I’m really missing Taiwan right now.
There’s a chance this could be because I’m currently looking out a window at a completely snow-smothered landscape and a thermometer reading -24 celsius, but I think there’s more to it than that. My 3 1/2 years in Taiwan have so far been the best of my life.
Part of that was due to personal achievement. When you’re planning for seven or so years to write a novel, and then you actually pick up your entire life and go and do it, I imagine you’d project positive impressions on the place no matter where you were. But there’s more to it than that; Taiwan just has so many different amenities – so many different things packed together on one small, convenient, and easily accessible island – that it’s hard not to rank it near the top of the best places in the world to visit (and live).
You like beaches? There are some really nice ones lining the coastline from the Danshui district in the north to Kenting in the south. The interesting thing is that these beaches have only been open to the public for about twenty years or so; before that they were designated ‘National Security Areas’ and were fortified against possible Chinese invasion. In the ’70s and ’80s, foreigners would sometimes be unaware of this and would go down on these beaches, amazed at finding so beautiful a place completely empty, only to be chased away by soldiers.
But a beach culture is slowly developing. There’s surfing in some areas, and people will take their whole families out for BBQs on the sand; some enterprising Taiwanese (you will always find enterprising Taiwanese) will even walk around selling drinks and snacks (and not your standard snacks either, but sausages and Iron eggs). Some of the beaches still need work, but they’re just naturally beautiful places that have as yet been unexploited by large capital, and should be experienced before that happens.
Don’t like beaches? How about mountains? About half of the island is one giant, lush, verdant mountain range. Aside from the sheer natural beauty of such, Taiwan is also lucky (or unlucky) enough to be sitting right on the edge of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire,’ which means that many of these mountains are actually dormant volcanoes, which means … hot springs! Taiwan has either the most, or near the most (can’t remember exactly and too lazy to look it up) natural hot springs of anywhere in the world. There are tons of places where you can trek up in the mountains and find spas that pump this special water directly out of the mountains and into a large granite tub where you simply sit and float away. And there’s all different kinds – in the Beitou district (which is so conveniently located you can take the Taipei metro right there) the water has that eggy, sulphuric smell to it, but farther south it’s a softer, more mineralized water. They’ve got it all worked out what type of water is better for what type of ailment, but for me, it’s all about the atmosphere – there’s really nothing else like reclining back in a tub with a glass of wine and looking out over clouds massaging the tops of nearby mountains. It’s definitely ‘the life.’
I know I recently went on a rant about culture, but that was more directed at discriminatory practices that people refuse to change simply because it’s ‘tradition.’ As I mentioned, there are of course many great aspects about different cultures as well, and the Taiwanese just happen to share with me almost all the ones that I like.
When you live in Toronto, the most multicultural city in the world, you tend to eat a different type of food every day. It’s completely normal to have sushi one day, then Indian the next, then Mexican, then Polish, then Italian, then Chinese etc. If I didn’t have the ability to eat like this, I’d get very bored very quickly.
Well, Taiwanese love their food too. Taipei is famed for the huge variety and quality of the restaurants on offer. About the only thing I haven’t found there yet is a Polish restaurant, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I simply wasn’t looking hard enough.
Here in Ontario, the only places to get alcohol are either the government-monopolized liquor stores, or the archaic beer stores. I loved the fact that in Taiwan, if I felt like it, I could simply go to the nearest 7-11 or Family Mart (their goal must be to have a 7-11 or Family Mart within a two minute walk of any dwelling in the country, because they’re just everywhere) buy a single can of beer, get some little tofu snacks, and chill out on a park bench or something (of course you can do this in most places in Asia, but it’s still such a shock to the North American sensibility).
Taiwan also has the best transportation system that I’ve ever used (except for maybe Japan). The Taipei Metro is ever growing, the train system is top notch (well, most of the time – I was stranded a few times by late or cancelled trains), they recently completed a huge new bus station in Taipei for the convenient intercity buses … or you can always just buy a scooter and zip around on that. It’s incredibly easy to get wherever you need to go.
And, maybe the best thing, all this stuff is ridiculously cheap! A ticket on the high-speed train from Taipei to Taichung (about half-way down the country) is less than $30. The slower trains are even cheaper. That aforementioned can of beer would be about $0.70. You can get a great meal for only a few dollars. It’s a very, very affordable place to live.
I don’t know if you’d meet a friendlier group of people than the Taiwanese (I’m generalizing here of course). Most people, most of the time, are friendly and smiling, and always love helping out foreigners. They are eager to learn and practice their English with you, and many students have no qualms about just walking up to you on the street or the metro and saying hello. That being said, the vendors in the night markets will rip you off if you don’t know how to bargain, but that just comes down to you needing to be street-smart.
Anyway, you get the idea. If you’ve never visited, I would absolutely recommend it as your next vacation. If you’re looking for somewhere to get away and live for a few years, you wouldn’t do any better than there either.
If things don’t work out for me here, I can definitely see myself back in Taiwan in a few years. If I had my way, I’d be on a plane right now (for a little vacation, at least 😉 ).