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Taiwan, June 22, 2006

Japan with Chinese Characteristics

Its more a feeling, but still a strong one

watch the road
Watch the road, not TV
listen to me
Drinking alone
As I step into my last Taipei taxi, heading for the airport and home, I look out on this amazing city and think about how it compares to mainland China and other Asian nations in my travels. That's when it hits me: Taiwan isn't China. Taiwan is Japan with Chinese characteristics.

Just like in Japan, Taipei has a solid love-affair with technology. From the TV in the seatback of my taxi to the little TV's at one of the bars I wandered to, they do not mind massive electronic intrusion into their lives.

Then, if you actually leave Taipei, or just watch as the countryside zips beneath your plane, you'll note that everything is orderly once you leave the capitol. Rice grows in well appointed fields, apartment blocks are clean if a little utilitarian, and factories even somehow look tidy.

Back in Taipei, the people move with purpose, with pride, with style that would transplant to Tokyo or New York. Business is quick, fair, open. The taxi drivers didn't try and cheat me once.

And while I still found the culture to be way conservative for my tastes, it was not without its freedoms. Everyone felt free to talk politics, debate issues, care about their government at a volume and level never approached in mainland China.

So while this list, now that I write it, doesn't sound so convincing, I still say that in my heart, in my gut, Taiwan is Japan with Chinese characteristics.

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How do the prices in Taiwan compare to the prices in Japan? Is Taipei as expensive as Tokyo?

Prices were much cheaper, on par with NYC or DC. Except for street food, where, like mainland China, costs approached $0 and yet were the tastiest meals in the city.

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