Dear Taiwan, for a tiny country you are packed with beautiful sites and people that bring energy and life to the busy streets of Taipei. I was always in the company of incredible friends (old(er) and new) and hand-in-hand with food of wonderful aromas (except smelly tofu), flavours, and textures.
I am so grateful for the connections I’ve made through my master’s programme. I’ve gained 30+ incredible friendships with people from around the world. I’m, now, much more motivated to travel to places where I have a friend because they become a host, a go-to person for local recommendations… and sometimes (often) all I need after many hours of travel is a welcoming face to an unfamiliar place.
Fueled by this motivation and taking advantage of being in Asia, I took the opportunity while I was Japan to hop on a plane with my sister and see my Taiwanese classmate!
When we arrived it was hard not to be drawn to the food on the streets. I’ve only heard positive things about the vibrant night markets filled with small stalls of delicious food. I was certain that Taipei would not disappoint me in filling the Asian food crave I had been experiencing in Slovenia. I was excited to taste my way through Taiwan! All I can say is that I experienced such a colourful food scene. Nothing I ate was “fancy” (except maybe the “xiaolongbao” (Taiwanese soup dumplings) from Din Tai Fung), but everything was so affordable and delicious. Breakfast in Taiwan was also as fun as eating in the late hours of the night. I was so happy to start my day with comfort foods!
I found Taipei to be a friendly and clean city – it wasn’t hard to get around and navigate the public transportation. Even from the airport to Taipei main station was very straightforward. In terms of logistics, it definitely met my expectations as a modern and capital city. I was often asked if Taiwan was similar to Hong Kong, and actually, I found myself often comparing the two places for different reasons. I can’t speak to the history of the two nations but I know that both Taiwan and Hong Kong want national identity and while they both share parts of their culture from China, they have their own living traditions, customs, and rituals. I felt a strong sense of pride in Taiwan, a strong sense of (yearning for) autonomy and patriotism – this is, of course, in part because Taiwan has not become part of China.
While I found some similarities in the food and found myself saying ‘aah this taste something like what I eat in Hong Kong’, there were more differences than similarities overall. Part of it was just a feeling… since being in Hong Kong comes with a sense of familiarity (my dad is from Hong Kong!) while Taiwan was a new experience for my sister and I. There was also a tangible difference from the way people acted to the cleanliness of the streets. I thought that Taipei was cleaner and less chaotic than Hong Kong – not to say that one is better or worse than the other – just that I felt a difference. I think the largest external similarity was the humid and “sticky” weather. It was quite a difference to the crisper spring-like weather I was experiencing in Osaka.
Jiufen and Pingxi: I know it was kind of “touristy” of us to go to Jiufen Old Street, but I’m still really glad we went here. It was close to the city and again convenient with public transportation. And it was different that what we had been seeing in Taipei since this area was in a famous mountainous area that overlooked part of the city.
We arrived around lunch, but as we were walking along the path we kept picking up small bites of different street foods – a lot of which were unique Taiwanese snacks and dishes. We didn’t stop eating!
We went to Pingxi in the afternoon to continue our non-urban explorations. It was a unique village built into a hill with a train track going right through the middle of the shops. There were (not surprisingly) a lot of food stalls and smaller shops selling gifts. It’s well-known because people gather here to light lanterns into the sky. I’ve always thought it’s a beautiful thing to see floating lights into the sky, but as we were walking all I could notice was burned plastic and wire scraps that fell to the ground. Is there a more sustainable way to do this? Or ensure that there’s a proper clean-up?
Last thought on Taipei – I was so thankful to make new Taiwanese friends! It was a joy to connect with locals who are open-minded, kind and travel-oriented. It made my experience much more memorable – thank you to each incredible person I met!
Yaaaaay! After almost zero hours of sleep from going on the night before, we took a train from Taipei to Tainan to meet Elissa’s family. This part of Taiwan was a very different feeling than Taipei. The modern skyscrapers aren’t part of Tainan’s skyline. This city had a much stronger presence of historic buildings and sites.
I think being in Tainan was the most special experience of my trip. It was an inspiration to meet Elissa’s parents who are champions of education and supporting their community. It was such a warm feeling to be in a home and have another local experience of seeing Tainan. My sister and I were showered with genuine hospitality and we were so grateful for each person that made us feel welcomed.
This whole trip was too short, I hope to return one day to explore the south and east part of Taiwan if I have the chance to visit again!