(photo credit: Liat Collins)
During my trip three fashion trends became apparent. Despite the relative wealth (and the $120 stimulus grant given each citizen to kickstart the economy following the global crisis) the Taiwanese maintain a modest lifestyle. The government provides free education and comprehensive health care and social welfare and meetings with various government bodies and NGOs showed that it is striving to prevent social gaps.
What do the well-dressed Taiwanese youth wear? The obvious item is patterned masks worn by the ubiquitous motorcyclists. It is also not uncommon to see two parents with a young child sandwiched between them traveling on one motorbike - only one or two of them with helmets but all three with fancy masks. The color coordination of a young woman with matching pink moped, mask, helmet and plastic sandals was as stunning as the shocking pink itself.
What is the necessary accessory? A small pet dog. Stereotypes of a dog-eating nation die as it becomes clear that canines are favoured as pets rather flavoured as dishes. There seems a clear preference for small breeds. Surprisingly, I saw no Pekingnese, but plenty of Maltese terriers, Pomeranians and dachshunds, for example. A pet owner explains that this is due to the small size of the average apartment. Larger dogs are used as guard dogs but not nearly as pampered as the small pooches, some of whom can be seen dressed up. I saw one being lugged around in a baby carrier. The conditions in the Taipei pet shops, on the other hand, are deplorable - cramped and without sufficient water. On my previous trip, incidentally, a Buddhist monk noted that their temple suffered from a problem of abandoned pets. When dogs grow too large or otherwise undesirable, their owners tend to dump them outside a Buddhist temple in the hope that the monks will look after them.
Snob appeal? For the last few years, the government has been trying to persuade citizens to abandon disposable chopsticks in favor of reusable ones instead as part of an environmental protection campaign. Apparently guests think nothing of bringing their own chopsticks to a meal at friends or even restaurants. This practice has inevitably led to a trend of seeking out ever more attractive chopsticks - including folding pairs, for instance - and decorative carrying cases. I pick up a couple of pairs of chopsticks at the National Palace Museum store. A local millionaire reportedly provided chopsticks with added meaning at a wedding: The sticks were in the form of a bride and groom.
Something to keep in mind next time you print up "benschers" for a family affair.