Made in Taiwan. Once upon a time it seemed that almost everything came with the label “Made in Taiwan”. And frankly, that was all I knew about Taiwan…that it was a place that made things cheaply (and often of not terribly great quality), mainly clothing and toys.
So Taiwan had never been high on my places to travel to. I knew very little about it, and it really didn’t figure much in my aspirational or armchair travel. Getting there was a revelation. As you’ll see from my posts, I really loved it.
When I travel, I’m not much of a shopper. I get a bit impatient with crowded markets full of cheap counterfeit label goods and although I like to come home with some kind of souvenir of my visit, it has to be something useful and/or beautiful. But as this was my first visit to Taiwan, I was keen to have something to show I’d been there.
As the trip progressed, there were plenty of opportunities to shop, but nothing really caught my eye. In Taipei, we visited the Jiangou Holiday flower market and jade market, located next to each other under the Jianguo South Rd overpass. On weekends a 500m long public car park is transformed into a huge flower market. Cross the road and duck into the covered area where smiling jade traders display their gleaming wares. Bracelets, earrings, pendants, carvings and Buddhist charms are tempting, but years of travel in Asia mean I’ve already got a small collection at home and they are easy to resist.
In a trendy boutique in the city of Hsinshu, south of Taipei, I’m easily convinced to buy a casual little black dress that one of my friends declares “a no-brainer” for my work wardrobe. It’s around the same price I’d pay for something similar at home, but has a bit of an edge to it that I like. But still, I don’t regard clothes – which one day will be discarded – as an enduring souvenir.
Another day, we browse in the Hello Kitty shop in the lobby of our Taipei hotel, the Howard Hotel. One of my friends – who has a mild shoe fetish – indulges in a pair of pink Hello Kitty slippers. Again, I easily resist.
I finally find my souvenir in a most unexpected place. On our final day in Taiwan, we visit the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Centre. At lunch in the vegetarian restaurant there, we are served green tea in lovely earthenware cups. Just the kind of thing I’d like to have in my kitchen cupboard. Even better, the restaurant sells them and I walk out with a box under my arm.
So my tangible memories were packed in my suitcase and brought home. I unpacked my beautiful brown teacups and discovered they were made in Indonesia. Oh…not such an authentic souvenir of Taiwan after all, I thought. Never mind, there’s still the dress. After its first wearing, I looked on the label for washing instructions. “Made in Korea”, I read.
Perhaps that’s progress. Is it impossible to find an authentic souvenir, made in the country you are visiting? No, of course not. Perhaps I just have to learn to look at the labels first. But despite that, my purchases will always be a reminder of my trip to Taiwan, whether they bear the label “Made in Taiwan” or not. And that’s really all that should matter.