When you land at Taipei Taoyuan International airport, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have arrived at some as yet unvisited Floridian city. The palm-trees, architecture, layout and feel of the terminal is very reminiscent of a major airport in the USA, though perhaps slightly Ballardian. The yellow cabs collecting passengers from the curb outside the spacious terminal reinforce the impression, except that most of them look like a Toyota Prius. But, once you arrive downtown, overtones of a Mods’ weekend at Brighton takeover as scores of scooters roar away from every traffic light when they turn green leaving. In every other way Taipei is a modern, sophisticated Asian city with its towering skyscrapers, including Taipei 101, designer stores, back streets full of tiny shops and busy traffic.
Beijing residents have wholeheartedly taken to the electric motorbike and you have to be careful crossing the road not to be knocked down by these silent two-wheelers. Whereas Taipei residents seem to love their noisy scooters, but Taipei is largely smog-free so maybe there is less incentive to switch to electric bikes.
I said Ballardian above because the road to Taipei from the airport reminded me of the ‘Crash’ by J.G. Ballard. The freeway has been expanded along almost its entire length by constructing additional elevated carriage-ways on both sides, so that on the original freeway you feel fenced in by concrete pillars and bridge-sections.
Some of you might be wondering why I have been wandering around Asia. Well, I visited Beijing and Tianjin [see last week’s post] to give a series of seminars as the Hsue-Shen Tsien Professor of Engineering Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Mechanics. Then, I went to Taiwan to participate in a bilateral workshop with National Tsing Hua University and to meet with research students on our dual PhD programme. ‘The World is Flat’ as Thomas Friedman wrote and engineers are a driving force in the global economy, so its not unusual to find engineers abroad either on short trips or living overseas. Yet, I am constantly surprised by the lack of enthusiasm amongst most UK students to participate in international exchanges, even though such experience increases their employability.