Apr 27, 2023

Travelogue - Taipei

 "He is not a God. He is just a human. He had his fair share of mistakes and successes" - Remarked our guide Tony about Chiang Kai Shek, when I asked about the criticisms exhibited against him in the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial hall and museum in Taipei.  

Chiang Kai Shek with Gandhiji

For long I had wondered how two regions separated by a narrow strait , has common cultural ancestries could evolve into totally different systems. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial hall was the answer to that. It is hard to imagine some museums inside China criticizing Mao /Deng so openly. Given all the openness of Japan and sporadic apologies of some politicians, they are yet to acknowledge publicly about its atrocities in Nanking and elsewhere during the war.   Chiang Kai Shek museum describes his role in defeating Japan in WWII as well as details on how his actions in the post-war Taiwan contributed to the murder of many citizens.  

Criticisms against Chiang Kai Shek
in his memorial hall

Tony continued..  " In Taiwan we follow three tenets for democracy.. 1. Party is always below law, 2. Freedom to criticize anyone 3. No matter how good you are, you only have two terms to rule "   . This is in sharp contrast to what's there in China. 

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

It is indeed an economic miracle that a country with practically very little mineral wealth developed into a global economic powerhouse in such a short period of time following the war. Chiang Kai Shek memorial museum threw light into that as well. Three economic policies - Land reforms which involved redistribution into small parcels, Compulsory education which improved the human capital, focus on improving women employment - were the cornerstones of it.  Particularly, pro-women employment policies  resulted in formation  of many village based MSME's and improved the household savings rate. This boosted secondary and tertiary industries in state.  

China's sustained  diplomatic isolation campaigns prevented Taiwan from entering into trade agreements with many countries, thereby limiting its reach of consumer based industries. Hence, quite a lot of firms in Taiwan like TSMC ( the global leader in semiconductor fabs ) focus on B2B sector.

Din Tai Fung Cuisine

Taiwan is roughly the size of Kerala , quite mountainous (70% of area ) vis-a-vis Kerala (54%) . Long tunnels through mountains have developed Taiwan road network extensively - Something that I wish to see in Kerala.  

 Fresh water rivers in abundance has been a catalyst to the semi conductor industry as well. Population is cramped into a few urban clusters like Taipei, Kaohsiung , Taichung, Tainan & Hsinchu.  Taipei is an urban marvel with the iconic Taipei 101 tower being the main landmark. State of the art urban transit systems and urban parks give a very comfortable life-style to the citizens.  Standard of education is quite high. 

Queen's head volcanic formation at
Yehliu Geo Park

Another unique thing about Taipei is the presence of 7-11 convenience stores in every corner of the the city. Apparently, after Seoul, Taipei has the highest concentration of 7-11 stores. This is perhaps in stark contrast with the evolving retail landscape in India, which is dominated by large supermarkets in malls. I think the urban transit systems is the major reason for the evolution of the same. If you live in a city where you have to drive for anything and everything, chances of you splitting up your regular grocery purchase in multiple visits to small neighborhood stores are limited. You would rather do a bulk shopping in a mall where you can park and shop in one go.  Given the extensive MRT & bus system in Taipei which most people rely on, buying things from 7-11 stores whenever you walk home from MRT seem to be the most logical thing.  It was indeed a heartening sight to see small kids aged about 7 -  9 years going to school in MRT's without the supervision of anyone.  Indeed, Taipei reaffirmed by belief that efficient mass rapid transport systems are the way to reinvent urban life in India.  

Taroko Gorge

We took day trips from Taipei to these places 

- Beitou & Yangmighshan National Park - A mini Yellow-Stone as per travelers who have been to both places. Sulphur fumes coming out of dormant volcanos and hotsprings make it a unique eco-system unlike what is seen elsewhere

- Taroko Gorge - World's largest marble gorge. About couple of hours drive from Taipei, this is also an ecological marvel with many geologic formations and stunning views. 

- Yehliu National Park - Again unique volcanic formations 

- Jiufen  -  An ancient goldmine town made famous by movies of Japanese director Miyazaki. Quite similar to many European ancient villages . Reminded me of Hallstatt, though not that beautiful 

All these places require long walks and hikes. Infact, Taiwan is known as a hikers paradise.

A few tips to travelers 

- If you have Indian passport, and have a US / Schengen visa, you can get an online entry permit

- Unlike typical tourist destinations, there are not many currency exchange houses in cities. You can change currencies in airport / banks ( they work only during regular office hours ) / Taipei 101.  Taiwan does not seem to have focused much on tourism as a sector

Sulphur Fumes from volcanic area

- Plan your city commute by MRT. It is super efficient and connected to most places of interest

- Special Thanks to Shitha for helping us with many suggestions and also taking us into Din Tai Fung - the famous Taiwanese Michellin star restaurant. 

  Read my Travelogues

Jan 1, 2023

Travelogue - Doha

This was actually my second trip to Doha. The first was during the time when Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup 2022 back in 2010. I still remember the cacophony of Vuvuzelas (made famous during the 2010  WC in South Africa) when the bid result was announced back then . I had wished back then that I could come back to see the tournament in 2022. 

Two World Cups and 12 years later, we made it.  Back in 2010 in Doha, Messi had scored to win an exhibition match between Brazil and Argentina. Fitting to that, the cup went to Argentina after a thrilling final. We went to see a pre-quarter match between Portugal & Switzerland.  The match was a goal fest, the festive atmosphere at Lusail was indeed an experience.  The fact that World Cup was in Middle East also gave a good opportunity for lot of Indians to see it.  

Much has been written about World Cup in different contexts. I choose to write this in a different context. In 2010, Qatar was a small city drivable in under an hour with not much traffic. There were a few big oil centric businesses, a few banks back then. 

Today, Doha has a swanky metro system with four lines criss-crossing the city - arguably the best in the region . Quite a few large stations are built underground. Hamad International Airport is a Goliath in itself. Qatar Airways has grown atleast 5X from those times I think.   The money that has been pumped into infrastructure investment here has been humungous.  

Can a country or city build its way to prosperity backing on an event like World Cup ? This is the first time that the tournament is being held in a single city. Olympics typically happens in a single city. Just like hosting Olympics, the run-up to the tournament, demand for hosting of the teams , spectators etc caused an infrastructure boom centered around hotels, rental accommodations etc. Even cruise ships were pulled into Doha port to provide temporary accommodation options.  

Will all this infrastructure & investment cause more businesses to come to Doha ? That's the true test of this World Cup extravaganza.  The metro systems have resulted in commute being much easier . There is surplus properties in the market that will make stays affordable. Would this result in businesses relocating to Doha from cities such as Dubai & Riyadh ? That's something that I'm perplexed about. The country had petro-dollars . The rulers placed a bet on this event, not just from 2022 perspective, but also from another 10 or 20 years perspective. The bet is that the infrastructure investments for the tournament will accelerate new businesses coming here and will make it easy for Doha to catch up with Dubai in terms of economy & businesses.  That's a tall ask. After living in Dubai, I admire about their boldness of  "build it, they'll come" strategy even without the backing of petro-dollars.  Qatar has also placed a strong bet in that direction with World Cup being a launch pad.  

Let's see where it takes. I wish I can come back to Doha after another 12 years to see where the city has moved to !!!