Richard Ryman/Press-Gazette Media
If you want to know how 23 million people can live stacked on top of each other, visit Taiwan.
Taiwan is 20 percent the size of Wisconsin and has more than four times the population. Yet it seems to work.
I spent more than a week there recently and found it a fascinating place. That was hardly enough time to make me an expert, but I do have some observations.
There is so much that is familiar, in a slightly altered-dimension kind of way. For example, garbage trucks play music we normally hear on ice cream trucks; you buy shaving cream, toilet paper and other such items at a hardware store; and at 7-11 you pay parking fines and electric bills, buy train tickets and food (Sushi & Seaweed-flavored Pringles), but not gas. Costco is popular and McDonald's prevalent. A six-piece McNugget meal cost me $125 in Taiwanese currency - roughly the same value as in America, but mind-boggling nonetheless.
Personal transportation is mostly by car or scooter. They drive on the same side of the road as we do and have many of the same traffic regulations, though someone I was visiting called them more like guidelines. At any time, a four-lane street can have, going in one direction, cars, scooters, buses and pedestrians all sharing the same lanes, fairly amicably.
Taiwan has a marvelous public transportation system, including high-speed trains, subways (in Taipei and Kaohsiung, at least), buses and taxis. It helps to have a population density of 1,600 people per square mile, though the actual density is even greater because most of its people live on the Western half of the island. The train and the subways are clean, efficient and easy to navigate, even if your Chinese is limited to Xičxič (pronounced shay-shay and means thank you).
It is a very commercial, very entrepreneurial country. There are a lot of high-end stores - think Gucci, Christian Dior and many others - and many more mom-and-pop operations. With that many people who get out a lot, every day feels like Black Friday.
Malls, unless they are underground, have multiple floors, as do most big stores. Even parking garages stack cars, which is how so many people can function efficiently in such confined space.
Taiwan businesses, whether mom-and-pops or Costco, do not lack for employees. Unemployment in Taiwan in December was 4.2 percent, unusually high for that country, but every business was well-staffed.
Tipping is generally not done. Taiwanese take the novel approach that someone hired to do a job already is being paid for it.
Food offerings are diverse. Kaohsiung is home to the best Cajun restaurant I've seen, and Taichung has several good Indian restaurants. Chinese food is everywhere, of course, and I particularly enjoyed a local teppanyaki diner. But about the time you think you've got a handle on the cuisine, you discover stinky tofu.
It's not paradise. Pollution is bad and government corruption reportedly worse, but there's no snow.