Anthropologist digs treasures of Taiwan

By Desiree Remmert

When I first came to Taiwan after the completion of my degree in England in 2009, I quickly realized that I had traded one rainy island for the other. Yet, I soon had to learn that the frequent rain was the only thing reminiscent of my distant home.

Arriving in Taipei in the summertime, the humid air was heavy with the unfamiliar smell of street food and the exhaust of the city’s uncountable scooters. This olfactory sensation soon lost its intensity when I got used to the city, but I still remember it as the most striking experience of my first days in Taipei.

Yet, what fascinated me more in the days and weeks to come was the rich cultural life and the ever bustling streets of the city. I realized what my Taiwanese friends in London had meant when they complained that England’s capital was “just too boring.” No matter when, there was always somewhere to go, something to do and some xiao chi to eat in Taipei. Even at the seemingly most remote place, you could still find a supermarket that on a few square meters offered an inexhaustible range of things you could possibly need. “Seven,” how the locals call it affectionately, has since then often become my first resort when in desperate need of slippers, a warm soup or postal services on public holidays. Being an anthropologist by training, there was hardly a temple I could pass without at least glimpsing into it for a few seconds — always fearing to miss an even more colorful shrine or goddess I had never seen before. I was overwhelmed by the experience of seeing now with my own eyes what I had studied in the years before. Recalling these first days in Taipei, I immediately remember my first visit to Longshan Temple. Over the elaborate traditional shrines towered shiny new buildings whose bright windows reflected the old temple and the lights of the city. This close interplay of traditions and modernity best exemplifies life in Taipei and has still not ceased to fascinate me.