- The official and most widely-spoken language in Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese. However, Taiwanese speakers of Mandarin have a different accent from mainland-Chinese speakers of Mandarin, just like Americans and Australians speak English with different accents.
- Taiwan still uses traditional characters for writing, though. Under Mao Zedong, China transitioned to simplified characters that generally have fewer strokes per character in an effort to promote literacy in the population. Traditional characters look more “ornate”, even if you can’t read them.
- Taiwan isn’t China, but in most contexts, you can describe the population of Taiwan as Chinese or Taiwanese. I haven’t met a Taiwanese person inside or outside of Taiwan who insists they are Taiwanese and not Chinese, but if I did, I would certainly identify them as Taiwanese. (I don’t run in the most politically-engaged circles.)
- This is because the population in Taiwan isn’t some homogeneous sea of Han Chinese people. The island was originally populated as far back as 3000 B.C. by the tribes that are today known as Taiwanese aboriginals. They are Pacific Islanders, not Chinese, and they are very distinct from one another. In the 17th century, people from southwestern China started to move over to Taiwan to farm. The Taiwanese language, Minnanyu, is today pretty much the same as what is spoken in the southwestern Fujian Province in China. When Japan started getting an imperialist itch in the 19th century, it snatched up Taiwan as its first colony. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the island returned to Chinese control. Mao Zedong’s Communists and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists were vying for power after the war. When it became pretty obvious that Mao was going to win in the 1950s, Chiang, his troops, and his supporters fled to Taiwan. So that was a big, fast influx of people from China with different backgrounds and heritages to share on an island where a bunch of other people were already living. If you look at a picture of a crowd of young people in Taiwan today and everybody has dark hair and dark eyes, you should understand that their predecessors might have taken many different roads to get to Taiwan, bringing their culture, customs, language, and cuisine with them.
- And because of all this, people in Taiwan speak Chinese, but they also might speak Hakka or Taiwanese, or even some other Chinese dialect. Students can choose to study either Hakka or Taiwanese in elementary school. They also start studying English in elementary school, though the public-school English curriculum that I’ve seen isn’t very rigorous. When Japan had control of the island, students had to study Japanese, but the generation of people who grew up speaking Japanese in Taiwan is old or gone now.
- Lemons are green. Like if you straight up ask the kids to name some green fruits, they will say “lemons.” Also oranges and tomatoes are often green even when ripe, too.
- Taiwan has the most convenience stores per capita. Like sometimes they share walls.
- There are tons of endemic species of animals here. I just know this fact but not all the details, so I’ll leave you this link to the Wikipedia List of endemic species of Taiwan if you want to know more. There are also many endemic species of ferns here. There’s an area of the zoo in Taipei dedicated to ferns. To me, it makes the local forests look like something from a Dr. Seuss book.
- The island straddles two faults/three tectonic plates, so there’s a lot going on under the surface. That means there are frequent minor earthquakes, occasionally big or even terrible earthquakes, and also hot springs. And cold springs. Italy and Taiwan are the only two countries on this planet that have carbonated cold springs.
- You can get ALL THE FRUIT here. It doesn’t even make sense how many different kinds of fruit you can get, anywhere and fresh. Because of Taiwan’s location near the equator and its many high mountains, there are actually different climate regions here that make it possible to grow all varieties of fruits that have passed through the island’s ports over the years.
These unique natural geographical attributes not only give Taiwan’s fruits a distinctive flavor, but also enable northern fruits such as persimmons, apples, Asian pears, and nectarines to coexist with such tropical fruits as bananas, lychees, mangoes, and pineapples on an island only 400 kilometers long. Almost all of the fruits cultivated on the island of Taiwan today originally came from somewhere else.
Some fruit is also imported, but because Taiwanese people are fruit connoisseurs and they want fancy pears from Korea and oversized apples from Japan and yellow kiwis from New Zealand. Seriously, I thought I hated fruit until I moved here. You can only get fresh fruit here and it’s only delicious.
Okay, I have more cool facts about Taiwan, but I’ll save them for next time!