Taipei notes

My other visit here was thirty years ago, and most of all I am surprised by how little has changed.  The architecture now looks all the more retro, the alleyways all the more noir, and the motorbikes have by no means vanished.  Yes there are plenty of new stores, but overall it is recognizably the same city, something you could not say about Seoul.

Real wages basically did not rise 2000-2016.  The main story, in a nutshell, is that the domestic capital has flowed to China.  About 9 percent of the Taiwanese population lives in China, and that is typically the more ambitious segment of the workforce.

I am still surprised at how little the Taiwanese signal status with their looks and dress.  The steady heat and humidity may account for some of that, though the same is not true in the hotter parts of mainland China.

The Japanese ruled Taiwan from 1895 through the end of WWII, and those were key years for industrial and social development.  The infrastructure and urban layouts often feel quite Japanese.

Thirty years ago, everything was up and buzzing at 6 a.m., six days a week; that is no longer the case.

The National Palace Museum is the best place in the world to be convinced of the glories of earlier Chinese civilizations.  It will wow you even if you are bored by the Chinese art you see in other places, as arguably it is better than all of the other Chinese art museums put together.  How did they get those 600,000 or so artworks out of a China in the midst of a civil war?

The quality of dining here is high and rising.  Unlike in Hong Kong or Singapore, Taiwan has plenty of farms, its own greens, and thus farm to table dining here is common.  Tainan Tai Tsu Mien Seafood is one recommendation, for an affordable Michelin one-star, emphasis on seafood.  Addiction Aquatic Development has superb sushi and is a first-rate hangout.  At the various Night Markets, it is still possible to get an excellent meal for only a few dollars.

One can go days in Taipei and hardly see any Western tourists, so consider this a major arbitrage opportunity.


One thing that has changed quite a bit over the past few years: the quality of coffee in Taipei. BBC rates it among the best coffee cities in the world, and the only one in Asia to make the list: This was not always the case! Just in Dongmen area alone there are 12 or 15 truly excellent cafes.

the message is
"thought transformation camps"-
+1 creepy
+1 scary

"I am still surprised at how little the Taiwanese signal status with their looks and dress."
Nouveau rich in China lighten their skin to show their status. The rich in Europe and Americas keep a year round tan to signal theirs. Taiwan's comfort in lack of signaling looks like it is one step ahead of the West. He who is most comfortable in his own skin doesn't need to waste time playing bullsh&t games.

Taiwan suffers from brain drain: many of the billionaires in China originally (before they were billionaires) came from, that's right, Taiwan. One might assume that China benefits and Taiwan loses from this arrangement, but is that true? Many of the newly wealthy in America owe their wealth to the dollar drain: investments made in China by America's most profitable firms. One might assume that both America and China benefit from this arrangement, but is that true? The world is a complicated place. Well, not that complicated: like water seeking its own level, capital seeks the highest rate of return.

". . . capital seeks the highest rate of return." Translation: Several hundred million people ready and willing to work for $1.50 an hour.

at the end of the day
we reckon
the new buzzword is

I will not read the NYT. I would prefer "reckoning" to "concerning."

the can be a reckoner or a newspaper but not both

I haven't been back to Taipei in over 20 years. I'm glad to read that the city has the same charms and character that it had back then.

we reckon
this is the dumbest actual headline
from the abc meme zombies today
"First black African headed for space dies in motorcycle accident "

I was in Taipei in 2006, and went to the National Palace Museum twice. I was amazed by the art. It had free admission at certain times of the day, otherwise it cost ~$3. I was impressed by the 2 subway lines. The people were friendly, except for some from the mainland, who were rude. The History Museum was also worth going to, although the collection was only a fraction of the NPM's.

Is my favorite dive bar still there? Taiwan On?

Oh we are living the Enlightenment NOW! In the past a stodgy old man like me would never have gotten so many girls like I did on Jeffery Epstein’s plane!

That is not my point at all! My point is, the West is under atrack.

And my point is that we have never been living in a better time. Enlightenment Now! Enlightenment Now! Enlightenment Now!

Enlightenment Now....insanity later.....

OK folks! Do we really need to keep going over the fact that one of the people I respect and look up to, and generally support ideological is possibly a dirty, creepy old-man Pedo?!

"As young as 14" is not a pedo

Do you often think about Asians exploring west people?

What about the Asians exploring my dick on Jeffery Epstein’s plane? Enlightenment Now!!!!!

we reckon that's good question mate
how did they get those 600,000 or so artworks out of a China in the midst of a civil war?

Real wages did not rise, but GDP per capita increased substantially. So kind of like the United States then.

otoh unlike Taiwan
in amerika we reckon most what would have been wage increases went into employers rising medical insurance costs

"The architecture now looks all the more retro, the alleyways all the more noir, and the motorbikes have by no means vanished."
"One can go days in Taipei and hardly see any Western tourists, so consider this a major arbitrage opportunity."

These two sentences make me happy. I haven't been to Taiwan in 15 years, but I had an inkling that the current Taipei is how you describe it here unlike Tokyo, which has gotten less interesting the last 5-6 years.

Hmm. Curious to hear more of your impressions on how Tokyo has gotten less interesting recently.

It's not as weird as it used to be, if that makes sense. The crazy street fashion and subcultures aren't as prevalent; staff at combinis don't greet you at the door anymore and overall the famous Japanese hospitality you'd find in the service sector seems to be fading away. Most of all, and this is not Japan's fault, it's overrun with tourists. You find yourselves often in a spot with more foreigners than Japanese, and that was just not the case in the past (I think the number of tourists has quadrupled over the last 10 years if I have that number right). Might be great for the material economy, but it kills the atmosphere.

Many people like the new Tokyo because it's more diverse with more immigrants from around Asia, which in itself different than how it was, but I can find that kind of diversity anywhere. I personally feel that Japan is losing the character that distinguished it for so long. Perhaps its just a phase- I was thinking recently how the fun and crazy 20's in Japan turned into the dour 30's, and maybe we're seeing something similar now-without the colonialism of course. I'm not the first person to comment on how Japan doesn't feel as fun as it once was. Maybe this is a similar phenomenon to what TC mentions above regarding Seoul?

Bringing this back to Taipie, the 'noirish' feel to the city is what really stood out during my brief visit. Glad to see something hasn't changed.

If I'm reading between the lines right, there's too many Western tourists in Tokyo is my guess.

@Hoosier I have also lived in Tokyo 13 out of the last 25 years and find it hard to understand your disenchantment with its development in the last half decade, unless you were referring only to Showa era buildings and Taipei’s retro look. I think there’s little doubt that Tokyo has improved quite a bit since around 2012, indeed that is a reason why the tourists keep coming.

The median age in Taiwan is 40.7. China is 37. Japan 46.9. In comparison, Brasil is 31.3. US is 38. Canada is 40.

I suspect your impressions are a reflection of the median age.

It’s a sad cul de sac. And we are supposed to go to war with China to defend them?

at the end of they day
we reckon
that the lawyer (upper left) lost a bet

"One can go days in Taipei and hardly see any Western tourists, so consider this a major arbitrage opportunity."

I know Tyler's an urban, East coast creature, but ... you can find that same "pleasing" asymmetry in plenty of America's public lands and historical sites. Some of which are even free to enter, and sometimes there are no other tourists at all - but perhaps I'm misunderstanding, and a sprinkling of the just-right sort of tourists is necessary to the experience.

Key word here is “Western.” Unless there’s been a major change since I was last there the main sources of tourism are within Asia - especially mainland China, and hot spots like Kenting, Alishan, etc tend to get a steady stream of tour groups.

Perhaps the idea here is that tourist that look and sound to outsiders like they might be local are less objectionable than those that don’t look like locals?

Homogeneity is a strength, travel-wise?

"How did they get those 600,000 or so artworks out of a China in the midst of a civil war?"

There are numerous academic writings on the migration of these artifacts, but IMO, the best popular treatment on your question was done by Chin Shunshin, a Taiwanese-Japanese author who was a titan in Chinese Historical Fictions. His first signature work, The Sapphire Lion Incense Burner (winner of the Naoki Prize), centers specifically around this seminal event in modern Chinese history, when the National Party spent enormous effort to catalog, package, and move these art works across enormous distances over a decade, first to evade the Imperial Japanese Army, then the Community forces. Sadly the book does not appear to be available in English. It is a wonderful work of historical fiction about this period and specifically this particular event.

I'm kind of surprised that the answer isn't: "The Imperial Japanese Army looted it and took it all to Taiwan between 1932 and 1945, during the second Sino-Japanese War." If you go to the Korean national museum built down at the southern edge of the IJA/American base in Yongsan, in Seoul, and look at the acquisition dates for the art and artifacts, it's obvious that a significant proportion of that collection was "acquired" by Japanese collectors and antiquarians during the period when Korea was either under Japanese dominion (essentially 1895-1910) or a Japanese colony (1910-1945). And the Japanese elites of the period certainly seem to have been interested in historical Chinese culture and art for, all their contempt for warlord-riven China and the contemporary Han.

Quick question re: "Sapphire Lion Incense Burner" -- that's 青玉獅子香炉? I'm looking at the (Japanese) wikipedia entry for that short story collection, and the description of the story "青玉獅子香炉" doesn't seem to match that . . . seems to be about an artisan (Wang) who in 1923 is commissioned to duplicate an incense burner from the collection of the deposed Emperor (already sold to the Americans), but he has a stroke and his student takes over -- it's like a teaser description, though, so maybe it's the right one?

Yes that's the right novel. The teaser you sited is woefully lacking in terms of describing the main plot of the novel, which is actually about the apprentice of Wang, Li, who made the duplicate that in turn was inspired by his love for Wang's widowed daughter in law. Li's obsession with the duplicate incensed burner led him to join the government department responsible for cataloging and preserving those art works, and accompanied them for over a decade.

The Lourve has nothing on National Palace.

That’s a fair sum. It’s a good place to grow up, a great place for retirees (who speak the language), and an excellent place for travelers who want a relaxing taste of Chinese culture without the hassle and crowds involved with the more well known destinations on the mainland.

It’s not a place to go make your fortunes, bask in copious luxury, check off bucket items or impress all your friends back home.

Impersonating Pinker and Cowen is neither creative nor amusing. If this blog becomes a magnet for impersonators (trolls), it threatens the existence of the blog. Something to consider by those who deeply appreciate the blog and Cowen's and Tabarrok's tireless efforts maintaining it at a high level.


we reckon rayward has a point otoh
mebbe its a satirical postmodern deconstruction of the ivy league sociology ideology that sez you can sorta self identify & therefore mostly harmless

I love how Taipei manages to maintain its tree-lined streets. This, coupled with the development of the MRT network over the past two decades, make it a very walkable city. (However, if you're OK on two wheels, getting around Taiwan on a scooter is an absolute blast!)

The biggest (non political) change from thirty years ago isn't a Taipei change, it's the high speed rail (a Japanese shinkansen adapted for hotter Taiwanese weather; they hope that will serve them well in Texas too). Getting from Taipei to Kaoshiung is much different than before.

The Metro system is entirely from within the last thirty years, and carries quite a lot of people.

The Japanese influence persists in other ways, including popular entertainment. Strongly unlike the Koreans, the Taiwanese have very friendly feelings towards the Japanese, quite a few with mixed or even quite positive feelings towards Japanese rule. (Part of this is rose colored glasses comparing them to the mainland or KMT martial law; the view of people whose ancestors colonized Taiwan in the late 17th or 18th century is very different from people whose ancestors came with the KMT.)

I think it was MR that linked to a cool story about how Taipei streets are reltively free of garbage and garbage cans -- because people run out frantically with their pre-bagged trash when they hear the garbage truck roll through the neighborhood. The garbage trucks play music to announce their arrival, like a Mr. Softee or Good Humor.

Yes, the National Palace (Imperial) Museum is simply in a realm of its own, so many completely outstanding masterpieces, not to mention the full historical depth.

While Taipei may not have changed much, and it may have most of its billionaires move to PRC, its real per capita income has not at all stagnated, keeping up with ROK's and now reaching the level of Japan's. The people are living much more comfortably than 30 years ago, even if Taipei looks largely the same.

Interestingly, the Gini concentration coefficient is not too bad at around 33.7 in 2017. I'd have expected it to be worse if real wages had pretty much stagnated this century.

Yes, Crikey, that is correct. The world's leading comparative economics textbook, written by me and my wife, has all this in it. So indeed Taiwan has maintained high income equality, well above above both Hong Kong and PRC, which also helps to explain what Tyler saw. I have seen similar outcomes in other nations, especially the regions of India.

I have a friend there, so I'll have to go to Taiwan and check it out one of these days.

Coming from Hong Kong (and having spent plenty of time in different parts of mainland China as well as diaspora areas like Singapore), I have to say that Taiwan has by far the highest quality of people in terms of daily interactions. It seems to me to be related to high levels of public trust, plus an overall slower-paced environment compared to other cities in the region (that requires some adjustment coming from Hong Kong - service is not intolerably slow, but it is not fast either...). My entire family agrees - we just feel more comfortable in Taiwan than we do anywhere else.

I recommend HBO's "The World Between Us" for a slice of this side of Taiwan.

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