Sixteen days in Taipei, and I can’t say I did anything even remotely noteworthy. Or noble, for that matter. I worked, and went to the gym, and I walked around and ate things.
I did hang out with some very cool people (thank you, Adam and Margaret!) and I did eat a lot of fan-freakin-tastic food. I also quaffed some insanely flavoured and insanely good beers (tomato and plum beer can f**k off).
Maybe I should have gone hiking, or visited the museum, or at least checked out the Lantern Festival. Like a good tourist. But – between working and getting around (and eating things), there wasn’t a lot of time. Most of Taiwan’s good stuff is outside of Taipei, and anyway, I am not a tourist.
Why did I go? It sure wasn’t to save money. Accom in Taipei is among the priciest in Asia, and the price doesn’t always reflect the quality. Also, I’m still paying rent for my shoebox flat in Auckland. Food isn’t as cheap as it used to be, although still around half of what you’d pay in NZ.
Some things are cheap: street food, tea, eggs, some fresh fruit and veg. But in any case, I didn’t buy groceries (apart from bikkies and beer) because who wants to hole up in their room when there are veg dumplings and pork intestine noodles and oyster omelettes sizzling on the street? Every evening, I left my squalid little Airbnb and wandered through a night market or two, or in and out of different restaurants, or the zillion past street vendors cooking up everything from scallion pancakes and fried chicken to stinky tofu and duck blood soup.
(Note: I didn’t have the pork intestine noodles but I did try duck blood soup. I won’t do that again.)
So, yes, maybe I came for the food. But I also came for the weather. February in NZ sucks at the best of times – too hot, too humid, and my non-air conditioned flat fly-infested flat has me bitching and moaning and annoying everyone. Obviously, I didn’t know just how shit February this year was going to be until I saw the news the day after I left. And you’re still getting hammered! I apologise from dry, sunny, five-degrees-Celsius Tokyo (more on that later).
Anyway. Taipei is a funny one for me. Yes, the weather works for me and I can more or less live in my own weirdass little bubble without getting in anyone’s way, it’s not a place I’d ever feel like I belonged. Asian culture is impenetrable in so many ways –the language barrier, our beliefs, our upbringing, our heritage. All that. But I’m not on an Eat Pray Love quest here. I don’t travel to fit in, because, shit, I don’t even fit into my own culture, or society, or whatever the crap we call it these days.
But I’m not here to give a philosophical lecture. So, here are some more fun things about Taiwan:
Squat toilets are still widely in use, especially in markets. Great for the glutes, ladies.
7Elevens and FamilyMarts are usually within 50m of one another, and are always, always busy. And the staff will always, always sing out the same greeting and farewell (which is in Mandarin and which I never understood)
The coins are a pain in the arse. Remember coins? There’s a reason we use cards now.
Toilet paper is weirdly expensive!
Beer is weirdly cheap! Apart from the single cans of NZ-made Ubernaut I spotted in a tiny boutique bar. $NZ16 a can. Yes, a can.
Motorists will try to (gently) plough through a crowd of pedestrians while they’re still on the damn crossing.
Firecrackers can be let off in the middle of the street at any time of the day for any reason at all.
I’ll never understand the dogs-can’t-be-walked thing.
Taiwanese are the most patient people in the world. They love to wait. They love to queue. Five minutes in the rain for the little green man signal even though nothing in coming? Sure! An hour standing in the street for your pot of noodles? Great!
If a fellow foreigner sees you, they will either pretend you don’t exist or glare at you with the kind of contempt that clearly communicates their wish for you to get off their turf and/or die.
Women will work out on the elliptical machine at the gym in their office clothing. BEFORE work.
Old people are seriously freakin’ FIT. Morning and night, they’re out doing yoga, ballroom dancing, climbing Elephant Mountain, or jogging around the park. They’re incredible.
Young people go to cafes in groups and drink tea and look at their phones.
That tea I mentioned in the last blog? It’s not just a matter of asking for a tea. You have to specify the type (green, black, oolong, ginger, lime, watermelon unicorn tears with a twist of orange frangipani), then the percentage of sweetness (full, half, ‘less’, 30%, or none), then the ice (lots, less, or none). I’m not joking.
There are more people wearing masks in Taipei than there are in Tokyo. Go figure.