I Love Taiwan
Upon arrival to Taoyuan Airport, I was standing in the immigration line catching myself evaluating people’s luggage, shoes, attire, hair, listening to the language they speak, etc. - trying to figure out their story. What else is there to do while standing in line? I quickly noticed that Taiwan is an increasingly popular destination for Europeans and Southeast Asians. I know very few people that have been there. The only reason I found it likely to be my next destination was by watching Taiwanese dramas. Following the dramas, I watched vlogs and read blogs on the many sights to see in Taiwan. I booked my ticket shortly thereafter.
It is now Saturday after our return home from Taiwan. I’ve been asked multiple times what did I enjoy the most. Other than what you’ll find on my post “Your Travel Guide to Taipei”, I have to share about the people I met and what I observed while gallivanting around the city.
After conquering the gauntlet Taoyuan, we boarded the airport express train to Taipei to meet our Airbnb host. We stood outside Starbucks for a few minutes until he arrived. He was a young, local, lean guy who led us up to the rooftop where we then saw the concrete box we would stay for 2 nights. The entrance to the box was at the top of a very narrow, steep, steel staircase. Thankfully we travel light! If I had packed my cape, I would’ve climbed the ladder to the rooftop of the box.
Anyways…. our host showed us around the apartment and I asked for breakfast recommendations. He told us about a popular, local spot down the street. We went the next morning and then again a few days later. It was scrumptious and cheap!
Lesson 1: Ask the locals where to eat. Often times it will be budget-friendly and good!
When I visit another country I am very intentional in getting the most out of my visit. I’m only there for 1-2 weeks so I don’t have much time. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with initiating conversations with people and asking strangers questions. You would be surprised how many people speak English. However, you probably won’t know unless you make the first move.
It was obvious from day 1 that the Taiwanese people were open to helping the foreigner. Whether we needed help ordering food, recognizing our ticket # was called to pick up food, asking for recommendations, or directions everyone was super helpful!
Our vacation really began to takeoff when we moved to our second Airbnb. The host met us at Starbucks (yes, another meeting at Starbucks. It was downstairs from the box). The new accommodation was about 3 blocks from the first but what a difference that 3 blocks made. While as convenient as the other location was, this one had so much more to offer. As you approach the building there are a line of food vendors with outdoor seating next to the street. At first glance I wondered if it would be a wise choice to eat at those places. Our host began telling us her favorites and that we should eat this beef noodle and at this or that place. She wasn’t just talking about any old beef noodle. She was talking about noodles made on-site, from scratch and the most tender beef I’ve ever had.
I began calling this stretch of gastro-goodness “our community.” There is something about having a meal with friends, or strangers that become friends. While sitting at a small folding table, seated on a small red stool, next to the street where many mopeds were parked and taxis passed, eating our noodles across from a young man eating his noodles, we sparked conversation with him. It was a line of questions such as are you from here, he asked us where we’re from, how we are enjoying Taiwan, etc. It was a friendly chat over dinner with a guy we just met at a noodle place on the street in the Da’an district of Taipei, Taiwan. What is sooooooo special about that? Here is what is special about that to me: we sat at what in the western world would be called “his table”; we grabbed a stool from “another guy’s table”; us foreigners were able to have a conversation with a Taiwanese guy we didn’t know spoke English until we asked; he wanted to chat with us; he was kind and welcomed our questions. See if I walk up and ask to sit at a table of most Americans they would look at me as if I was crazy and likely be uncomfortable. That’s mainly because Americans like their space and don’t have the familial culture that Asian countries do. Am I righteous and innocent of thinking the same way? No, but traveling does open my eyes to my own doings and to be culturally aware of such things.
Lesson 2: Love thy neighbor. Sit, eat, and be merry by allowing people into your space.
While riding the train to the zoo I sat next to a boy that had a condition of a sort. He was thinking out loud and picking at his hand. As we rolled down the track I could see Taipei 101 in the breaks of tall buildings. I grabbed my camera hoping for a cool shot in the morning sun. However, looking through a window, while traveling maybe 35mph, timing the break between buildings wasn’t helping me obtain that cool shot. He took notice of the camera and glanced over several times. I asked if he spoke English and he smiled while nodding no. He understood more than he spoke. It was funny because he would look back while I was awaiting breaks as if he knew what I was trying to do. He tried to ask something else and I pulled out my phone hoping he would ask on Google translate but he was being shy. There was another white girl sitting across from us and she spoke Chinese. I was jelly! Him and her had a brief conversation. Soon after that, he rose to get off the train and I said, “zai jian!” He quickly turned looking passed me, down to the end of the train car and I laughed and waved. He pointed at me, laughed, and said “bye bye!”
Lesson 3: Don’t be shy - use the little bit of language you do know. It can surprise locals and bring a smile to their face! :)
If we just sat around staring at our phones and only having conversations with each other, we would miss out on the personal interaction that truly brings warmth and emotional connection to the place we are. Whether that’s at home or abroad, with people we know or with strangers.
One day I am in my comfy living room in Hawaii, typing on my nice laptop, eating food from the nearest over-priced restaurant. The next day I can be sitting on a short, red stool stationed by droves of parked mopeds, eating a nice sized bowl of made from scratch noodles for $3.87USD after returning from the old town of Jiufen where I experienced a true tea ceremony.
Do you realize the magnitude of the blessing there?
Not only are we allowed to travel in and out of most countries, we can do it in style! (China Air was wonderful. I was skeptical at first, but I will not hesitate to fly with them again.)
On Sunday, we visited Lifehouse Taipei Church. It is much like our home church, but only about 50 attendees in the service we were in. A young lady sat next to me and later I found out she is from Washington and had been in Taipei for 2 months. I told her we were going on a walking tour and she said she was too. It happened to be the same one! I thought, “thank you Jesus for another opportunity to connect with someone.” On the walking tour we were able to chat about what she does in Taipei for work, how she lives, her support group, hobbies, etc. By the end of the tour we had covered a lot of ground (literally and figuratively). I took a book called The Traveler’s Gift with me because I knew God wanted me to give it to someone there. You can guess who I gave it to - yes, this young lady! She was appreciative of the gift and I hope she gets something out of it and shares it with others.
All-in-all the takeaway from my 1 week vacation in Taiwan was the people are welcoming and orderly (they know how to queue up), the city is really clean, public transportation is spot on, and I look forward to returning and reconnecting with some of my new friends.