Country prodigy: how Taiwan skillfully disposed of the fruits of the economic miracle

The inhabitants of the island have learned how to attract tourists and largely recycle garbage

To achieve rapid economic growth, the state needs to be decisive and strong as a tiger. The correspondent of “Around the World” visited Taiwan and saw another miracle: a country prodigy. Brought up, wise like an old man, rational like an adult, but with an indestructible rainbow-childish perception of the world.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully disposed of the fruits of the economic miracle

Entrance through the Dragon, exit through the Tiger. The smoke of incense burners floats in the sky beyond the Dragon Gate, and against the background of music pouring from somewhere and the measured ringing of a bell, a knock breaks every now and then. These are red “cookies” falling on the stone slabs of the courtyard of the Taipei Longshan Temple. When I first saw a full bowl of wooden crescents covered in red paint, they reminded me of the shape of Shaker-Puri cookies from my Soviet childhood. One side is flat, the other is convex.

– This is jiaobei, “lunar blocks” for divination. You need to take two pieces in the palm of your hand, introduce yourself, name your date of birth, address, and then formulate a question or desire. So that the answer could only be “yes” or “no,” Lily folds her hands with “cookies” in a prayerful gesture at her lips, closes her eyes, whispers something for a long time, then opens her palms wide, and jiaobei fly to the ground . — Yes!!!See? One chip fell with the convex side up – yin, the other flat – yang. So the gods answered yes. Do you want to know what I thought? I said that I was accompanying journalists from Moscow on a trip to Taiwan and asked if our trip would be safe. The answer is positive! If both jiaobei fell with the convex side up, then the gods are unhappy, the answer is no. If it is flat the gods laugh, the question is asked incorrectly. You can try reformulating it.

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God's Response

< p> Lunar “cookies” in Longshan pretty shabby. Still: how many throws and falls they have to endure in a day. Most visitors visit the temple for this reason. Knocking pieces of wood on stone slabs, the laughter of the gods crumbles.

In a good way, to guarantee the result, it is necessary that the jiaobei fall correctly three times in a row. The divine theory of probability, of course, prevents this in every possible way. But the Taiwanese, stubborn in their moral responsibility, who come to try their luck at Longshan and other temples, throw as much as they need and adjust their requests until the gods get tired and say a big YES.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully disposed of the fruits of the economic miracle

Despite the fact that in general, Longshan is dedicated to the merciful Buddhist Guanyin, a host of Taoist gods are worshiped here, each of which has its own sphere of responsibility and its own niche in the temple. One is asked for advice and help in love, the other – in finances, the third – in a career. Someone gives children, and someone gives health.

In the back hall of the temple on the right lives Wenchang, the god of literature and learning, students come to him for help in passing exams. On the left is the red-faced god of war Guan Yu, the patron of gangsters and the police. And the central part of the hall is dedicated to the beloved Taiwanese goddess Matsu, the protector of fishermen and sailors. There, behind the fence, three monks are sitting at the table with their backs to the visitors and intently sorting through the papers. The monks are more like clerks or participants in a symposium on combating COVID-19 (The material was published at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. — Note by

— They pray that we overcome the situation with the coronavirus, —explains Lily.

Lily is actually an atheist with experience, unlike the majority of Taiwanese: in 2005, more than 80% of believers were registered, and Taoists and Buddhists were distributed approximately equally – 33 and 35%. But it seems that in reality half of the population, including official atheists, unconsciously professes the so-called Chinese folk religion – a syncretic fusion of all the beliefs that have taken root at different times in this fertile land. And it relies on a rational order of things, which can be influenced by both gods and people.

On the one hand, there is fate as a given and the wealth of individual choice limited by it. On the other hand, there are fatal coincidences, successes and failures that affect fate. Together they give rise in a person to responsibility to himself and others, which can be expressed in simple words: “Do what you must, and come what may.” Or “Trust in God, but don’t make a mistake yourself.” Probably, it was this approach to life that helped the “dragons” of Taiwan to turn the country into an Asian Tiger. Everything is grown-up, but when you look at mature people, intently, like children playing red “cookies”, it does not fit into your head.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully disposed of the fruits of the economic miracle

I exit through the Tiger Gate, passing the left wing of the temple, where long stone benches and folding chairs sit immersed in prayer old people with masks on their faces.

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Preemptive strike

Last week of February 2020. The mysterious and terrible coronavirus is gaining momentum. Mainland China is on fire. In Taiwan, the number of cases has crept up to 30. The increase is on average one person per day. Here I put on the first mask.

— Everyone understands how important it is to prevent the spread of the virus. We take action and respect the rules. We think not only about our own health, but also about those around us, – says Lily.

Taiwan closed flights to mainland China on January 26, when only four cases were detected on the island. Two days earlier, the government had banned the export of masks so that the Taiwanese themselves would have enough of them, and the sale was strictly rationed. Restrictions on citizens were lifted in April.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully managed the fruits of the economic miracle

In fact, even before the announcement of the pandemic, the wise Taiwanese government took a set of 124 preventive measures, and citizens, like obedient children, treated them with understanding. And this allowed the country to survive a difficult year for the whole world with minimal losses.

Here are some interesting statistics: as of October 2020, only seven deaths have been recorded during the pandemic, and the total number of cases has reached 550 people. In Moscow, 12 times more people died than fell ill in Taiwan. To appreciate the scale, it is enough to understand that the area of ​​Taiwan is smaller than that of the Moscow region, and there are more inhabitants than in Moscow and the region combined: at the beginning of the year it was 23.59 million people.

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Tree of Light

It seems that these same 23.59 million Taiwanese gathered at the closing of the Taichung Lantern Festival, and almost all of them are wearing masks. In fact, only 700,000 people wander among the sparkling balls, flowers, animals and plants in Hawley Forest Park, but all the rest are symbolically present in the main object of the Guardian of the Forest – Tree of Light, 15 meters high. Lily explains:

– The trunk is formed by 22 luminous ribbons, they symbolize the 22 districts and cities of Taiwan. The tree, as it were, collects the energy of the earth with its roots and spreads its crown widely: 368 lantern-buds correspond to the number of villages and districts, and 2359 green heart-leaves represent 23.59 million Taiwanese. These are our families, houses that pray for unity, harmony and prosperity.

I see: inside the trunk, like a rising sun, a large luminous ball gradually rises.

Moving along with the festive crowds of adults and children, I feel not only the unity and prosperity of the Taiwanese, but also my own awkwardness. It was as if I was sucked into someone else's childhood, and now I am floating in the stream of people through tunnels of lights …

The Lantern Festival traditionally begins on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar. Since 1990, it has become a state event in Taiwan and turned into a celebration of high technology. Nevertheless, simple round Chinese lanterns made of paper stretched over a wire or bamboo frame still decorate houses and temples.

Most of all such lanterns, perhaps, I saw in Lugano. A compact town on the west coast miraculously preserved historical buildings with narrow streets and two hundred temples. Bright, with celestial dragons on curved roofs and filigree wood carvings, they stand in the center of the city every 100-200 meters. Matsu Temple, one of the earliest and most popular of all dedicated to the sea goddess on the island, is buried in yellow and red lanterns.

It was founded in 1591, but later rebuilt several times. Every time you ask Lily about the age of a particular temple, she sighs. It is we who tremble before the ancient ruins and pearls of the Middle Ages, to which age adds value, and the Chinese have a different mentality.

— For us, ancient  means old. Bright, beautiful, rich & nbsp; is another matter. It does not matter when the temple was built, it is important that it is built according to Feng Shui, is pleasing to the eye and deities live in it. The Matsu Temple in Lugano is very pleasing to the eye, and it seems that there, under the garlands of lanterns, a children's matinee is taking place.

In an effort to get to the factory where traditional lanterns are made, we find ourselves in a workshop-shop where everyone is given a spherical blank from paper on a frame, a set for mixing paints, brushes and voluminous jars of gouache.

Like other journalists who came to Taiwan in search of serious material, I start to grumble: what kind of kindergarten is this again! But not even a quarter of an hour passes, as I am seriously carried away, and after another half an hour my yellow flashlight turns into a tree crown with many green leaves. And I don’t even immediately realize that I depicted the “Tree of Light”. But I understand that, perhaps, at this children's drawing circle, I learned something about the Taiwanese soul, and practice is sometimes no less important than theory.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully disposed of the fruits of the economic miracle

Taiwanese are very fond of making things. And more – to comprehend the mastery of others with your hands. And there is a lot of wisdom and artistry in this. In different cities, I saw art villages created on the site of old quarters, hostels, warehouses. Lugano also has this – Osmanthus Alley Art Village. In houses built during the Japanese occupation as a hostel for officials, artists are now creating. And above the alley, to the music in the warm wind, garlands of lanterns of all colors of the rainbow sway.

The color of the rainbow

Between Taichung and Lugang, one of the most amazing places in Taiwan, created by human hands, is hiding. This is Rainbow Village. History Rainbow villagebegan in 1949, when about two million supporters of Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan from mainland China. Soldiers with families settled throughout the island, building many villages.

Huang Yong-Fu, also a former soldier, also settled in one of them about 40 years ago. Life changed, and these villages began to fall into decay. People abandoned their old houses and moved to other places. But Huang Yong-Fu did not want to. As a result, he was left alone in the village. In 2009, he was notified that the village would be demolished. And the 85-year-old grandfather, out of desperation, remembered his childhood passion – drawing. I bought paints and started painting houses. I got up before dawn, worked for hours every day, not knowing fatigue.

Cartoon-naive people and animals, surreal creatures and other outlandish images slowly filled the walls of 11 houses in the village. Upon learning of this, students and professors at the local university launched a campaign to save the cultural site. And they succeeded. Now the Rainbow Village is the top attraction in the province, and the naive outsider artist has become known as Rainbow Grandpa — Grandfather Rainbow.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully managed the fruits of the economic miracle

I wander through this multi-colored miracle, among men, cats, hares, fish and other characters of an unknown fairy tale, through nooks and crannies. There is not a single empty place: everything around, except for the sky, is covered with rich colors. In the center of this children's holiday, in the corner of a souvenir shop, 96-year-old Grandfather Rainbow sits in a mask up to his eyes. Of course, it is difficult for him to work with a brush now, but he supports the village in a different way: he sells reproductions of his drawings and allows buyers to take pictures with him.

At the first moment, the skeptical brain gives rise to the idea that the grandfather is a dummy and “they have half a dozen of these grandfathers to replace.” But the opportunity to take a picture with a living legend costs only 50 Taiwan dollars (then it was 100 rubles). I buy a hare and the artist poses with me, laughing with sly eyes. Then, studying documents and photographs from newspapers on the wall of the Story House, I reproach myself for not believing in a fairy tale: the grandfather is the same, not fake.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully disposed of the fruits of the economic miracle

Rainbow grandfather, who turned from a soldier into an artist and philosopher, is a perfect example of the combination of two opposites – war and of the world, the temple of Wen-Wu in the human body.

Knowledge is power

Wen and wu are two parts of a harmonious state structure, like yang and yin. Wen is a civil case, wu is a military case. Wen – culture and scholarship, wu – brute force and martial arts. Wen – mental labor, wu – physical. As a rule, the god of literature Wenchang and Confucius are in charge of civil cultural affairs, and Guan Yu is in charge of military affairs.

I stand on the upper observation deck of the Wen-Wu Temple on the Lake of the Sun and the Moon, over a cascade of curved orange-tiled roofs. Green mountains on the sides – like two wings of the temple, embracing the sky. And this sky, with its sun and moon, is reflected in Taiwan's largest natural body of water, which is still partly man-made. During the Japanese occupation, a hundred years ago, hydroelectric power plants began to be built here, and the water level rose significantly. Lily shows a map:

– Look, if you draw an imaginary line through the island of Lalu, it will divide the lake into two parts: in the west -a crescent, in the east -the sun. Yin and yang. It looks like a child's drawing, doesn't it?

The lake lies in front of the temple like a front yard. The temple cascades up the hill. It fits perfectly into nature. Everything is feng shui. Entrance through the Dragon, exit through the Tiger. And on the sides behind the main gate there are two six-meter-high red lions, the largest in Taiwan. Local pride. They look like giant toys to me.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully managed the fruits of the economic miracle

The temple was built on this site in 1938, then completely rebuilt in 1969, and then again after the 1999 earthquake. “Remake”, & nbsp; – I snort under my breath, but then I stop. Because there is no age. Everything sparkles with beauty and freshness. The worker, armed with a fire hose and climbing onto an impressive stepladder, pours a powerful jet of overgrown lion on the left.

“Traditionally, wen  is a privilege of the upper class. Wu is a militant force, knowledge is not inherent in it, – says Lily, as we sail on a boat through the blue waters of the lake of the Sun and the Moon. – The government has always needed thinkers who know how to manage, studied a lot, passed exams . In Taiwan, until recently, physical labor was not respected. Parents told their children: if you study poorly, you will have to get your hands dirty. But now the situation has changed. We encourage students to work with their hands. Before you professionally engage in some business that you have studied in theory, you need to find out how this knowledge is applied in practice. Only then do they become powerful. Confucius believed that every person is talented in something. I learned English well, and at home -a complete zero.

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Tigers of the South

Just as the island of Lalu divides the lake into the Sun and the Moon, so the lake itself divides the island of Taiwan into north and south, yang and yin. And not only geographically.

The Kuomintang government, which fled to Taiwan in 1949, invested most of its resources in Taipei and its satellite cities. The prosperity of northern Taiwan began to grow rapidly. And the historically agrarian south, with its center in Kaohsiung, which the Japanese had made an outpost of heavy and light industry, began to lag behind.

In truth, Taiwan managed to become the “Asian Tiger” largely thanks to the heavy industry of the south, but the fruits of the economic miracle flocked to the north, to the “heavenly Dragons”, as the southerners began to call the “arrogant” residents of Taipei.

Thus and it happened: high technologies, finance, culture flourished in the capital, and one of the largest ports in the world, Kaohsiung, remained with “black hands”. But in 2000, the Democrats came to power in the Republic of China, and Kaohsiung decided to save: to develop tourism and culture, which was still present in the city, but in a chamber form. Until now, the lotus pond, created in the early 1950s in the old district of Zuoying, is the main attraction.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully disposed of the fruits of the economic miracle

I am standing on the seventh floor of the Dragon Pagoda. Near & nbsp; – a similar pagoda of the Tiger. Before your eyes is typically Chinese beneficial Feng Shui. On the banks of the reservoir covered with lotuses there are new and renovated old temples and palaces, flowery pavilions and statues. Huge Dragon and Tiger below me look like they will intertwine their tails.

I watch as the tourists zigzag across the nine-cornered bridge leading to the pagodas from the shore, and, spellbound like rabbits, disappear into the mouth of the Dragon. Then, having climbed the spiral staircase and taken a selfie on each of the seven tiers, they descend and, having passed through the body of the Tiger, richly illustrated from the inside with traditional stories, safely jump out of its mouth. All this is very similar to an attraction in an amusement park. But clearly.

Prodigy Nation: How Taiwan Skillfully Managed the Economic Miracle

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully managed the fruits of the economic miracle

So, the city clearly lacked a fresh creative wave. And it hit Taiwan's largest port in the early 2000s with the creation of the Pier-2 art center, a huge experimental art venue that celebrates the triumph of creative ideas over brute force.

Dozens of old port warehouses have been turned into museums, exhibition halls, shops of enchanting things and handmade gizmos. On the site of the old railway line, rails were laid, on which various model trains of toy size run, and you can ride them around the neighborhood. Amazing sculptures were created from piles of industrial scrap metal in the art park. And all of them seem to “speak” with you in an accessible language about the meaning of life, about getting rid of rubbish and the birth of a new one.

A giant suitcase on wheels – the severity of change and the desire to move forward. A four-meter trumpet-mouthpiece lying on the grass is the voice of the land of Kaohsiung. The huge “Snowball” of deformed iron is a symbol of unrest due to continuous progress and its unpredictable consequences for nature and people. An impressive broom made of steel bottles and twisted plates with children's balloons on a spiral handle is a call to keep clean.

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Endless life

25 years ago, Taiwan was called a garbage island. He was choking on the rubble. But people did a miracle, and now the country is leading in terms of recycling waste. If in general the world recycles 13%, then in Taiwan it is 55%. It is difficult to find a garbage container on the streets of cities, but not a speck.

Lily talks enthusiastically about segregation as we race the high-speed train from Kaohsiung to Taipei. There are bags of different colors, there are 13 categories of recyclables. Yellow garbage trucks drive under Beethoven's To Elise bagatelle so that residents know about their approach and carry their goods, which are then sent to one of the 1600 waste recycling companies in the country.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully managed the fruits of the economic miracle

“But actually, the idea of ​​recycling is already old-fashioned,” Lily suddenly declares. “It requires a lot of money and energy costs. A new trend is to think in advance about what materials to make things from in order to minimize waste. Our children should live in a clean world.

* * *

Taipei. Dragon and Tiger in one bundle. It is so large that it does not fit into this opus. Finally, a little. There is a symbol of the city and a symbol of Taiwan's economic prosperity – the Taipei 101 skyscraper with a height of 509 meters. In 2004, when it was built, it became not only the tallest, but also the first “green” building on the planet. It was named so for its environmental friendliness and energy efficiency.

Inside the skyscraper, between the 87th and 90th floors, a 660-ton wind pendulum ball is suspended, which compensates for the building's vibrations and makes it super resistant to gusts of wind and earthquakes. The ball reminded me of the fiery sun inside the “Tree of Light” at the Lantern Festival.

But I was much more impressed by the object at the foot of the skyscraper – a monumental sculpture in the shape of a human fetus, twisted from an outdated steel cable of a high-speed elevator that takes visitors to the 89th floor. The rope could have been thrown away, but instead turned into a work of art. The total length of the cable is 500 kilometers, which is equal to the length of Taiwan's coastline from north to south. The sculpture is called “Endless Life”.

Prodigy country: how Taiwan skillfully disposed of the fruits of the economic miracle

Taiwan (Republic of China)

Taiwan Square 36197 km² (134th place in the world)
Population 23 568378 (56th place)
Density 651 people/km²

SIGHTSEEING Longshan Temple, Taipei 101 Skyscraper, Taipei Chiang Kai-shek Memorial; art center Pier-2, Tiger and Dragon Pagoda in Kaohsiung; Sun Moon Lake.
NATIONAL DISHESXiaolongbao—dumplings with various fillings, fermented (stinky) tofu, smoked mullet roe, moachi rice cakes.
TRADITIONAL DRINK bubble tea – cold milk tea with tapioca balls.
SOUVENIRS Chinese lanterns, music boxes with moving figures made of wood.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Taipei ~ 7360 km (from 13 hours in flight excluding transfers)
TIME ahead of Moscow by 5 hours
VISA not needed for stays up to 21 days
CURRENCY New Taiwan Dollar (100 TWD ~ 3.3 USD)


Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 10, December 2020, partially updated in December 2022

Stella Morotskaya

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