Chinese New Year in The Other China

Where better to usher in the Year of the Rabbit than The Other China?  Next month’s Lantern Festival in Taiwan promises to be as spectacular as last year’s inauguration of the Year of the Tiger.

2010 Lantern Festival at Chiayi, Taiwan

Rat-a-tat-tat-tat.  A fusillade shatters the serenity of the arcane rituals of a traditional Taiwan tea house.  Is this the apocalypse, the invasion threatened by the People’s Republic ever since 1949?  No, simply strings of firecrackers exploding to herald the Lunar New Year festivities.  Traffic slows for the trailer-mounted, larger-than-life, deities hauled through city streets, then ploughs on through dense clouds of smoke.  And yes, the mainlanders are now landing in force: thousands of package tourists disembark daily, a peaceful invasion which threatens at times to overwhelm Taiwan’s major attractions.

The drinks are served in pint-sized urinals, then a miniature bidet is placed before me, enclosing my steaming Szechuan Hot Pot. Welcome to Modern Toilet, a franchised restaurant which plumbs the depths (as it were) of bad taste.

Fortunately, there’s more to dining out in Taiwan than the weirdness of Modern Toilet.

Silks Palace Restaurant at the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Silks Palace Restaurant at the National Palace Museum, Taipei

At the sumptuous Silks Palace restaurant in Taipei, adjoining the National Palace Museum, exquisitely presented dishes draw inspiration from the antiquities in one of the world’s finest collections of Asian art.

The alarming rattle of plates and cups as we breakfast – on soy milk and savoury pancakes – pointedly reminds us that earthquakes and tremors can create havoc at any time on this crowded,Tasmania-sized, island.

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