Taiwan is in East Asia, 573 km southwest of the Japanese island of Okinawa and 345 km (214 miles) north of the Philippines. Taiwan is in the Northern Hemisphere; the Tropic of Cancer crosses the island 207 km south of Taipei and 88 km north of Kaohsiung. By air, Taiwan is just over an hour from Hong Kong, four hours from Singapore, around thirteen and a half hours from Los Angeles, and fifteen hours from London.
Taiwan’s population of 23.2 million is concentrated in the western lowlands, with the main cities of Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung accounting for over 15 million people. More people live in the north than the south, and the population of the western half outnumbers that of the east by over ten to one. Also, Taiwan’s human population is much more diverse than you might think when you step off the airplane. Many Taiwanese have mixed ancestry because intermarriage was common in the 17th and 18th centuries and has become very common again recently.
Taiwan’s culture may be described as traditional and conservative, like most other Asian cultures but to a greater degree. Taiwan is an important center in Sinosphere where Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, literature, architecture, arts and crafts, and traditional customs are well promoted and preserved. Also, Taiwan is also the origin of the expansion of Austronesian people, retaining the most diverse varieties of Austronesian languages and cultures. With a free and open society where different ethnic groups live in harmony, and with stable economic growth, Taiwan has developed a unique Taiwanese culture that incorporates various features and values of Chinese culture.
Each aboriginal group speaks a distinct language that generally is unintelligible to other groups. The aboriginal people had no written language until they made contact with the Dutch in the 17th century. The Hakka have their own language, which has affinities with both Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese. The Fukien Taiwanese speak Minnan, a form of Southern Min (often called Taiwanese on Taiwan), which comes from southern Fukien province. The mainlanders speak Mandarin Chinese, the official language of China. Many mainlanders may also speak a dialect of the province from which they originally came, although that practice has diminished considerably among the younger generations born on Taiwan. Most aboriginal people speak Mandarin; many speak Taiwanese, and a diminishing number know Japanese. Hoklos also speak Mandarin; older ones speak Japanese. Most Hakka speak Taiwanese and Mandarin, and some speak Japanese. After World War II the mainland Chinese-run government made Mandarin the official language, and it was used in the schools and in government. With democratization, other languages or dialects became more popular. The Fukien Taiwanese have consistently promoted their language, with some suggesting getting rid of Mandarin—since it is the language of the former minority ruling class. Yet Mandarin has the largest number of speakers of any language in the world, and Taiwan increasingly depends on trade and commercial ties with China. Hence the idea of replacing Mandarin with Taiwanese has not gotten too far, and Taiwan seems likely to remain multilingual.
Taiwan plays an influential role in the global economy. According to the World Trade Organization’s statistics, it was the world’s 18th-largest exporter and 17th-largest importer of merchandise in 2018, while ranking 27th in the export and import of commercial services, respectively. As one of the most powerful players in the global information and communications technology (ICT) industry, Taiwan is also a major supplier of other goods across the industrial spectrum. A key factor underpinning this performance is the government’s promotion of policies designed to foster development and to sustain national economic competitiveness through continuous investment in human resources, research, development, and industrial upgrading. These policies, combined with Taiwan’s strong entrepreneurial spirit have created a business and investment environment that has consistently been ranked among the world’s most competitive. For example, in 2019, US-based Business Environment Risk Intelligence (BERI) ranked Taiwan 4th in the world and 2nd in Asia in terms of investment safety.
In Taiwan, people love to eat! There are vendors, snack shops and restaurants are everywhere in every town and city. Foods and dishes from around the world are available in Taiwan, but Taiwan’s native cuisine is unforgettable and has now gained worldwide attention – try it just once, and you’ll remember it forever. Great dishes such as pearl milk tea, Danzai noodles, shrimp pork soup, coffin sandwiches, veggie and meat wraps, oyster vermicelli, steamed sandwiches, and crushed ice dessert. Taiwan, with its wealth of night markets, is a country travelers love going back to again and again for the food. From hot pot to boba to lu rou fan to beef noodle soup, there is so much good food to be had in Taiwan and for cheap too! Taiwanese food has also been shaped by its geographic location. Being an island, seafood figures prominently in Taiwanese cuisine. Chicken and pork are also common while rice is a staple dish. An array of seasonings are often used to flavor Taiwanese dishes, some of the most common being soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, fermented black beans, and pickled radish.
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