Greece and Taiwan are two places that seem to be totally different. I think that no one I know has ever used the names of these two countries in the same sentence. They indeed appear to have nothing in common. Taiwan is an island with around 23 million people, located in Asia and with a population mostly made up of Han Chinese. Greece is a peninsula, in the Mediterranean Sea, and it has just around 11 million inhabitants. Its culture is a mix of ancient Greek elements, Christian civilisation and Balkan culture.
Nevertheless, the first time I went to Taiwan my first impression was: “Hey, this place looks like Greece!” Over time, I noticed some weird similarities between the two countries, some of which are entirely subjective and perhaps make no sense at all. However, I decided to list them off in this post.
1- Streets and Buildings:
Before going to Taipei I had expected to find clean streets, neat houses, traditional architecture or super modern glittering buildings. But while I sat on the bus from the airport to main station and looked outside the window, what I saw were mostly small buildings, narrow pavements, and loggias. The buildings didn’t look very clean, or particularly homogeneous in their shape. The whole thing looked quite similar to Greece’s capital Athens. Here, too, there is a concrete jungle of rather short buildings, a little bit shabby, and long loggias, and the pavements and streets are also full of cars and scooters. Of course, I am talking about certain residential areas of Taipei and Athens, mostly built either before WWII or in the following two-three decades.
Let me show you a few pictures of Taipei (one of them is of Danshui):
Now, take a look at some pictures of Athens to get an idea of how the streets and buildings look like in some residential areas. Unfortunately, I cannot show you the pictures directly, due to copyright restrictions. I can just share with you the links (you have to wait a few seconds for the main picture to visualize).
2 – You Cannot Throw Toilet Paper into the WC
Both countries share this peculiarity. Except for Taiwan and Greece, I have never been to any developed country where the plumbing system gets blocked if you flush your toilet paper down. This is not the case in every building or house, but I can tell for sure it is so in the majority of public facilities.
So, what do you do after you have …? Well, both in Greece and Taiwan you will find trash bins where to dispose of your toilet paper, which means that sometimes the bins will be full of the toilet paper other people have used.
3 – High Military Spending
Both countries have a high ratio of military spending relative to their GDP, compulsory military service for males and a large number of available manpower.
In 2008, Greece’s military expenditure amounted to 2.8% of GDP (about €6.9 billion / $9.3 billion), the highest among the countries of the European Union (note). Due to the debt crisis, military expenditure had to be reduced to around 2.2% of GDP. As to 2008, the total manpower amounted to 2,535,174 males, age 15–49. This number includes the active personnel plus all the people available for military service in case of war.
In Taiwan, military expenditures for 2008 amounted to NTD 334 billion (about U.S. $10.5 billion). This means that the ratio of defence expenditure to GDP was 2.94%. In 2009, the active military personnel of the ROC was 300,000 and in 2005 the total manpower was 3.6 million (note).
Why do these two small countries spend so much for their armed forces?
The reason is that both of them are or feel threatened by a much bigger neighbour with whom they don’t have very good relations. Taiwan fears China, while Greece fears Turkey.
4 – Blue Roofs, White Walls
Who doesn’t know the famous Greek architecture of the Cyclades, the beautiful islands on the Aegean Sea, with their white walls and blue rooftops or cupolas? Here are two examples:
|The church of St. Athena in Akrotiri of Santorini (source: Wikipedia)|
Well, one of the landmarks of Taipei, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, also has whitewashed walls and a blue rooftop. When I saw it for the first time, I thought it looked like a colossal Oriental version of those churches and buildings in Greece.
5 – Cockroaches
My ex-girlfriend’s flat in Athens, near the ancient city centre, was infested with cockroaches. In Italy or Germany I had never seen cockroaches in my house. But in Athens, there were many of them. I thought it was because the building was old, but one day a Greek friend of mine told me that cockroaches are a normal thing in Athens. It has to do with the climate.
In Taiwan, too, cockroaches are in every house and hide everywhere. It is not because the city or the buildings are dirty or old, but, here as well, it’s because of the climate.
And now, let me end this post by sharing with you a few nice pictures: