Getting home from work tonight I turned on my computer to find an email from a Taiwanese acquaintance which explained a plan to start charging visitors to enter Taiwan’s national parks. Nothing wrong with that, in principle. However he also explained how he’d heard from a friend that certain local politicians were suggesting that foreign visitors then be charged a higher fee than Taiwanese tourists. I immediately felt a tinge of righteous anger, but there was more than that; the news was slightly disturbing also. After several hours I finally put my finger on what was wrong, and couldn’t sleep until writing down feelings that I’ve actually had for some time, in black and white.
I realized that this is far from the first time that the Taiwanese authorities have differentiated between what foreigners and Taiwanese can do when exploring this wonderful island, or how much they should pay while doing it.
Now I must immediately make it clear from the start that I’m not suggesting any loopy conspiracy theories here, or for a minute that there’s some devious plan to discriminate against foreigners…!! It strikes me though that the wrong signals are being sent out sometimes, and that a few changes could be made if Taiwan wants to attract more foreign tourists, and to keep them happy. Even when intentions are good, how they’re perceived by others is important, and I’m finding it hard to perceive the logic of some of the more idiosyncratic rules and restrictions I’ve encountered on my travels around the island over the last few years. It’s quite possible that there’s a good and fair reason behind all of them, but the bitter taste remains, and I’m curious whether I’m being over-sensitive or whether other foreign residents feel that something doesn’t sit quite right.
Here are a few curious facts I’m aware of that affect foreign passport holders here (residents and/or visitors) trying to explore the island:
- A proposal announced last year suggested that a fee will be charged for staying in the new Paiyun Lodge (when it opens) on Yushan (Jade Mountain; the highest mountain in northeast Asia). Unfortunately foreign tourists, it was proposed, would be charged NT$700, while locals (and foreign residents) would be charged only NT$220. The proposed dual fee policy has yet to be implemented.
- Foreign hikers wishing to climb any of the high mountains in Taroko National Park (including popular summits such as Mounts Nanhuda and Chilai) can only climb if a local resident acts as ‘leader.’ Exactly who the leader is however doesn’t seem to matter - hikers I know have used their wives and girlfriends (neither of whom went on the trip) – they just have to have Taiwanese ID.
- Qingtian Hall, a huge underground chamber carved out of the granite of Mount Taiwu on Kinmen is now open to Taiwanese visitors, yet foreign visitors and residents alike are not allowed to enter.
- Similarly the army stronghold (which commands a marvellous view) on top of Mount Yuntai on Nangan in the Matsu Islands is now open to the public - but only to holders of Taiwan ID. Foreign residents and visitors are forbidden from entering. Perhaps they’re afraid of foreign spies….
- …and now, according to my acquaintance it appears certain local politicians want to charge foreigners more for entering Taiwan’s national parks when and if proposed entrance fees are levied on visitors.
While I’m sure the authorities are sometimes merely erring on the side of caution, after discovering these limitations which affect me simply because I’m a foreigner, I’m thinking the Taiwanese authorities would do well to re-consider the way they treat us aliens if they want us to feel as truly welcome as the average Taiwanese person on the street here invariably does.