Shoot, has it already been a full month since I’ve returned from America? Rest assured, I’m still alive, though you wouldn’t know it if you’d been depending on blog updates. Oops. As today also marks a milestone of sorts, I thought I’d try to get back in the habit of regular posts and picture updates.
It’s been four years to the day since I moved abroad.
Four years. Is that crazy, incredible, strange, amazing, or what? I mean, four years ago I boarded a flight to Beijing expecting to return to the states after a year. I never expected to fall in love with Asia. I never expected to spend two and a half years in the Chinese capital before moving across the strait to Taiwan.
In honor of the 18 months I’ve now spent in Taipei, here are 18 things I love about this wonderful country.
1. The people. Taiwanese are hands down some of the friendliest and most generous people I’ve met in my life. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been touched by the kindness and hospitality of both friends and complete strangers who are willing to give me directions, recommend a dish, chat me up in Chinese, explain Taiwanese cultures and tradition, and just generally help me through life in a foreign country. I feel completely at home in Taiwan because of the earnest and kind people I run across every day.
2. City life. Taiwanese cities are generally bustling and have that perfect level of on-your-toes chaos. My city, Taipei, is a colorful blend of modernity and tradition, with Western comforts balancing out the lure of the East. Temples and lively food markets stand side-by-side with shopping malls and business districts, and a modern, forward-thinking people somehow hold onto traditional customs and beliefs. I’ve not been bored once over the past year and a half in Taipei because there’s always someone or something to see or do.
my city for the time being.
3. My neighborhood. Sure, Taipei is a modern world capital, but it’s got its rough and tumble side too, and my neighborhood in Sanchong District wonderfully represents what I like to think of as uniquely Taiwanese grit. Betelnut in abundance, five people on a scooter, weekly temple parades, gangsters, tiny shops where bargaining is accepted and expected, gambling dens. Sanchong ain’t called the ghetto of Taipei for nothing, and I love the frontier spirit I encounter every day when I walk out my door.
4. National parks and city parks. Taiwan makes excellent use of its natural beauty, and it’s easy to leave the urban hustle and bustle behind for a day biking in one of Taipei’s parks or riverside trails, or a hiking or riding trip into the surrounding mountains. And since Taiwan is a small island, venturing farther afoot to another city or scenic area for a weekend away is no big deal. I really enjoy getting outside to more rural and natural areas, and Taiwan’s small cities and villages are gold for adventurers bent on uncovering it’s rich cultural heritage and natural wonders.
5. North Coast. Taiwan is an island nation, and a small one, so I’m always within striking distance of the coast. I’ve biked the coast of Taiwan from Taipei down the east coast and all the way around the southern tip up to Kaohsiung, visiting various beaches along the way – all gorgeous. My favorite bit, though, remains the stretch of North Coast between Danshui and Fulong. I love going up for a ride, and I can see either sunrise or sunset depending on where I choose to cruise. I’ll never tire of that coastline.
sometimes if I can’t sleep I go up riding along the north coast. can’t miss a beautiful sunrise:)
6. Temples. Temples everywhere. Taiwan is crammed with Buddhist and Taoist temples, and many that combine the two religions with other indigenous beliefs. There are the famed tourist temples, of course, and then smaller neighborhood temples, as well as tiny family altars and shrines. I can’t go two blocks without seeing one tucked away down an alley, and I love it. Temples in Taiwan are hives of activity, with people coming to baibai and offer gifts, and the surrounding air is heavy with fragrant incense. I can sit in a temple for hours and just watch the goings-on.
7. Miaohui. God parades come tearing through my ‘hood once a week on average. They’re loud, smoky, crowded and snarl up traffic – and I love them. The temples send out processions to celebrate gods’ birthdays, for pilgrimages to other temples, and to bless the homes and businesses around the neighborhood. The god parades include sedan chairs and trucks to transport the holy statuary, temple dancers, bands, fireworks, dragon and lion dances, and rituals that somehow manage to terrify and excite me at the same time.
temple dancer in my ‘hood. can never get enough of these spectacles.
8. Ghost Month. Taiwan has a whole month dedicated to spirits on the prowl, and special care is taken of deceased ancestors and to placate any spare ghosts that may come around. The sidewalks become obstacle courses of burnt offerings, tables are laid out covered with food and gifts, the temples are way more crowded than usual, and my entire neighborhood smells like incense 24/7. There are more temple parades and ritual than normal, so… a lot. I thoroughly enjoy this time of year; it’s really easy to see traditional religion being peacefully blended with everyday life.
9. Cultural festivals and holidays. Days off are great, and they become even greater when filled with parades, costumes, traditional food, fireworks, and incredible rituals. Seems like there’s always something going on in Taiwan, from Chinese New Year to Lantern Festival to Tomb Sweeping Day to Dragon Boat Festival to Matzu’s Festival to Hungry Ghosts to Mid-Autumn Festival to National Day, and they’re all filled with entertainment and fun. I love seeing the fireworks during New Year and I plan to race dragon boats again this year. At some point I will make it down to the Beehive Festival to don a helmet and get bombed with fireworks. Let’s face it, Taiwan is a good time year-round.
10. My scooter. Apart from being one helluva good time, Suzi transports me back and forth to work and volunteering and church and friend meetings and jaunts out to the mountains and coast. Having my own wheels lets me explore areas not directly adjacent to MRT stations or major bus routes. I’ve come to know Taipei streets and places ridiculously well, to the point where I know five ways to get to a place, and I can credit that to zipping all over on my sweet ride.
I mean, look at this baby.
11. Public transportation. Though I rarely use it, I truly love it. Asian MRT systems are clean, speedy and well-appointed in general, and Taipei’s is no exception. It’s expanded a good bit over the past year and a half and can take me within striking distance of anywhere in the city. Taipei also has an excellent bus system that’s pretty easy to figure out. Going farther afield in Taiwan, I have the option of normal TRA trains, the high-speed rail, or any number of long distance buses. It an easy country to get around quickly and comfortably.
12. 7-11. Where you can pay your bills, order a coffee from the cafe, buy concert tickets, do your banking, use the ATM, print photos and documents, purchase lottery tickets, ship packages and have packages delivered, buy booze, pay your traffic tickets, do some drugstore/junkstore-type shopping, and have a five-course meal. Did I mention this is all 24/7? Sevens (along with Family Marts and Hi-Lifes) are located at least three to a block. Score another for convenience.
13. Markets. Nightmarkets, whether large open-air bazaars out in a field or city blocks crammed with vendors, bustle with vendors and locals seeking dinner, and offer some of the best food and entertainment in Taiwan. Wet markets, where I buy my produce and odd sundries by haggling and fighting (I still haven’t worked up the courage to buy from my local butcher, though). Electronic markets stuffed with reasonably priced anything-with-a-cord. The jade and flower markets. I could go on.
14. The food. This could and should be a list all its own. Mango shaved ice alone justifies Taiwan’s standing as foodie heaven. Even I, who hate seafood and pig feet and innards and probably about half of what makes up the Taiwanese diet, am amazed by the many delicious meals at my disposal. Dumplings and wontons and buns, danbing, all kinds of noodles, Taiwanese biandang, hot soy milk with youtiao, douhua with my choice of toppings, luwei from street carts, nights out at rechao – hey, I even like stinky tofu. (ps – I realize you guys have no clue what I’m talking about now, so I promise a food post in the near future:)
the best danbing I’ve ever eaten.
15. Fresh fruit. Mangoes. Pomelos. Starfruit. Watermelon. Passionfruit. Buddha’s head. Coconuts. Persimmons. Dragonfruit. Chinese pears. Lychees. Pomegranates. Wax apples. Longans. Strawberries. Jujubes. Guavas. Tangerines. Papayas. Of course, we also have your standard apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, etc. Heck, you can even have durian if you really want it. The only fruits I’ve found difficult to find are fresh berries, aside from blueberries, but no matter since Costco stocks a bag of frozen raspberries, blackberries and blueberries! Taiwan is a fruit-lovers paradise.
couldn’t wait to get home and eat this sucker.
16. Freedom. Maybe I feel this one more after those years in China, but I love Taiwan’s freedom of speech, press, expression, etc. People here actually speak their minds and challenge the status quo, rather than cluelessly believing what a government tells them. I witnessed the Taiwanese zeal for democracy firsthand during the student protests last year, and I’ve had many talks with my Taiwanese friends about their opinions on local and international politics. I also have been so blessed to worship freely in this country, and have found one of the greatest groups of like-minded friends of which I’ve ever been a part.
17. Affordability. Taiwan’s cost of living is a huge plus, both literally and figuratively. I’m paid a good salary with attendant raises and bonuses, and taxed 5%, most of which I get back in my yearly return. The cost of living is minimal to my pay grade; I’ve chosen to rent in a cheaper, more traditional area, food is cheap if I eat locally, and since I drive rather than use the MRT I don’t spend much on transportation. I’m sure being a tightwad doesn’t hurt when I’m trying to take care of expenses, save, and travel. Also, for paying into Taiwan’s tax system, I get access to the nation’s universal health care system, one of the best in the world.
18. My job. Sure, the hours are long and the extra work is killer, but that’s the life of a teacher, and I’ll take it. And when the tradeoff is seeing my little munchkins run up to me every day with smiles and “I love yous,” and watching them learn and grow, it all seems much easier. Thanks to my kiddos, I love almost every minute I’m in the classroom, and thanks to my coworkers, the time spent working outside of class is pretty good, too.
in which Caspar and Lucien visit the fire station.
There are a million other things to enjoy about this country, but suffice it to say I’ve fallen in love with the lifestyle and culture.