Taiwan
Culture
Traditional Taiwanese culture is very similar to that of China. Chinese opera, and its half-sibling Taiwanese opera, are an integral part of the culture: you probably won't understand a word, but the costumes, music, acting and atmosphere are beautiful nonetheless. Most Chinese music is made with string instruments or flutes, but you'll have to go out of your way to hear the delightful melodies these produce. You're far more likely to hear the strident noise of temple trumpets and gongs.
The Taiwanese take health and longevity very seriously. Many practise taijiquan - slow motion shadow boxing - for exercise and as an art form. If you're an early riser, you will often see groups of people gliding through the graceful motions of taijiquan as the sun rises. Chinese medicine, acupuncture and faith healing - quigong - provide an alternative to a growing western medical system. Superstitious about death, the Taiwanese avoid its symbols - white and the number four - and never talk about dying or accidents. Despite this, people do die, and when they do the tip-toeing attitude goes out the window. Taiwanese funerals are reminiscent of a Saoshing-soaked night in a karaoke bar: electric organs belt out funeral tunes, bikini-clad women sing songs (and sometimes strip) and everyone eats a great deal.

Taiwan can be a cultural minefield for the uninformed visitor. As in China, 'face' is vital, and destroying someone's face is surprisingly easy to do. In order to save the face of others, the Taiwanese rarely express their emotions or speak frankly: smiles and politeness all-round are the norm. Gift-giving - especially when the gift is prestigious - flattery, self-deprecation and flowery rhetoric are an everyday part of Taiwanese interaction. As well as saving face, this rigmarole creates guanxi, a relationship of two-way obligations which allows participants to ask the most outrageous favours of one another.

The Taiwanese love to eat, and they love to feed guests. Food here is much the same as in China, with dishes from Beijing-Shandong, Sichuan-Hunan, Shanghaiese and Cantonese-Chaozhou cuisine. The Taiwanese have added a subtropical flavour with plenty of seafood and the liberal use of sugar. Eating out can be another excuse for a display of face-making, with everyone ordering exotic, high-priced dishes and competing with each other to pay the entire bill. Although the Taiwanese use many ingredients which seem implausible to westerners - dog, snake, bear organs - these are usually medicinal and expensive, and you'll be unlikely to encounter them in an everyday dish. Special foods to keep an eye out for include moon cakes (made during the Moon Festival in Autumn), spring rolls (sold in April), rice dumplings (made for the Dragon Boat Festival) and red turtle cakes (for birthdays and temple worship).