Welcome to the July edition of Benerkenswert!
Time in Taiwan: Sacrifices to the sun god
The main story of July is… summer? I don’t want to be too cliché and talk about the weather, but – as every European now knows – there is only so little you want to do when it’s 37 degrees outside day after day. Yet, even though temperatures are rising in Taiwan just as everywhere, it is a subtropical country, which means not only that the heat is soaking and choking, but also that ACs are ubiquitous and plants still lush and green.
Heat and humidity mean that you essentially run into a wall of hot wetness whenever you leave your home. (Tropical greenhouses you find in botanical gardens are called tropical not without reason.) The fact that we still have to wear masks everywhere that transform into a soaking sponge within seconds doesn’t make it more comfortable. The only solution is thus to stay inside and sort any activities (apart from drinking bubble tea and shopping) into the early morning and later evening hours. Yet, if you expect Taiwan’s summers to be like vacation in Spain, you’ll be dead dead wrong.
The heat during the day makes the fresh morning hours even more precious. Parks are usually packed, especially by tough older folks, practicing Qi Gong, taking short hikes up and down the hills, or just gossiping with friends. The communal spirit is heartwarming, and whenever I force myself out early for a run, I am rewarded by gentle smiles and short bursts of broken-English-conversations. Most working people seem to not cherish the mornings as much, though, sloughing to work similar to their European peers, clinging to their coffees, teas, and smartphones. Shops and public places too do usually not open before 10am or even 11am. It is hence not clear whether the early rising speaks to the wisdom of the old, the possibility of a proper, undisturbed after-lunch-nap, or just “seniler Bettflucht” (to quote my uncle).
Evenings are the other part of the day where the outsides become tolerable again – or rather: actually nice. The sun sets around 7pm, and even though the “golden hour” lasts only a few minutes, it becomes quite mild at around 6pm. Yet, manny parts of the city are not built to cherish these hours outdoors just the way European cities are, the streets often too broad and empty in the newer parts to allow for comfortable wining and dining, too narrow and cramped in the older parts.
Especially during the week, Berlin’s “let’s meet at 8pm and go to three different places”-approach or even Spain’s “let’s put tables everywhere and get buckets of sangria” mostly seem nonexistent. While the commercial area close-by hosts a stage that features older expat-cover-bands just as teenage-tiktok-dancegroups, benches to sit down, even some food vendors and one-two-three restaurants/bars with outdoor seatings, its audience is mostly shoppers stoping for a quick photo with their smartphone. Many public places close between 6pm and 8pm and even restaurants – very very few of which offer outdoor tables – close between 8pm and 9pm, so that even ordering food after 8pm can be tedious. Only night markets are open a bit longer, but even those tend to be easy-going rather than crowded during the week. The mix of open air music sessions, wining, and even dancing I cherished so much at Berlin’s Bode Museum is unfortunately very hard to find, even though I do stumble upon rare videos of such happenings online.
This changes a bit during the weekend, thanks to recent developments. Taipei has many parks all over the city and additionally started to invest in a couple of “creative parks” in the last decade – refurbished old industry or military places featuring interesting architecture with many original materials, open spaces for pedestrians, green parks, and a posh hipster atmosphere meeting the cosmopolitan zeitgeist. At weekends, these parks often offer a welcomed distraction for the spoiled European traveler – stages, some snacks, cheesy teeny-songwriters, yearning couples, and even a few cocktails. (Alcohol is served very rarely, which gives Europe seen from here a rather drunkard vibe.)
Overall, the joyous exuberance of public life in Europe’s summer is a bit dampened in Taiwan, and I am fascinated by these differences, especially as most flats are too small to host visitors and I thus expected public life to make up for private gatherings. There are many possible reasons of course. First, Taiwan lacks the European seasons, the dark, cloudy, cold, grey, uncomfortable mess that are the five months around New Years Eve in northern Europe, for which you have to make up in the summer. Then, people have different preferences and maybe just don’t enjoy outdoor-places as much as I do as a visitor-for-time. (Mosquitos might play a role, here… traditional restaurants and the food courts in malls seem quite packed, and they often bleed the crowd into the streets where young street artists present their skills and online channels.) There are probably also historical-cultural-economic reasons, having to do with low wages, long work hours, and the overall rarity of holidays and free time, even though such framings often tend towards simple clichés, and it takes a social science more exhaustive than is space here to go beyond mere descriptions of what is happening into actual explanations. And then there is the fact that Europe is just packed with tourists that you cannot tell from the locals, while Taiwan is still closed due to Covid. Still… I would enjoy a bit of jazz and a glass of cold white wine with friends in the evening! And I am really happy about the joyful atmosphere they started to create at the creative parks, even if it feels very “event-y” compared to Berlin’s Admiralsbrücke, Hamburg’s Ovelgönne or Münster’s Aasee.
Up and down the hills
All that being said, our days don’t deviate from the local patterns too much to be honest. We experimented with getting up really early last year, but I struggle to quiet my mind early enough these months to get to bed early enough. During the week, we are often happy to get some quiet and relaxing hours in the evening before the next workday starts, mostly staying in our Kiez, meeting friends at the weekends or for a rather early dinners. Weekends are a different story, though. Here, the lush green hillsides surrounding Taipei invite for an early hike before the sun shows her full strength. It doesn’t take more than 30 minutes from most places in Taipei to reach forests dense enough to hide the city, their old temples, lianas, and various crouching wildlife embracing the visitor with a hint of wilderness, making the hikes a lot of fun.
The greatest experience – excursion-wise – was a day-trip to Waiao beach at Taiwan’s east coast, where I did my first wave surfing. This one was so much fun, it got a whole photo-essay, so please head over if you are curious!
Book: Egon Friedell, Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit (★★★★★)
The Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit is Friedell’s main work, capturing him for the better part of his last 15-or-so years. It is a wild ride through European history from the Black Death in 1348 until World War I, playing homage to many of the geniuses, kings, and lost souls of what he calls the Neuzeit, the pre-modern and early modern age. Please follow this link for the full review.
Music: Jan Delay, EARTH, WIND & FEIERN (★★★★☆)
My album of July was “Earth, Wind & Feiern“, a re-release by German hip-hopper Jan Delay I missed last year. A true Hamburger with a very signature nasal sound, he always summons some nostalgic memories. I especially enjoyed Zurück (great dance rhythm and sax solo!) and Der Bass & die Gang, reminding me off my time at Bravourstück.
Rather random stuff I stumbled upon.
- YouTube-Video, “Who made these circles in the Sahara?” | A short and entertaining documentary by Vox, mainly about one of their employees going a down a random rabbit hole after seing satellite photos of circles in the desert he didn’t understand. I like the childlike curiosity (in a good way!) that started this journey, his ingenuity in his research, and the fact that this endeavor brought together a bunch of people who are really passionate about… circles in the desert. Another reminder about how great the internet is, actually!
- YouTube-Video, “Building a Lego-powered Submarine 4.0 – automatic depth control” | A fun DIY video on how to build a LEGO submarine. I can imagine this to be an amazing weekend-project (well, weekendS-project?) if you have kids!