Come Visit Taiwan! Experience Its Beauty First Hand
Esther Tseng /photo byJimmy Lin /tr. byJonathan Barnard
Come visit Taiwan! Experience its beauty first hand (photo by Jimmy Lin)
When foreigners travel in Taiwan, they experience the island with fresh and different perspectives. In so doing they remind locals of what is beautiful about this land and its people. Here we invite two foreign nationals who are Taiwan travel experts to share their experiences of “Taiwan-style hospitality.”
American tour guide Cheryl Robbins has lived in Taiwan for more than twenty years.
Specialty tourism in Aboriginal communities
“We’re traveling to the Kus Kus indigenous community in Pingtung’s Mudan Township, where we’ll observe shamans performing traditional ceremonies,” says Cheryl Robbins, a licensed tour guide, describing an itinerary she is preparing for ten German travelers in 2020. “Then we’ll visit picturesque Lake Kuqi and the Dongyuan Wetlands, where we’ll cross the ‘Wet Grassland’ and enjoy rare Taiwan quillwort and towering mahogany groves, before heading down to the Xuhai Fishing Harbor for the sunset.”
Curly haired and given to wearing Aboriginal earrings, Robbins has visited 300‡400 Aboriginal villages over the course of two decades. “Taiwan is highly suited to developing specialty tourism, but so far it’s a niche market that hasn’t been developed to its full potential,” she says forthrightly.
Handcrafted Paiwan glass beads have meanings rooted in the traditional stories of the tribe.
“Specialty tourism requires real depth, and it must be customizable in a way that fosters unforgettable experiences.” Planned according to the interests and physical abilities of specific travelers, her tours bring travelers to eat, stay and play in tribal communities. These trips leave foreign visitors with profound memories of experiences that are unique to Taiwan.
Robbins brought a Canadian couple to Taitung’s Lalauran community, where they happened to meet Ahronglong Sakinu, who established Taiwan’s first hunting school there. Sakinu and his daughter delighted the visitors with improvised Aboriginal songs about the land. A local guide even took them to his mother-in-law’s house, where she demonstrated how to use bamboo clappers to drive birds out of millet fields. These experiences broadened the couple’s horizons. Remarking on how worthwhile their trip was, they said that they would urge family and friends to visit Taiwan when they returned to Canada.
On another occasion, when Robbins was visiting the Tapangu and Tfuya tribal communities on Mt. Ali, the locals were overjoyed to see her. Greeting her like a returning family member, they treated her and her clients to a barbeque. Basking in the warmth of the subtropics, the Canadians she was guiding were moved by the locals’ friendliness and generosity and purchased a lot of locally grown coffee as a way to show their appreciation.
As a tour guide and international marketer of these experiences, Robbins’s expectations have constantly been exceeded. “Every time I go to a tribal community, the experience is different,” she explains, “whereas when I go to Taipei 101, the only thing that changes is the weather.”
The Paiwan Harvest Festival and Rukai slate houses are expressions of Taiwan’s rich Aboriginal cultures.
Drawn to the mountains
Robbins never intended to work as a tour provider. She first began to encounter Aboriginal culture while translating documents for a museum in 1992. Six years later she made her first visit to Vedai, a Rukai village in Pingtung, where she saw an elderly woman with the traditional facial tattoos of her tribe. A local served as her Rukai‡Mandarin interpreter and guide and showed her a hidden waterfall rarely visited by outsiders. Captivated by the beautiful scenery and culture, she has been visiting indigenous communities across Taiwan ever since.
For the last three years, Robbins has been involved in training people in indigenous communities in how to use English to introduce their cultures to foreigners. “The most meaningful kind of travel to Aboriginal areas involves learning from tribal elders about disappearing traditions and culture,” she reminds them.
This year she plans to go a step farther, offering programs such as a trip to Aboriginal areas for professional photographers; a food-oriented itinerary that focuses on trips to Aboriginal kitchens, traditional Hokkien sanheyuan homes, and Hakka kitchens; and a tour of breweries, wineries and distilleries. The land of Taiwan features a rich diversity of destinations to explore.
Yuka Aoki first came to Taiwan as a student and then settled down, married and had a child here. Star of the TV travel program TAIWAN SOLO TRAVELER TOURISM BUREAU, she became the first Japanese to win a Golden Bell for best program host.
Taiwan’s warm hospitality
Now in her 18th year in Taiwan, Aoki has traveled to more than 40 countries. “The warmth, hospitality and friendliness characteristic of Taiwan,” she says, “is something I’ve rarely experienced when traveling elsewhere.”
As an example, Aoki recalls how a Japanese friend of hers twisted her ankle when traveling by herself to Yingge. Not able to get around, she found herself cooped up in a hotel. But a young staffer there bought her breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Aoki’s friend was moved by those acts of kindness, and Taiwan became her favorite country.
“There are so many examples like that,” says Aoki. “Back when my Chinese was limited, whenever I looked a little lost out on the street, Taiwanese would rush to help even if they couldn’t speak Japanese. When I was eating at a restaurant, if the next table was celebrating someone’s birthday, they would give me a slice of cake after singing “Happy Birthday” even though they had never met me before. Something like that would never happen in Japan”.
“When I was pregnant, whenever I boarded a bus it seemed as if everyone would stand up to offer me their seat,” she recalls. “Now when I’m with my child and carrying a bunch of bags on the metro, other riders grab my hand and urge me to take their seats.”
Old women who tend stalls at traditional markets are happy to offer advice about what local sights to see.
Making visitors want to return
A graduate of the textile design program at Tama Art University, Aoki first visited Taiwan in 2001. The warmth and friendliness of the people convinced her to move to Taipei the following year. Although she still has a bit of a Japanese accent, she speaks fluent Chinese now, and her personal accounts of exploring Taiwan’s landscapes, night markets and gourmet food scene have engendered much longing among her Japanese readers.
Because of her recommendations, many Japanese travelers no longer eat standard hotel breakfasts but instead venture into Taiwan’s lanes and alleyways to eat traditional Taiwanese breakfast fare, such as sesame-coated cakes and deep-fried bread sticks, mushroom and meat congee, and rice balls made with black rice. “Now quite a few Japanese homes have adopted the Taiwanese norm of being equipped with two cookers: a modern electronic rice cooker for cooking rice, and an older-style Tatung rice cooker for steaming and stewing,” she says. “It all started with my introduction.”
When assisting some fellow Japanese who were putting on an exhibition in Taiwan, she got to know Takeshi Irei, an Okinawan who works in cultural exchange. The two fell in love and married. At their wedding in Taiwan, the anticipated 100-plus people grew to more than 300. They included many readers of hers whom she had never met before. “Even more remarkably, the restaurant owner, having never seen Japanese marry in Taiwan before, set up a table just outside the banquet room for guests of his own: curious relatives and friends.” It’s a perfect example of how Taiwan is so fun, quirky and loveable, says Aoki.
Though Taiwanese can go overboard sometimes with their friendliness and enthusiasm, “Whenever I’m in Japan or abroad and hear someone say ‘Taiwan,’ I inexplicably feel a sense of excitement akin to what I feel when I hear someone call out my name.” Taiwan’s beauty has given her unending material for her writings. If you want to experience warm hospitality as you travel off the beaten path, then follow the advice that Aoki offers readers in each of her books: “Be sure to visit Taiwan!”
Foreign visitors often remark on the warmth and friendliness of the Taiwanese people.
Cycling in Taroko National Park is a form of “specialty tourism” that has found favor with foreign visitors.
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama