Chasing Mirages

Blue Skies in Taipei

by on Oct.03, 2010, under Posts

I don’t want to take up a lot of space defending my reasons for including a post about Taiwan in a blog discussing “Environmentalism in China.”  Let’s just leave it at a fact that nobody can deny:  Taiwan is the operational base of a political entity called ROC, aka the Republic of China.

I spent a bit of time in Taipei when I was a kid in the 80s and early 90s.  I have vivid memories of how dirty t he place was, at least compared to where I grew up in the U.S.  I remember being shocked when I came back to Taiwan as an adult in 2002, about eleven years after my previous visit.  The skies were blue, the rivers and creeks were clear, the streets were free of dog poo (we used to call it 黄金 (huang jin, meaning yellow gold), and that distinctive Taipei smell (those of you who visited Taiwan in the 80s and 90s know exactly what I’m talking about – a mix of rotting plant matter and sewage) had all but disappeared.

Here’s a picture I took near one of my favorite bookstores in the world, the Eslite (誠品書店,Chengpin shudian) in Xinyi district, Taipei.  Visible in the picture is the Taipei 101 tower, the tallest skyscraper in the world for a few months before the Burj Khalifa in Dubai overtook it in 2004.

I marveled out loud at how blue the sky was, and my cousin and his friends, Taipei locals, told me that the air quality was not as good as usual because many people were making burnt offerings for 中原普渡, a festival that’s celebrated in the seventh month of the lunar calendar to pay homage to wandering ghosts.  I asked them if they remembered when the sky was always grey and looks of bewilderment shaded their faces.  “No, the sky is always blue on sunny days, and usually even bluer than today!”

I turned to my cousin and asked him if he remembered when we were kids and, after playing outside all day, we would run our fingernails along our arms and scrape off a layer of black, like ink under our nails?  Or how our boogers would always be black from the air pollution (kind of like what happens in Beijing now)?  <Warning – the next picture is not for the faint of heart>

Beijing boogers, after a couple of hours outside.

…and it all came flooding back to him.  With tears in his eyes, my dear, strapping young cousin exclaimed,”Oh, how we take these blue skies and clear waters for granted!  Only a few short years ago, we too were wallowing in the filth of uncontrolled industrial growth!  My heart goes out to my compatriots still suffering from the enhanced risk of emphysema and other chronic lung illnesses!”

After I reminded him, my cousin did recall how dirty Taiwan was less than two decades ago, and we found it interesting that those memories had faded into mist and everyone erroneously recalled that Taipei was always this clean.  I only remembered because I did not live in Taiwan all this time, so from my perspective, the changes were sudden rather than gradual.

I hope that people in Taiwan do not take their relatively clean environment for granted, and that they keep pushing for further improvement.  And I hope that within 20 short years, the soot-choked population of mainland China will also be able to once again enjoy blue skies and pink, healthy lungs.

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1 Comment for this entry

  • cphu

    Thank you for your post about taiwan. I still remember vividly when I was visiting taipei with my japanese friend i met in the states about a year ago, he kept telling me taipei really reminds him of tokyo but with ethnic chinese everywhere. I was really proud that taiwan really is trying to create a better global impression.

    I spent my earlier school years in taipei (late 80s/early 90s) and I perfectly understand your post. Taipei wasn’t pretty. Now I live in NYC and I think now taipei is way more technologically advanced than the big old apple. People in nyc just think they are better than anybody else and reluctant to learn and change.

    Keep it up, taiwan!

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