Jamshed Avari | 22 June 2010
By jamshed avari
Something about the island of Taiwan has a permanent effect on any member of the CHIP team who happens to visit it. Taiwan attracts us all, like an island temptress who calls out constantly, her voice becoming particularly strong in the summer, when it starts gently whispering sweet reminders to get budgetary allocations and visa application papers in order.
For the two years prior to this one, it had been my privilege to go. Computex, held in the first of June each year, is now arguably the most important personal computer industry event in the world. Taiwan and China are the world’s new manufacturing powers, and visitors will actually see new products for the first time ever at this show. American and European companies, recognizing the importance of global relationships, hold their events here too. So for one preview day, five official show days and one open-to-public day, Computex becomes the home of all things new and powerful. Anand didn’t quite believe my enthusiasm when I started prepping him for his trip this year. He didn’t think he needed five days. I had to pull out old floorplans and city maps to convince him of the size and scale of this thing!
The only way to go is with a schedule in hand, and fixed appointments for everyone you want to meet. You can see the sights, but no one will be free to talk to you otherwise. Not only do you have to shuttle between two venues in different parts of the city, but you also have to manage strict Chinese adherence to time. It isn’t good to be late for appointments and missing them means missing a lot of very juicy information. If you know the right places to be and the right people to talk to, and if they trust you enough, doors will open and products unannounced to the world will be revealed to you, spinning and humming along contentedly enough. It’s enough to intoxicate any tech lover.
And if the show wasn’t enough, the city itself is just ELECTRIC! The people are friendly, the nightlife is endless, the shops and restaurants are jamming with noise and smells and all kinds of color. If you want a quiet sit-down evening, that can be arranged, but you’re more likely to just enjoy getting caught up in the pace of the place. Night markets pulsate with life every day of the week. Pots and pans clang against each other, vendors yell out their prices, tourists grab their cameras as they get elbowed out of the way.
Perhaps this is something only outsiders see. Most people you meet there are amazed that anyone could get so excited about Taipei. They love their country, history and traditions, but they have no special fondness for the big city. “It’s loud, dirty, crowded and expensive” they say. Hardly anyone actually lives within the city limits, instead migrating from residential areas all around it. If they hear you’re staying in Taipei any more than is absolutely necessary, they don’t understand why. “Get out of the city!” they’ll urge you. They’ll list waterfalls, beaches, natural reserves reachable only via a gondola ride, cycling tracks in the surrounding mountains… anything BUT the city. Tell them you just want to go shopping, and they’ll spend ages trying to persuade you to find the time to go outside.
Or perhaps it’s the fact that our cities here feel like they have so much less to enthrall us. In most of them, or at least in Mumbai that I can speak for, space is hard to come by, open plazas and art venues are nonexistent, public architecture is a joke, civic services don’t blend in seamlessly, bookstores don’t have the luxury of occupying entire seven-storey buildings, the taxis aren’t all in perfect shape BY FAR, the roads are NOT a joy to ride down by any stretch of the imagination, and we haven’t built anything amazing for tourists to marvel at possibly since the British era.
It all seems to come together in Taipei. The city isn’t perfect by any means, especially judging by how far its own residents wish to live from it. But each team member who's visited over the years—editorial at least—has recognized it as an extraordinary place for geeks to go. Gadgets, people, nightlife... there isn't going to be any way for us to get bored of it anytime soon.