Monday, November 20, 2017

Misty city

Friends, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it is the people I meet who make my mobile life worthwhile. After leaving Qingdao, I flew to Taipei, Taiwan, where I got to spend time with my dear friend, Stefanie. I'm not sure if you remember, but Stefanie and I met when I lived in Germany in 2011 - 2012. She's also a scientist with a travel habit, so we usually manage to be on the same continent about once a year. I've told you about visits with her before, in Boston, Hawaii, and the Netherlands. To be honest, I find it incredible that we manage to see each other as often as we do, since we're both moving targets. Stefanie is supportive and trustworthy, and I value her friendship greatly.

Overview of Taipei from the gondola at the zoo
We started with a city tour Taipei, and I have to unfortunately admit that it's not my favorite city. The air pollution hangs in the humid air like a mist, making any long-range view of the city shrouded in dirty brown clouds. The people are also quite rude. In Qingdao, the people would stand unapologetically wherever they wanted to and make me go around them (I suspect Asians are not taught to move out of other people's ways like Europeans are), but in Taipei, I have actually been shoved. Once by a 5-year-old. People here have stood so close to me I couldn't move, then reached right across me to take a photo. I've been abruptly dismissed by customer service agents when they find out I can't speak Chinese, and I've been hit in the face with people's umbrellas as they pass me on the street. It's insanity!

On a happier note, we visited two museums in Taipei, full of ancient Chinese artworks (porcelain, jade, etc.) and artifacts from Taiwan's indigenous peoples. I remember learning several years ago when I was in New Zealand that Taiwanese natives were Polynesian, belonging to the same ethnic group as the native residents of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand. It's actually fascinating if you map out the colonization patterns and cultural differences among islands in the Pacific. Of course islands closer to land (like Taiwan) were colonized first, while those further away (like Hawaii) were settled later. You can see the evolution of Polynesian culture by comparing the island groups, for example in the dancing. Taiwanese indigenous dances involve large groups, separated and dressed differently by age, all holding hands and spinning in large circles. In contrast, the dances in other Polynesian cultures are more solitary, with dancers standing alone. The Taiwanese don't have a version of the Haka, at least as far as I could tell, so the traditional war dance likely developed later in other parts of Polynesia. However, the indigenous peoples of Taiwan had some of the same cultural elements found across the Pacific - flower headbands, tattooing, and basekt weaving, to name a few.

A natural sulfur hot spring in Taipei.
In an area of the city reserved for indigenous peoples, there are natural hot springs. Taiwan is a geologically active island, with ongoing subduction of tectonic plates. Unfortunately, many of the springs have now been taken over by hotels and resorts, but we were able to visit one that's still open to the public. It created a hot, humid mist (even more so than the surrounding subtropical air) that smelled strongly of sulfur. I was reminded of similar sulfur pools I had seen years ago in Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. I couldn't help but think about all the strange and diverse archaeal microbes probably living in the hot water.

I'm glad to see another part of Asia and spend time with a great friend!

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