that when my wife and friends arranged for a short stay in Taipei over one long weekend, I was not so excited about the idea compared to the other visits we've done in the past. Perhaps the fact that I had to go through the stressful traffic to NAIA and that I anticipated a delay in our flight contributed to my less exhilarating spirit.
But as soon as I stepped down to the pavement of Taiwan, my old belief about this country began to change. First, the Taoyuan International Airport is way better than ours in Manila. Its walkalator is functioning well, the room temperature is adequate and the facilities are well kept. Outside the airport, it's even better. I've seen a lot of cars and bikes but I noticed immediately that we have not experienced any traffic congestion along the way. Bus drivers there do not have assistants so they have to get off the bus to assist the passengers going in and out with their luggage. Surprisingly, buses do not contribute to traffic delay even if they do a bus stop.
The climate and the natural environment of Taipei are similar to Manila. But this particular city of Taiwan is a bit more clean and peaceful. I can count the number of police officers visible in my hand but the commuters and motorists alike follow the traffic regulation; they stop at red and they move on green. Sounds simple enough? Apparently, it's not so in our country.
Yes, they have those amusing tourist destinations like the magnificent Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the historic Lungshan Temple of Manka, the once tallest structure in the world back in 2004 - Taipei 101, the palm-sweating heights of Maokong Gondola, a place where you can eat from a toilet bowl or sip refreshment from a urinal at the Modern Toilet, and my favorite of them all--the Shilin Night Market where you can taste the authentic Taiwanese cuisine at affordable price. But apart from these must-go places for tourists, the admirable part of my quick stay in Taipei was about the courteousness of the locals. It was that welcoming feeling which I haven't experienced when I was in Hong Kong where I was canvassing at a street market and the vendor sarcastically told me that I was "just looking and not buying." Perhaps, that is the nature of the "Taiwanese" people, a term which probably makes the mainland China probably unhappy for it sounded like they are moving towards independence from China. But that's a different story.
The people of Taiwan are very accommodating. My friend who arrived a day late after we arrived got assistance from a local who guided him all the way to the hotel. The less fortunate street dwellers do not bother pedestrians for alms. Seats at the coaches of their light rail vehicles are left vacated for the use of elders, pregnant, and/or persons with disabilities.
Unlike the smell of their famous stinky tofu, the people of Taipei possess sweet-scented personalities and a certain type of charisma that makes one feel safe and welcomed. I think this is the reason why tourists are willing to wait for about 80 minutes to dine at the popular Din Tai Fung restaurant inside Taipei 101 because once inside, the servers will guide you on how to properly consume that mouth-watering Xiao Long Bao dumplings, and they will even teach you how to make the proper dip for it.
The short trip made me realize that Taiwan is continuously becoming an advanced country. It also somehow made me heavyhearted having realized that we could do the same in our country but we are still flowing in stagnant water. The old notion that Taiwan is just a cheap bicycle frame or an alternative automotive spare part has been effaced from my head. It's an illustration of what we would wish for Manila to become -- a city with wide roads, efficient transport system, organized bike lanes with U bikes, and clear sidewalks. We can learn from this beautiful city of Taipei.