Taiwan was the plan since before I moved to Korea. In August, a friend of a friend came to Krakow who was from Taiwan. I showed him around Krakow for three or so days and told him I'd visit him in Taiwan when I moved to Korea. The opportunity popped up very quickly as my paid vacation was only a month after I had arrived. I quickly decided on Taiwan and hopped on a plane to Taipei.
Taipei - my first impression of this city was how modern it was. It had that same feeling I had when I was in Berlin for the first time - it is so modern that I feel like I could close my eyes and open them, and I'd be in any other US city. Needless to say, at first, I was surprised on the aesthetics of the city and maybe not immediately impressed.
My first adventure in the city was to a giant memorial called Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The subway system was incredibly easy to navigate so I didn't find many challenges in the process. This was my first time traveling solo and navigation is normally a huge challenge for me. However, having the freedom to just wander and stop wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, was a beautiful thing. I sat down, I people watched, and breathed in my surroundings. I took a big interest in a Taiwanese man wandering on the premises. He was without shoes, probably not homeless, and it seemed like he was really enjoying the world and what it had to offer. He just breathed in his surroundings as he was wandering. He then laid down on a bench, and just stared into the clouds. I sat down across from him, observing the area. I watched the tourists who literally took only photos and basically forgot to appreciate the sites with their own eyes, what they were seeing. The memorial was surrounded by two very large, imperialistic Chinese type buildings with a large, white, memorial at the opposite end of the complex. Huge stairs led up to the memorial building that was filled with a swarming crowd with cameras. As I looked passed the tourists, I saw that the guards of the memorial who were dressed in military attire were doing a little march. It was a lot of picking up the guns, twirling the guns, and just pacing back and forth.
After the memorial, I made my way to Taipei 101 which is the world's second largest building. I took the elevator to the top and viewed the entirety of the city from a bird's eye view. It was cool but to be honest, when you're that high up, you can't see too much. If anything, I was more impressed by the elevator. The elevator in Taipei 101 holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest elevator. It went from 5 - 90 is a little over a minute.
AfterTaipei 101, I made my way to Li's house (the guy I met in Poland). We went to a local night market near his house and I ate a ton of food. Now. Taiwan is the country of food. I've never seen so many varieties of food in my life. Taipei also flourishes from its night markets. The night markets sell candies, nuts, foods, bubble teas, clothes, knick knacks. We first had eggs and oysters and then walked through the market taking many random sorts of foods. There were little candied tomatoes on a stick that I bit into, which exploded with juice and then squirted someone's face. The bubble tea was advertised as "frog eggs." In addition, I tried pig's blood cake on a stick and I ran away from the chicken feet Li offered me (as Karl Pilkington once said, "I would want to know more about the feet before I'd eat it. Like, did it have athlete's foot?"). Afterwards, we went to another night market. This one was primarily focused on the coming of the Lunar New Year and offered a variety of things that were special for the holiday itself. Candies were in abundance, more nuts and dried fruits laid out, scratch cards, etc.
My second day of Taiwan, I woke up to explore more of Taipei, especially the temples. The first one I visited is probably the most touristic one, Longshan Temple. As soon as you walk into the Taiwanese temples, you become overwhelmed by the aroma of the incenses. I, again, sat down and observed. A large golden pot placed in the center had a roaring fire where people would light their incenses. Other people would wave their incenses towards the Buddha statues. There was something so beautiful about the process that it was peaceful to sit there and watch. I have no religion but I often enjoy watching people experiencing their spirituality. It was unique to Taiwanese temples. At this point in my life, I have been to Buddhist temples in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. Taiwan was the most surreal experience. People didn't just come here out of cultural traditions like Korea, they came here because they sincerely believed in the religion. I get the feeling that Korean Buddhism is ran completely by the older generations and will not still be evident in 100 years, however, Taiwan is quite different in the fact that all ages were optionally going to the temple, during the week. The atmosphere of the temple was amazing and I really wish I had spent hours there, observing.
After Longshan, I ventured to Xingshan Temple. This temple was not nearly as touristic as Longshan as the majority of people here were Taiwanese. The first thing I noticed was a long line of people (maybe 40 or so) waiting to see ladies in what looked like blue hospital patient gowns sort of? I sat down and watched to see what was happening. The ladies in blue held incenses and blessed those who waited. Some people brought children to be blessed, other brought clothes of their loved ones. More of these women in blue were sat in the back at desks and writing on some sort of traditional parchment. In addition, there were piles and piles of fruit offerings. I have never studied Buddhism so I don't know exactly what I saw to be honest.
My next stop was Treasure Hill. Treasure Hill is a little artist village sat atop a hill. The alleys between the buildings were equivalent to little Italian alleyways. There were cafes, shops, and gardens. It was a nice area with a beautiful view but there wasn't much in the attraction itself.
Afterwards, I met up with Li and we explored the largest, most famous night market of Taipei, Shilin. It was like a clothing jackpot. ALL OF THE CLOTHES. Again, we had all the food. Here I tried sausages, more bubble tea (or frog eggs), deep fried oreos (yes, please), and I once again ran away from the chicken feet that Li insisted on me eating. My biggest beef with Taiwan in general is that there is so much street food and an amazing lack of trash cans. Seriously? If there is anything I hate more in the world it is carrying around trash and not have my hands free to take photos. No trash cans everywhere and I don’t think I could ever litter. Besides that, the Shilin night market is impressive. It seemed almost endless. So many streets of everything you could possibly imagine. I have to say, however, that every night market that I visited just reeked of the worst smelling tofu I have ever smelt. I don't know if I have ever smelt something so terrible in my life - it was nauseating. I also paid a guy money hit me with a stick for twenty minutes. Apparently that's a thing.
The next day, Li and I went by scooter to Tamsui. Tamsui is a district on the outskirts of Taipei on the coast. Again, the streets were bustling with people and markets. Here, I discovered the largest ice cream I’ve ever seen. The area itself was feeling a little repetitive. I sort of got into the attitude. “once you see one market, you’ve seen them all.” However, deep fried corn on the cob happened here. My taste buds have never been so tickled in my life. In addition to the deep fried corn, there was garlic smothered on it. GARLIC. CORN. I CAN’T EXPLAIN HEAVEN THROUGH MY AWFUL VOCABULARY. I am not doing any justice to this!
After Tamsui, Li took me to an area where there was evidence of the Dutch colonization of Taiwan. There was a giant hotel with Dutch architecture that was quite a sight. There was also a bridge nearby that apparently, if you walked across it with your lover, hands held, you’ll be doomed in a relationship. That’s an interesting one, eh?After we returned to Taipei, we went to see the Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel is the largest Chinese styled building in the world. We walked inside and were immediately greeted by the color red. The center of the hotel had a statue for the year of the horse (obviously best animal year, ahem). Seriously, though, it was really fucking grand inside. I would have loved to see the rooms but ain’t nobody got mullah for that.
For dinner, we headed over to a famous dumpling restaurant in Sogo. There were photos of tom cruise making dumplings on the window so it must be pretty famous, haha. They really do serve dumplings it little bamboo baskets Kung Fu Panda style.
The next day I went outside Taipei, I’ll save that for its own post.My last day in Taipei, I went to the zoo. I gave myself a little too much time in Taipei so I decided to go to the zoo. We did get to play with an elephant, however so that was baller. When you enter the zoo, you receive a piece of paper that tells you which 9 minutes you can see the baby panda. The line was as long as a line for a roller coaster. I said screw it and took a picture with the picture of a baby panda. PROBLEM SOLVED.
Taiwan has a lot to offer. It isn't especially touristic and it was rather rare to see other foreigners. That makes it a gem that hasn't been widely discovered. The Taiwanese people were crazy friendly and they actually spoke excellent English. I did not have any major language barriers which was rather refreshing in my travels. To get by, you just need some “knee how” and “shay shay” and I’d say you’re good to go!