Sunday, March 25, 2007
A Japanese restaurant here in Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原（とよはら）. The restaurant's name in Japanese is "Sano" 佐野. The characters to the right of the name are "Lamien (Lamian)" 拉麺, meaning "ramen"; and 食べ處. Ramen is usually written in either hiragana らーめん or katakana ラーメン in Japan, where it's thought of as being "Chinese-style noodles". In Taiwan, however, people think of Lamien as being a part of Japanese cuisine. The second set of characters are what caught my eye, however. 食べ處 could be read as "tabesho", and would literally translate as "eating place", so Sano is advertising itself as a ramen restaurant. The use of the kana べ is an obvious attempt to give the restaurant a more authentic, Japanese look to its name. However, the character 處 is rarely used in Japan, so you would be unlikely to see this word on a restaurant sign. A ramen restaurant would probably appear as ラーメン屋.
The editorial in today's Taipei Times was entitled "Chinese tourists blur the focus". It basically criticizes the emphasis being put on attracting tourists from China to Taiwan, "apparently at the expense of the rest of the world's travelers". It goes on to call "Taiwan's tourism chiefs and entrepreneurs ...lazy and incompetent and have filled the country with substandard facilities and poorly trained, monolingual staff". And I couldn't agree more with this statement from the editorial:
"...Taiwan has so much to offer to tourists from the rest of the world -- but the message is not getting through".
It concludes by making several suggestions to improve the situation here, such as by making visas free, and expanding them to three months for most nationalities, and "...employ(ing) more fluent and competent speakers of English and Japanese to buttress (tourism authorities') multilingual resources. Here, here!
To put it simply, this island does a terrible job when it comes to promoting itself to the outside world, and to seeing to the needs of foreign visitors once they're here. While there are a number of excellent web sites devoted to individual localities, the official Welcome to Taiwan website is dull and not very helpful (and not even working tonight when I tried the link). The English page for the Taiwan Railway Administration is difficult to navigate, while the page for the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation (台湾の新幹線) doesn't tell you how or where you can purchase tickets, or how to get from the THSRC stations (which in many cases are on the outskirts of major cities) into the centers of places like T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中（たいちゅう） and T'ainan (Tainan) 台南（たいなん）.
In Japan, many localities both big and small maintain tourist information offices, usually in or near a major train station. Even if you don't speak Japanese, these offices are very useful - they usually have plenty of free maps and pamphlets (often in foreign languages like English), and they can assist in finding accommodation. Leafing through the Lonely Planet Japan guide, for example, you can see how often local tourist offices are mentioned.
The situation in Taiwan, by contrast, isn't very good. I'll be the first to admit that Fengyuan isn't a major tourist attraction, but a first-time visitor here has only a map on a signboard in front of the station to let him/her know what to see and do in the area (and no information on how to get to these sites). Taichung has a TIC, but good luck trying to get there unless you have a car. It's not even remotely within walking distance from Taichung station 台中駅 (I have no idea if any bus lines serve the area where it's located), and is nowhere near any sightseeing spots or accommodation options. Except for T'aipei (Taibei) 台北（たいほく）, it isn't easy for the non-Chinese speaking visitor to get around Taiwan to see the sites.
Which is a shame, for Taiwan has a lot to offer the visitor from abroad. I'm not comfortable living here, but I really enjoy traveling in Taiwan (it helps that I'm married to a native who has her own car!), and I wish more foreign tourists could see what's here. And making Taiwan a popular Asian tourist destination would go a long way towards promoting Taiwan to the outside world and reducing its isolation. Unfortunately, as the Taipei Times wrote today, "...no one in government seems to think this is an issue of concern".