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Taiwanese medicines

Taiwanese medicines


By Chad Ryan


In 2014, Taiwan's population was around about exactly the same as Australia's2. In 2020, Australia has an estimated population of 25.5 million; Taiwan, an estimated population of 23.8 million1. Immigration aside, Taiwan's population growth rate is curbed due to the island having the lowest birth rate in the world, of 1.22 per woman3. However, if having a big population was an international competition, and Taiwan was trying to keep pace with Australia, their efforts may be somewhat hampered by the discrepancy in population density between the two places, with Australia's population density at 3.2 people per square kilometre, and Taiwan's at 673. Taiwan's population density is the equivalent to fitting Australia's entire population within an area half the size of Tasmania, or more precisely, within 36,000 square kilometres41. There simply isn't space to live in a house, and have a backyard, unless you happen to be right out in the sticks, so Taiwanese live in apartment flats, and they often ride scooters rather than drive cars. If they are well-to-do, they might live in a unit on the top floor that overlooks a patch of parkland. Sharing space with a condensed demography, medicinal herbs clearly cannot necessarily supply demand entirely in their natural wild form. Taiwanese thorowax, as the first of the eleven medicinal herbs found quite exclusively in Taiwan which together constitute the impetus of this writing, is one of which that is scarce in the wild, and so is cultivated for human use. It is a perennial, and grows 40 to 70cm tall on low altitude mountain slopes in northern Taiwan, with its slender and convoluted green branches, lanceolate leaves, and inflorescences of small and numerous yellow flowers, encapsulated but visible at the end of the tubular calyces like the heads of a tall muffins mushrooming above tray cups. It flowers from summer to autumn. The root, which is the part of Taiwanese thorowax used medicinally, furcates into a multitude of thin twisted rootlets, running side by side like thick strands of knotted hair, not smooth, but crooked in course. Bitter, acrid and cool, it treats malaria, jaundice, headache, dizziness, back pain5, and many of the liver patterns that are treated by regular bupleurum root, like dysfunctional menstruation, as well as nausea and vomiting6.


Another medicinal plant of Taiwan requiring preservation from human hankering is the Formosan lily. The bitter, slightly cold and slightly toxic bulb of this archetypally formed plant is believed to leech urine and clear heat, moisten the lung and stop cough, clear the heart and calm the spirit, so treating chronic cough due to tuberculosis infection, coughing of blood and phlegm, latent heat following febrile disease, irritability, fright and palpitations, dazed disorientation, and swelling of the lower limbs5. On top of this extensive therapeutic equity, the white trumpet-shaped floral appeal of Formasan lily has led great risk for these magnificent blooms at being plucked or dug up, and there has been a sharp reduction of their natural domain7. It thus figures that Formosan lily growing in the wild can now mainly be seen in places not easily accessible to scavenging hominid, such as on the side of steep cliffs, perhaps overlooking the ocean. Now, if there are those among you who are reading about this place called Taiwan for the first time, and are painting an image of an ocean-bound enclosure, overpopulated and festering with lust for consumption, while devoid of natural sanctuary, allow me to recreate that image slighty. Long ago, Taiwan actually rose out of the ocean as a crust formed by a succession of terranes, uplifted by the overlapping collision of the edge the Eurasian tectonic plate from the north-west with the Philippine plate in the south-east8. Being on a geologically active complex convergent boundary8, the eastern two thirds of Taiwan today is made up of steep mountain ranges, running roughly north to south on the long olive pip-shaped island, with the pointy tip of the pip pointing south. From east to west there are the Seaside Mountain Range, the Central Mountain Range, the Jade Mountain Mountain Range, and the Ālǐ Mountain Mountain Range, and north to these latter two the Snowy Mountain Mountain Range. Jade Mountain is the highest point at 3,952 metres, and there are more than 200 mountains above 3,000 metres in height9. Formosan lily can be found growing at mostly any altitude on the island from sea level to up above 3,000 metres. It grows up to 120 centimetres in height, with one or two, or perhaps up to ten flowers per stem, flowering up to 18cm in length, while only broadening more than a few centimetres in width towards the tip of it's tubular blossom. It blooms between April and September at different months depending on location7. While the geology of Taiwan means that these very many people are effectively all living within one third of the space of the island, a sentiment for environment protection which has developed in recent years has led to both public and governmental Formosan lily replanting initiatives7.


Formosan urn orchid is another medicinal plant that grows an any altitude from sea-level to the high mountains at 3,000 metres10. The stem tuber of this plant, that does not exceed 60 centimetres in height, is regarded as being at bitter, astringent and slightly cold in nature. It contains lung qì and stops bleeding, and can be used for dispersing swelling and generating muscle, for tuberculosis with expectoration of blood, for swelling and bleeding of the trachea, for injury with suppuration and bleeding of the stomach and duodenum, and for nosebleed5. Recognised as not growing taller than 60 centimetres, and producing just two or three small white flowers at a time, that have a reddish pink streak, it is, though sparsely dispersed, found in all areas of the island, and as such, it might be said that it is a species that enjoys the typical Taiwanese habitat. By this, it is meant that it enjoys plenty of sunlight and keeping moist10. If you go to Taiwan in summer, you cannot just start marching about recklessly. To do so, as I have done so, may just be to find yourself, as I found myself, breaking out in a sweat. Ladies can in fact be seen carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun. Another standard personal clothing accessory is a plastic waterproof poncho. Located on the Tropic of Cancer, southern Taiwan, with an average year round temperature of 24 degrees, is indeed monsoon tropical by definition11. While the subtropical north may be just two degrees less in the western flatlands, it is not uncommon for various places in the flatlands of all corners of the island to experience average monthly temperatures of 30 degrees in the month of July6, so the real way to chill out is to go up. The higher you go, the cooler it gets, but even Snowy Mountain doesn't have snow on it from the start of summer to the middle of spring. Did I mention monsoon? Oh yes, the Kuroshio warm water current that sweeps northward either side of the island, brings with it humid air currents that ride on the north-eastern winter winds, and south-western summer winds, subsequently raining down big thick droplets of this moisture on wind-facing slopes and in the mountainous regions, causing an average yearly rainfall for the whole of Taiwan of 2.5 metres11. The northeast is the wettest of all, while Taiwan's capital Taipei in the north, which is located inland in a large valley differs from other larger cities along the south west coast in that it is still able to receive considerable rainfall during the winter months6. The average humidity of the majority of places at any time of the year exceeds 75% or 85% in Taiwan. Those places on the pacific coast that receive most rainfall tend to be more humid. While mountainous places can become very dry in winter, they can be even more humid than the lower lying regions in summer6.


Still other medicinal plants prefer chilling in the shade from the hot sun in Taiwan. Oldham's chloranthus grows from 30 to 50 centimetres in height on the forest floor, where the air is fresh, or in shady spots beside the road. Four elliptical green leaves fan outward at 90 degrees to one another at the top of the stem, and small white drooping spike flowers are visible from April to June12. The whole plant of Oldham's chloranthus is used medicinally. It is bitter and neutral. It invigorates the blood to relieve stasis, and resolves toxicity and disperses swelling. It can be used for amenorrhoea, swelling and pain due to blood stasis, for wind-damp pain, cuts and bruises, and venomous snake-bite poisoning5. Prized for it's aesthetic value, Oldham's chloranthus sways and dances in the with it's large 10 to 13 centimetre-long and 6 to 9 centimetre wide leaves at the top-end of the plant12. Perhaps having a bit of shelter on the forest floor while 500 to 1000 meters above sea level12 is not such a bad thing when one considers how much the wind can pick up in Taiwan. It is owing to the water temperatures in the North Western Pacific region rising to above 27 degrees celcius13 that the region is frequently subjected to typhoons from July to October each year14. Two to three typhoons will generally cross Taiwan each year14, and of these, strong typhoons, which come through once every few years, or on several occasions in a single year, bring with them winds of greater than 180 kilometres per hour15, and may leave whole streets in tatters. On the topic of extreme natural phenomena, it may come as no surprise that Taiwan is frequently subjected to earthquakes. With the Philippine Sea Plate, backed by the Pacific Plate in the rear22, moving northeast at a rate of 8cm per year relative to the oncoming Eurasian plate in modern times8, Taiwan is the most rapidly changing landmass on the face of the planet18. Subduction of tectonic plates, causing curling downward into the mantle, or hot layer, of the subterranean earth, in the process of convergence, has given rise to intra-oceanic arcs of volcanoes in the western Pacific region19. One such arc, the Luzon arc, is thought to have acquired sufficient topographic bulk 9 to 6 million years ago to collide with and tear into the Eurasian plate, rather than subducting under it as the Philippine plate continues to do in the north, thus setting in motion the development of the continental accretionary prism forming Taiwan8. As the relatively boyant continental Eurasian plate subducts beneath the denser oceanic crust of the Philippine plate south of the tear with resistance due to its relative boyancy20, the southward developing accretion of the oblique convergence is built upon frictionally with a mountain-forming effect8. The point of contact between the two plates is recognised as being located in the centre of the Longitudinal Valley on Taiwan's southern east coast, while thrust faults and blind thrusts along prominent faultlines on both sides of the central mountain ranges21 have unleashed twelve earthquakes in the last ten years measuring above six on the Richter scale16. The last really devastating earthquake in Taiwan occurred in the centre of the island in 1999, killing 2,415 people, injuring more than 10,000, and causing more than 100,000 homes to collapse17.


One outcome of the island rising sharply to significant heights, is that despite its modest land mass, Taiwan is home to multiple ecological zones due to differences in altitude. Where the heat is most grueling, from sea level to 500 metres above sea level the natural vegetation is dominated by figs and avocados25, while there is also much fungi23. From 500 to 1800 metres, where the atmosphere becomes slightly more temperate and damp, and the flora is diverse, from Indian charcoal tree, to Chinese sweet gum and Japanese elm, Japanese cedar, as well as giant timber bamboo26; but with a prominence of teas, oaks and avocados26. Before any of you avocado lovers out there get too excited, I might just forewarn you, Taiwanese avocados as a genre of plant do not grow the same fruits produced by the south central Mexican species that are exulted around the world. Conversely, some Taiwanese apparently don't even know what an avocado is. From 1,800 to 2,500 metres, the number of conifers start to increase25, while there is also the appearance of colossal species like the Taiwanese yellow cypress and Taiwanese red cypress23 that may exceed 1000 years in age24. Ascending from 2,500 metres to 3,000 metres, you may namely come by the coniferous species of Taiwanese hemlock tree25, Taiwanese spruce26, and upward by Taiwanese white fir23. On the surface of the ground at this level are ferns and mosses23. Above 3,000 metres smaller cold-tolerant and dryness-tolerant plants like umbrella bamboos and silvergrass26, and above 3,400 metres you are looking at small shrubs like Lapland rosebay, and Jade Mountain barberry as well as grass species like Morrison stonecrop23. All this really narrows down where we can find medicines plants, whether we are setting out with our spade on a quest for an item, or just curious to look and let be, should it be that our little herbal friends happen to be threatened from over-collection. Take for instance black-barked snowbell, that is endemic to Taiwan. It is a tree that can grow to over 9 metres, with dense brown branches, and white scented flowers that bloom from April to May and attract bees. The roots and leaves are used as acrid and slightly warm medicinals that treat phlegm5, while it specifically grows in the forested lower to medium range mountain regions27. Back down to the level where agricultural plants dominate the landscape, the cultivation of the important traditional staple in Taiwan that is rice can still be witnessed by aid of water buffalo in plowing the paddies. The predominant form of rice cultivated in Taiwan today is the short grained Japonica rice89. Vegetables like bamboo shoots, cabbage, soyabeans, garlic, tomatoes, spring onion, cauliflowers and non-head forming cabbages like bok choy count among the most widely-cultivated in Taiwan92, while the most extensively planted fruits on the island include pineapples, mangoes, papayas, guavas, ponkans90 and watermelon92; however, it is alarming that more that twice the amount of land used to propagate the second most cultivated fruit, which is bananas, is used to grow betel nut trees90. Throat cancer is listed among the top ten causes of death in Taiwan, and much of the nearly 3,000 annual deaths due to throat cancer here are attributed to the habit of chewing of betel nuts by 8.5% of males over the age of 1890. While this very product is a herb used in Chinese medicine to kill parasites plus promote urination and the movement of qì6, it is supposed that truck drivers, who develop a distinctive bloody gummed appearance from the vice of constantly chewing 'bīng-láng', do so to help keep themselves focussed on a long road trip; while the ladies who make their living by dolling up inside a glass box beside the highway where they combine the betel nut with a red paste containing cooked lime powder and other sweet or fragrant ingredients added to help moderate the harsh astringent flavour of the betel nut, then rolling them together neatly within betel leaf that is supposed to contain phenols which impart a relative anticarcinogenic and antifungal contribution to the compound93,  help tempt such drivers to stop and buy some91.


From the wild flat regions to the lower mountainous areas, grows a butterfly-attracting medicinal plant that is endemic to Taiwan, that is gourd-leaved Dutchman's pipe. The aptly named vine has a sole flower that is shaped like a curved pipe. The broad-leaved variety features a black triangular rim surrounding the mouth of a modest 4 centimetre bloom, visible from March to May28. The root is used medicinally. It is bitter and cold, and resolves swelling due to external trauma and poisoning due to snakebite. It also has application for dizziness, headache, and abdominal pain5. Where butterflies are celebrated, a butterfly attracting plant might seem all the more significant. Compared to their neighbor Japan, that has 214 types of butterfly, Taiwan, despite being one tenth the size has over 380 types of butterfly29. Hundreds of thousands by number of dark coloured butterflies known as crows can be found congregating in individual mountain valleys towards the south of Taiwan. Autumn is said to be the best time for viewing in this region, due to the annual migration of the four varieties of this same genus, that ride on the direction of the wind, that blows in opposite directions in early spring and autumn, in order to beat the cold of the north during winter30. Protected butterfly varieties include the stunning papilio maraho and aurora swallowtail, both found nowhere else but Taiwan, as well as the great purple emperor and the Magellan birdwing31. The male Magellan birdwing butterflies have wingspans of 11 to 14 centimetres, the females, 12 to 15 centimetres, and this type of butterfly just loves Dutchman's pipe32. There are creatures bigger too, getting about this little island, like Taiwanese salamander, the Moltrecht's green tree frog, the Taipei tree frog, the Taiwanese blue magpie, the leopard cat, the elegant scops-owl, the Swinehoe's phesant, the Formosan rock macaque, the Chinese muntjac, the Taiwanese serow, the sika deer and the sambar deer33. Perhaps most formidably, there are 200 to 600 Formosan black bears, those being a subspecies of the Asiatic black bear34, with adult males weighing up to 200 kilograms35. As for snakes, a bite from which we may like to concoct our broad-leaf Dutchman's pipe root to treat, well, Taiwan has seventeen types. Five of these, including the Kelung cat snake, the common mock viper, the rice paddy snake, the Chinese water snake and Maki's keelback37 are only mildly venomous. The MacClelland's coral snake, the Hatori's coral snake, the Taiwanese coral snake, the Taiwanese tiger keelback, the Taiwanese pit viper and the Taiwanese mountain pit viper are more venomous, and being bitten by any of these types of snakes could lead to death. Of the six highly venomous snakes you may encounter in Taiwan: the hemorrhagic venom of the sharp-nosed viper causes pain and systemic bleeding quite instantaneously, and also death to 24% of those who are bitten; the neurotoxin of the many-branded krait causes difficulty speaking, swallowing, keeping one's eyelids open, and breathing, as well as dilation of the pupils, and death to 23% of those who are bitten; the Chinese cobra, that can grow to two metres in length, causes death to 15% of those who are bitten; the brown-spotted pit viper that is aggressive and so bites easily, causes death in 8% of those who are bitten; the Siamese Russell's viper, that curls itself up and starts hissing if threaten, causes death to 6% of those who are bitten; and the green bamboo viper, that is so numerous that fifty of them have been seen while going along a 18 kilometre strip of road of an evening, but on account of the small volume of venom that is delivered from which, causes death in 1% of those who are bitten36.


Another medicinal plant endemic to Taiwan which treats snake bite poisoning is Formosan filigree orchid. Growing 20 to 30 centimetres in height on the damp shady laurel forest floor from 500 to 1,500 metres elevation, Formosan filigree orchid presents with about eight broadly ovate dark green leaves with fine silver or gold tracing on it's upper surface, and a purplish red colour on the underside38. The whole plant is used as a sweet, neutral medicinal, to cool the blood, calm the liver, clear heat and resolve toxicity. It can be used for tuberculosis with coughing of blood, diabetes, bronchitis, nephritis, cystitis and infantile convulsions5. In Taiwan, it is sold commercially as a tea39. Of course, Taiwan is no stranger to commercial enterprise, as a traditional trader of sugar, rice, tea, deer hide41, camphor42, indigo43 and peanut oil44. An example of Taiwan's dynamic capacity as merchant state played out when foreign trade reform promoting exports in the late 1950s40, along with the availability of cheap labour at the time, saw Taiwan rapidly reboot it's economy through the production and export of textiles, plastics, electronics, processed food, cement and plywood45. Since a development program for science and technology was initiated in the late 1970s40, Taiwan has matured into a prolific exporter of integrated circuits, computer parts, liquid crystal displays, storage media, printed circuit boards, computers and their accessory units, polyacetal and steel screws and bolts, smart phones, petroleum refined products46, optical apparatuses and medical apparatuses47. Logistically, Taiwan is well connected, with it's own airlines company48, while travel between two of the important ports at either end of the land, known as Kēelúng and Kāohsiúng49, takes just 4 hours and 52 minutes or 2 hours and 10 minutes, on the respective train line, constructed mainly during the early 20th century period58, and the more modern high speed rail, that both run from north to south50. The Taiwanese economic model relies on a good educational system, and with a tertiary education within the reach of mostly anyone nowadays51, there has furthermore been some 60,000 Taiwanese students studying internationally in recent times52. Each year, 355 students are accepted into formal study of traditional Chinese medicine in either the seven year undergraduate course offered by Chang Gung University and China Medical University, or the 5 year postgraduate course offered at China Medical University, Tzu Chi University and I-Shou University53. In Taiwan, there are 4 Chinese medicine hospitals, 3,975 Chinese medicine clinics, and 7,094 Chinese medicine practitioners54, which is approximately one traditional Chinese medicine practitioner for every seven biomedical practitioners55. Traditional Chinese medicine is comprehensively included in the National Health Insurance scheme in Taiwan57, which is funded through income tax and lottery tickets56.


'Formosan lily', 'Formosan urn orchid', 'Formosan rock macaque' and now 'Formosan filigree orchid': what is this word, 'Formosa', anyway? 'Illha Formosa' is in fact the name by which some Portuguese mariners originally named an island in 1544 that has since been assumed as Taiwan. The meaning is 'aesthetically formed isle'59. The Portuguese didn't stay, but the following century, during what is known by Taiwanese sources as the International Contested Era of the islands history, the Japanese, the Chinese, and two European forces, in the Dutch and Spanish were all trying to stake a claim of this aesthetically pleasing island60. One might assume that from the low wild plains where these people of various origins were all hunkering down at the time on Taiwan, all the way up to 1200 metres elevation, grew then, as it does now, a butterfly attracting, flowering tree of three to five metres in height, called Taiwanese cotton-rose. The 9 to 15 centimetre bloom is white in the morning, pink-red in the evening, and edible61. The stem and roots are considered acrid and neutral, with a capacity for clearing the lungs, and stopping coughing, cooling the blood, dissipating swelling and resolving toxicity. It can be used for lung abscesses and stubborn ulcers5. Widespread in Taiwan5, the fibrous bark of Taiwanese cotton-rose can be used for making rope, and the thicker trunks can be formed into clogs62.  While it is unconfirmed to my knowledge as to whether they may have utilised Taiwanese cotton-rose for this latter purpose during their stay, it would be the Dutch, with an incidental tradition in clog wearing63, that would last the longest of the newcomers. The Spaniards would be gone again within 22 years, while it would only be upon surrendering to Zhèng Chénggōng, who had left China and brought his army to Taiwan follow the suffering of heavy losses to the advancing Qīng Dynasty in China's Fújiàn province, that the Dutch would call it quits 42 years after their arrival60. This strategy of retreat from China by Zhèng would be replicated in 1949 by the general Chiāng Kāi-Shèk while retreating from Máo's red army51, however back in 1662, it would only be 21 years before the Zhèng's heirs ceded on Taiwan to the encroaching Qīng empire60; at which juncture began a 212 year period of Chinese Qīng dynasty administration in Taiwan until it was taken over as the first annexation of the Japanese colonial empire in 189560. Further basis for modern day assertions of affiliation by China towards Taiwan, where Chinese mandarin is the national language taught in schools, extend back further in time also, with the emperor having dispatched a 10,000 man strong mission to scout the island in the year 239 AD, and with the Chinese also having established settlements on Taiwan by the twelfth century of the common era; however in those days the Chinese were in danger of losing their heads to head-hunting aboriginal tribesmen51, who have lived in Taiwan for at least 5,000 years64. With over 500,000 aboriginals from 16 different tribes living in Taiwan today65, and 85% of all Taiwanese having aboriginal lineage66, an ordinary person from Formosa may very well contest that they are neither Japanese nor Chinese, but Taiwanese. Since the violent repression of uprising against the new Kuómíntǎng government of the modern era in 1947, know as the February 28th incident that resulted in the death of 18 to 28 thousand people67; and the 53 years of Kuómíntǎng leadership that followed throughout the course of the economic miracle, Taiwan has gradually transitioned into more truly democratic system, and to this end has received the backing and friendship of the United States of America51.


White and pink are also the colours of Taiwan's national flower, the plum blossom68; while Formosan beautyberry, which is planted by roads and used for hedges where it attracts birds, and is also used as a decorative plant in auditoriums69, produces a similar colour contrast, with its clusters of berries that turn a liliac or even violet hue in the spring of April, and proceed to sprout into small white and liliac trumpet flowers with a yellow stigma70. The roots of Formosan beautyberry are recognised as being bitter, astringent and cooling; while possessing a kidney tonic,  water-nourishing effect, alongside a blood-cooling, stasis-relieving action. The numerous indications for this medicinal herb include wind-damp, lower-burner wasting and thirsting disorder, leucorrhoea, throat pain, nerve pain, eye illnesses, upper respiratory infection, tonsillitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, coughing of blood, vomiting of blood, nosebleed, and bleeding due to external injury5. The month of April, around the time in which Formosan beautyberry gains its alluring pigmentation, is the month of Tomb Sweeping Day and Children's Day for each of which there is a day off work for all Taiwanese. Other single day public holidays in Taiwan include New Year's Day; National Day on the 10th of October, in remembrance of the founding of the Republic of China; and Peace Remembrance Day, in remembrance of the February 28th incident. Taiwanese also enjoy two days off work for both the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival, and five days off for the most major festival of the year in that of Chinese New Year71. Other important days on the calendar for many Taiwanese may reflect individual religious beliefs, with about a third of Taiwanese identifying with both Daoism and Buddhism, with an reasonable amount of cross over between followers of these religions, and many Daoist believers also adopting a mixture of folklore religion. Foremost among folklore religion events in Taiwan is the approxiamately 340 kilometre, nine day and eight night, Māzǔ Sea Goddess pilgrimage, that occurs in April each year72. This procession, that includes flag bearers, horns and guards, carries a palanquin of the deity inspired by a girl from Méizhōu Island with particular seafaring knowledge and skill, who lost her life at age 28 while saving her father at sea, and who was thereafter prayed to by early Taiwanese immigrants from Fújiàn who braved the crossing from mainland China to Taiwan by boat73. The procession proceeds along an improvised route from Dàjiǎ Jēnn Lánn Temple in Táichūng to Xīngǎng Fèng Tiān Temple in Chiāyì and back again, visiting hundred of temples along the way74, and sometimes involves more than one million participants72, some of which will kneel down and bow forward on the road as the palanquin if carried over them74. There is furthermore, in 6.5% of all Taiwanese, a sizeable number of Christians in Taiwan, not including Catholics, of which there are about half this number of followers again; and over 3,000 churches too, which is about one third the number of temples72.


Another aesthetic native, called Taiwanese white pine, is planted in Chinese and Japanese style courtyards and used in horticulture as a bonsai75. It has also been used as a constructive material, from telegraph poles, to bridge beams, buildings76, wooden planks, furniture and paper75. Left to grow naturally, this conifer that is found from 300 to 2,000 metres above sea level can grow above 30 meters high. It is recognised as have needle leaves that part as one from its twigs in bundles of five, and it develops cracks and crease marks it its trunk at the age of twenty, that become more evident over time76. The leaves and resin of Taiwanese white pine are seen in traditional Chinese medicine terms as having bitter, astringent and warming qualities, and being good for rheumatoid arthritis and cough5. The crooked trunk of this garden tree seems an exemplar of the trees of Chinese landscape paintings. Taiwan itself, has a wealth of artistic products of the highest order. The National Palace Museum in Taipei is home to over 70,000 artefacts, that is, so many that they must only be brought from their underground place of storage to be displayed quite selectively and on a rotating basis. Among these paintings, pieces of calligraphy, books, documents, pieces of pottery, jade artifacts and copper artifacts are the most important treasures that were held by the imperial Chinese state for thousands of years77. The Taipei city centre itself also furthermore has an entire underground street in the form of the Taipei City Mall, which extends 825 metres in total length underneath the ground, and has 28 entry and exit points, while being home to many shops78. Above ground, the Taipei 101 building was the tallest in the world for six years, from the time of its construction until the year 201079. Each May there is a running race up the stairwell of this 509 metre tall edifice80. If you do miss this, you may still be able to attend a 3 kilometre floatie-assisted swim across Taiwan's picturesque Sun Moon Lake in September, where you will be in the good company 3,000 others doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time81. When it comes to sporting prowess, Taiwan has enjoyed recent success in a several fields, in winning several medals in taekwondo, weightlifting, archery, table tennis and baseball over the last 30 years of the Olympic Games82. The average size of the Taiwanese man is 1 metre and 73 centimetres in height, and 75 kilograms in weight; while the average size of Taiwanese women is 1 metre and 60 centimetres in height, and 60.9 kilograms in weight83. Many Taiwanese can be seen conducting an early morning or late afternoon stroll or jog, practicing classical or modern dance in an outdoor setting, or playing basketball or baseball. Taiwanese love travel, reading, gaming, watching dramas or tinkering with their vehicle. They are sedulous workers, who in their youth attended cram school after school, and the many who have specifically spent considerable focus on English study help make up the numbers who have been studying overseas in recent years, foremost in the United States of America and Austraila84. Culturally Taiwan is a melting pot of East and West: from Chinese language rock music and hip-hop music, to cinema featuring multiple concurrent narratives and themes including social isolation and honest depictions of the fragility of human temperament, as well as architecture including a train station with and enormous multicoloured glass art ceiling to a seven story library with a rooftop garden, artistic sensibility is ubiquitous, and it is said that every Taiwanese girl knows how to play the piano.


It just wouldn't be right to talk about Taiwanese culture without mentioning its cusine, with arguably the favourite pastime of all for Taiwanese being gathering for meals. There are so many iced tea outlets in Taiwan that you need not inconvenience yourself by going far find one, and aside from the many breakfast cafés restaurants that are such great value that you could quite easily get by without a kitchen of your own. You can actually buy food from vendors with their food carts on the street in Taiwan, even in the middle of the night. Taiwan, an island where Seven Eleven stores can be found an practically every single block in commercial districts, prides itself on convenience, with many small privately-owned restaurants also offering competitive speed of service. If you hear the classic tune of an ice-cream truck coming along the street of your dwelling however, that would in fact be a rubbish collection truck. The quintessential element of Taiwan's food culture would be its open-air night markets beneath lights, the backbone of which consists of isles of food stalls, each of which offering a different type of specialty dish, that are constructed in front of your eyes, using simple yet marvellous techniques and contraptions, the process of which is a performance and entertainment in itself. They say that food is medicine, and so far as Chinese medicine is concerned, this is absolutely the case. A plant named jelly fig grows in abundance from 1,000 to 2,000 metres elevation in Taiwan, the fruit of which, of the fig family, while looking like an oval-shaped spotted avocado fruit, ripens between August and December each year85, is said to resolve summer heat and thirst5. In producing natural jelly made out of jelly fig, which can only be produced by the female jelly fig plant86, a ratio of one part jelly fig seed to 50 parts mineral water by weight is suggested. The seeds, that are collected growing from the interior of the soft shell of the fruit in much the same way that passion fruit seeds grow on a passion fruit, after being turned inside out to dry for at least ten days, are soaked in the water inside a cotton bag, and then are rubbed in the palm of the hand to release a gelatinous matter that will cause the water to set in a matter of thirty minutes87. Sold on the street this is made into a sweet by being mixed with agar. At a typical Taiwanese night market you are also sure to find tantilising pork and beef, fried and stewed, baked sweet potato and steamed breads with fillings, and also more local style dishes, from fried squid to blood sausage, oyster pancakes to red bean cakes, and pineapple cakes to chicken's butt. This is after all Asia, where fish head soup is a delicacy, and pig's ear, spicy conch, and 100-year-old egg may all find their way on to the menu. One popular type of Taiwanese food is stinky tofu. It really stinks and can be smelt from a distance, but the taste isn't so off-putting. An original type of dessert is known as shaved ice, which is a dish covered by ice cut so thinly that it melts into a refreshing cool bowl of dessert as you dig for the pieces of fruit beneath. In Taiwan you can drink winter melon tea, and milk tea with tapioca starch balls, while a warm cup of soy milk is a popular breakfast beverage. For breakfast you can also acquire the exotic item of a warm rice rolls filled with fried meat floss, minced meat, egg, pickled mustard vegetable and fried bread wrapped in a lump of glutinous rice88.

 

References:


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91. Shěn RX (2016) As Taiwan's Betel Nut Beauties become internationally renowned, their days becomes ever more difficult. Retrieved from: https://www.thenewslens.com/article/48698


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Appendix:


Common English name, pharmaceutical name and Chinese name cross reference


Taiwanese thorowax                  bupleurum kaoi                            高氏柴胡
Formosan lily                             lilium formosanum                      臺灣百合
Formosan urn orchid                 bletilla formosana                        臺灣白及
Oldham's chloranthus                chloranthus oldhamii                   四葉蓮
black-barked snowbell               styrax formosana                         烏皮九芎
gourd-leaved dutchman's pipe   aristoliochia cucurbitifolia          瓜葉馬兜鈴
Formosan filigree orchid           anoectochilus formosanus           金線蓮
Taiwanese cotton-rose               hibiscus taiwanensis                   山芙蓉
Formosan beautyberry              callicarpa formosana                   杜虹花
Taiwanese white pine                pinus morrisonicola                    臺灣五葉松
jelly fig                                      ficus pumila var. awkeotsang      愛玉

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