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Taiwanese Feet Book Review: A journey of discovery

“What? Are you crazy?” is what Canadian author John Groot’s wife asked when he announced his plan to walk the entire coastline of Taiwan.  A good question to be sure, but his perseverance over eight years of walking has produced a remarkably enjoyable book that is a journey around Taiwan on three levels: The walk itself, an exploration of Taiwan as a nation and the personal journey of an immigrant finding his way in his new home.  

The “hook” is of course circumnavigating Taiwan’s coastline by foot.  Conducted in fits and spurts over an eight year period, he travels through some of the most stunning scenery in the world–and through industrial wastelands and the grim agricultural belt along the west coast.  Along the way are adventures and wonderful finds, pitfalls and aggressive dogs, and hotels sometimes revitalizing and in other cases downright disgusting.  The people he encounters along the way are, as most Taiwanese are, friendly and helpful–but not all, such as encounters with hostile birdwatchers and a very hostile and toilet-protective proprietor shows.  But no matter how the day has gone, the author always ends it with good cheer and cold beer.

Much of the book is about Taiwan itself, the geography, the history, the culture, the politics and the people.  The walk provides a framework for the author to explore the nation, with topics of all sorts introduced much in the way that one’s mind wanders while on a long walk.  The author handles this well, introducing tangents and topics in a way that is neither too heavy or lengthy, or too sparse and shallow: Usually just about the right length to be satisfying and informative.  Unlike a linear guide or an introductory book about Taiwan, this way of bringing Taiwan to life is a delightful exploration: You never know what you’ll find around the next corner.  Though it reads like the author has just randomly thought of something interesting to share, it is in fact very well thought out.  By the end of the book the reader has a fairly strong working knowledge of the country across many topics. 

This is also a personal journey of an immigrant, though due to Taiwan’s restrictive laws only a permanent resident and not yet a citizen.  A long-term resident who loves the country, Groot notes one of his key purposes of undertaking this journey was “my personal way of laying claim to the island as an undeniable part of my identity through directly experiencing the land itself and the communities I passed through.”  Throughout the book are ruminations on the blessings, and the downsides, of being a Canadian immigrant man.  For those interested in what it is like to be in such a situation, this is an interesting introduction–though it should be noted that the experience is different for all immigrants, with country of origin, purpose of arrival, and gender among other things producing different experiences.  For other immigrants like myself, it is interesting to see the similarities, and the differences, between my own experiences, his experiences and those of other writers (such as T.C. Locke’s Barbarian at the Gate: From the American Suburbs to the Taiwanese Army, Camphor Press).  

For readers interested in Taiwan, this is a fun, informative and engaging read on multiple levels.

Details:
222 pages. 16 pages of pictures, 3 hand drawn maps
Three editions available:
1) Special premium Taiwan printed edition with color pictures only available in Taiwan, for sale here: facebook.com/Taiwanese.Feet/
2) Print on Demand version available through Amazon. Black and white pics.
3) Kindle version with color pics available through Amazon.
Publisher: Clear Sky Communications
Author: John Groot

Canadian author John Groot

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Written by 石東文 Courtney Donovan Smith

Courtney Donovan Smith is co-publisher of Compass Magazine and editor-in-chief of Taiwanfun.com

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