As soon as you leave Taiwan’s cities, you’ll see plenty of green. The island straddles the Tropic of Cancer, and seldom lacks for sunshine or precipitation. Plots of land which are neither built on nor cultivated are soon taken over by grasses and weeds, then bushes and eventually fast-growing trees.
Since the 1970s agriculture has ceased to be an activity of great economic importance, yet Taiwan still grows around 90% of its own rice. And what fine rice it is, too! Even though Taiwanese grain is now expensive by global standards, discerning diners still prefer local ponlai to imported alternatives. The best rice is said to grow in Chishang, a township in the East Rift Valley which supplied grain to Japan’s royal family during the period of Japanese colonial rule. If you fly into Taiwan with EVA Air, you may well eat some Taiwanese ponlai before you even set foot on the island. In recent years, the airline has partnered with Chishang’s farmers’ association and devised in-flight meals which feature the township’s rice. Green is also the colour of Taiwan’s many tea plantations.
If you’re driving into the mountains, en route to Alishan perhaps, you’ll notice that almost every hillside is covered by bamboo or woodland. Taiwanese have learned the hard way that if they don’t preserve the forests and foliage that hold boulders and soil in place, landslides are the likely consequence. Despite being one of the world’s most-densely populated countries, Taiwan is a realm of natural and government-planted forests.
As in other countries, each side of the political spectrum is associated with a particular colour. The Kuomintang, which ruled Taiwan from 1945 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2016, and their allies are known as ‘the blue camp’ or ‘pan-blues’. The Democratic Progressive Party of incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen and the smaller New Power Party are the ‘pan-greens’ or ‘green camp’. The former support closer ties with China, while the latter emphasise Taiwan’s sovereignty. But unless you arrive in the weeks just before an election – the next presidential and parliamentary polls are scheduled for Saturday, January 11, 2020 – you’ll not see many signs of political activity. Taiwan is becoming a mature democracy, although apathy has yet to overtake level-headed engagement.