One striking character of Taipei is the city’s constant efforts at being a highly livable city.
Even if you work or reside in the core of the city, there are parks and open spaces within a few meters, smaller in the older districts, more expansive in the new developments. Despite the high-rise buildings, Taipei is a green city.
In the 30-to-40-minute ride from the international airport in Taoyuan to the capital Taipei, a Filipino would be amazed at the hills covered in foliage instead of houses and shanties, so unlike what used to be the beautiful Baguio of our younger years.
Zoning and land use is seriously implemented, and this is true even in the less dense urban centers of Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taichung, Taitung, Hualien, Taoyuan, Hsinchu and New Taipei City, where high-rise residential and office buildings abound. Taiwan is a small island, about a ninth of the Philippines’ total land area, and is quite mountainous. Yet, no effort is spared to enforce proper land use.
Once in a conversation with a Taiwan official, I gave an admiring comment on the island’s greenery, and he modestly responded that this was because they have plenty of highlands and mountainous areas that are not quite livable. I was so embarrassed, wondering if the guy had ever been to Baguio or La Trinidad, even Antipolo where even steep mountainsides are populated by residences, many of them shanties.
Except in the old wealthy enclave near Yangminshan mountain, most everyone lives in medium and high-rise apartments and condominiums, as land costs are quite high. Even the wealthiest Taiwanese families make do with lot sizes smaller than Forbes Park or Dasmarinas. You see the wealth in the quality of the art and antiques inside their homes even if the “mansions” are modest by the standards of our rich.
But in the rather dense high-rise districts like where I reside, a public park is so conveniently located just about a hundred or two hundred meters away. There are bike paths all over, and children’s playgrounds. Each district has a public swimming pool, and gym facilities that are available at nominal costs, very well-maintained too.
Avenues and boulevards are tree-lined, reminiscent of European cities, and kept both clean and manicured like Japanese gardens, with park benches always in tip-top condition.
The rivers and streams are so clean, and easement rules so strict that at both sides of a river, there are swaths of green and jogging paths complete with outdoor children’s play equipment.
On Saturdays and Sundays, one is entertained by street musicians, mostly young men and women trying to earn extra income for their academic needs by playing the violin, or guitar, or regaling the crowd with acrobatics and other great performances. Concerts and theater presentations are plentiful, at affordable ticket prices.
The other Sunday, the National Concert Hall featured the Taipei Philharmonic, along with a 120-member chorale, some of whom are Filipinos who have resided quite a while in Taiwan. Next Sunday, the world-famous maestro, Zubin Mehta will conduct the Symphony Orchestra of Bavaria also at the National Concert Hall. Hardly a week passes without a major concert, featuring both local artists and foreign imports, all world-class.
Except during rush hour, traffic hardly exists even if motor vehicle density is quite high. Traffic rules are strictly enforced, with radar equipment monitoring vehicle speeds, and the driver receiving his traffic violations by mail, the automatic fines paid through ubiquitous 7-11 stores. And of course, public transport is a marvel for those of us who have grown and lived in Metro Manila. Public buses are aplenty, and they get to their bus stops on time. The MRT service, connecting all main points of Taipei City and New Taipei City using the red, green, blue, brown and orange lines, are frequent and always on time. The main cities of Taichung and Kaohsiung, and the cities in between are inter-connected through a high-speed rail system similar to Japan’s Shinkansen or those of Shanghai and Pudong. And when a major disaster, such as that which happened months back when the Puyuma Express train was derailed in Hualien, the railways director-general resigned. No ifs nor buts. A year ago or so, the Minister of Economic Affairs resigned when a four-hour brown-out hit some major cities, shorter in the capital, and the government refunded the public for the vexation caused by the electricity cut-off. You think that would happen in the Philippines?
Food is plentiful and reasonably priced, and sanitation standards are strictly enforced. Vegetables and fruits abound, and are cheap considering their high quality. Hardly anyone cooks in their small apartments, where normally both husband and wife work in offices. They buy “i-pai i-pai” meals which means a hundred-Taiwan-dollar-meal boxes which they bring home to eat after a day’s work.
The lunch box has a main dish of meat or chicken or fish, with two vegetable sidings, some tofu, and rice. The “carinderia” from where these are bought are very clean.
Even the street food, which offer filling snacks of delicious Taiwanese fare which are quite popular with tourists, maintain strict sanitation standards.
For those who can afford finer options, there are Michelin-rated restaurants offering European, Japanese or Chinese cuisine and mid-priced eateries that can compare with the best in Asia and elsewhere.
It is hardly a wonder that Filipinos and other expatriates who work in Taiwan find it such a livable place, where cultures blend with such ease, and personal safety and security are a world-class premium. Health facilities, as we have discussed in a previous article, are excellent, and with national health insurance, extremely affordable.
No wonder our factory workers keep renewing their work contracts which normally expire after three years. But last year, legislation allowed foreign workers to work continuously for 12 years without having to renew their stay every three years, provided the original employer wants to maintain their services.
For as long as they are prudent with their lifestyles and do not fall prey to vices and scams, our Taiwan OFWs are able to save even as they regularly send money to their loved ones back home.
Will our country ever attain this livability, this quality of life?
Two generations ago, before martial law in the Philippines, we were better off in many respects. In the fifties and early sixties, Taiwanese envied Filipinos, and looked up to Manila.
With hard work, nationalism and discipline, forged under authoritarianism which expired just about a generation ago, and now a working democracy, we look at Taiwan with envy. South Korea was in the same boat before. Look where it is now.
It will take a lot of doing, but we can do it as well. We must.
(The article orginally came out in the Manila Standard where MECO Chairman and Resident Representative Angelito Banayo regularly writes as a columnist.)
Link to the article: http://manilastandard.net/opinion/columns/so-i-see-by-lito-banayo/280261/livability.html