SQUIZ THE WORLD (1400 × 700px)

Squiz the World goes to… Taiwan

An introduction to Taiwan’s indigenous tribes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqTBboik5j8
Dai’s House of Unique Stink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMEz4tSaqNI
Beef noodle soup recipe: https://nationalfoods.org/recipe/national-dish-of-taiwan-beef-noodle-soup/

Each week, we give the world globe a spin, and see where we land. Then we take the kids of Australia on an audio excursion to visit that country and its people.

I’m Amanda Bower, and today on Squiz the World we’re visiting a country that, well, the majority of world governments haven’t officially recognised as its own country. It’s a place that’s been in the news a lot lately, as world leaders consider what they might do if these islands are invaded by China. The Chinese government says that the islands belong to them. The people of Taiwan—who have their own government, passports, stamps, money, and army—disagree.

So let’s strap ourselves into the Squiz Kids Super Fast Supersonic Jetliner as we take off and take a squiz at Taiwan.

Taiwan is a group of islands about 161 kilometres off the east coast of the Chinese mainland. The old fashioned name for the biggest island is “Formosa,” which means “beautiful” in Portguese. It got that name way back in the 1500s, when sailors passed by and were impressed by the island’s beaches, palm trees, even pineapples. It’s a bit of a tropical paradise.

We’ll talk more later about the indigenous people of Taiwan, who were living on the islands back in the 1500s. For now, all you need to know is that over the years, different European countries claimed the islands… until China took over in the late 17th century. Japan was in charge in the late 1800s, after China lost a war with them… but China took it back again, when Japan lost WWII in 1945.

Once the second world war was over, China went back to having its own war, between two very different political parties. By 1949, it was clear that one side was going to win the war, and the other side, their soldiers, and more than a million of their supporters, fled to Taiwan.
They called their government the Republic of China, and said – from Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, that they were the true government of all of China.

Meanwhile, over in Beijing, the government of the People’s Republic of China said that THEY were the true government of all of China.

So, we have the Republic of China, based in Taiwan… and People’s Republic of China, based in Beijing. It’s enough to make your head spin!

Taiwan has 24 million people, and China has 1.4 billion, so obviously if China ever decided to try to take Taiwan by force, the smaller country would need some powerful friends. That’s why it’s a big deal that recently, American President Joe Biden said that his country would come to Taiwan’s aid, if necessary.

Okay, that’s DEFINITELY enough politics.

Whenever you travel, it’s important to learn a few words in that country’s language. It’s a great way to show respect. So, let’s….

In Taiwan, there are six official languages – Mandarin Chinese is by far the most common, but there are also four Chinese dialects, as well as Formosan, spoken by indigenous people.

We’ve learned some Mandarin before, when Squiz the World visited China, but I learned something cool about how people often greet each other in Taiwan.

Hello in Mandarin is, of course, “Ni Hao”. After you’ve greeted someone, you often ask how they are, right? Well, in Taiwan, instead of saying “how are you”, people say “吃过了吗”

Chiguole ma means “have you eaten”? Food is important in Taiwan, and if someone hasn’t eaten … well, they probably aren’t okay, are they?
Now that we can communicate a little bit, it’s….

It’s compulsory in Taiwan for kids to go to school for 12 years … but, starting in year 7, they get to decide whether they want to be on an academic, or “vocational” track.

The academic track means that you want to go to university, and are prepared to sit some pretty hard exams.

The word ‘vocation’ means job or occupation, so the vocational track is leading students towards a job that doesn’t necessarily require going to uni. These students don’t have to sit those stressful exams.

In years 10 to 12, those vocational students will take subjects that can lead to careers in areas as diverse – meaning different – as farming, nursing, and opera singing.

Another subject that kids can study is Formosan, a name for the indigenous languages of Taiwan. Only 2.3% of all people living in Taiwan are actually indigenous to the islands… and those communities are trying to promote their language and culture. Let’s learn more about the Austronesians of Taiwan.

Yes, I did say Austronesians, and strangely, that word has nothing to do with Australia.

Linguists – those people who study languages – have found loads of similarities between the languages spoken by the indigenous people of 38 countries, including Taiwan, coastal Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, the Phillippines, even as far away as Madagascar, off the coast of Africa. And they’ve called them the Austronesian languages.

The theory is that waaaay back, more than 3000 years ago, the indigenous people of Taiwan started exploring, and moving – by boat – to all those places I just mentioned. The original language evolved in each place over thousands of years, but they all still have a lot in common.
The people also have a lot of cultural practices in common, including tattooing, building stilt houses, and carving jade. They also share a lot of plants and animals, which the historians think were taken from Taiwan on those migrations… bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, as well as chickens, pigs, and dogs.

And, the theory goes, it all started in Taiwan. So every two years in Taiwan, there’s a massive Austronesian cultural festival, where indigenous people from all those places come to celebrate and share their cultures. I’ve put a link in your episode notes to a video introducing the indigenous people of Taiwan… see if you can spot any similarities with other cultures that you know about.

Phew! I’ve learned a ton about Taiwan, and now I’m starving! I think it might be…

The national dish of Taiwan is beef noodle soup. It’s on just about every restaurant menu, and each year, there’s a competition to find the best noodle soup.

I’ll put a link to a recipe in your episode notes… But honestly, I’m much more excited to tell you about another Taiwanese delicacy… STINKY TOFU.

That’s actually what it’s called, and people have described this popular dish’s aroma as decaying meat … garbage … and smelly feet.

I’ve put a brilliant video in your episode notes about a restaurant in Taipei called Dai’s House of Unique Stink, where you can see how Dai leaves vegetables to ferment in barrels, at room temperature, for two years. Then, she puts dried tofu into the barrels. It acts like a sponge, and soaks up the green stink.

The tofu is then prepared in lots of different dishes. The fermented vegetables are meant to be very good for your gut health… and even though it’s stinky, it’s supposed to taste very good.

This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening.

Question 1. What is the actual national dish of Taiwan?
Question 2. What is the word used to describe a group of languages spoken in 38 countries, including indigenous Taiwanese communities?
Question 3. Would you be willing to try stinky tofu?