It still feels like I just arrived in Taiwan a few days ago. But in fact, it seems like time has flown by – after 6 weeks, my internship at Jia Jia is almost over and it’s unfortunately about time to say goodbye to this lovely country. During the recent weeks, I’ve experienced an unforgettable time in some of Taiwan’s most beautiful places and gained quite some impressions I want to share with you in the following. This is my very own TOP 10 list of things I definitely won’t forget about Taiwan!
1. The Trash Mystery
Okay, my first pick is written with a small wink but nevertheless one point that kind of surprised and annoyed me the same time. As German I am probably just used to find a waste bin every few steps to get rid of my food and other garbage. In Taiwan, things are a bit different: Instead of offering public bins that are regularly cleared, every Taiwanese is responsible to dispose his own trash. Therefore, five evenings a week you can listen to the beautiful sounds of either Beethoven’s “Für Elise” or Tekla Bądarzewska’s “A Maiden’s Prayer”. Never heard of music cleaning the streets? Well, then you should definitely visit Taiwan! Jokes aside, the music is played by garbage trucks passing the streets to collect the trash of the residents – who have to lend a hand themselves. Unfortunately, the first time I heard the music I expected an ice cart and was rather disappointed to only find garbage instead of ice cream. What a pity!
What might sound a bit odd at first, actually works out pretty well. Surprisingly, the streets are really clean, and you hardly find any garbage lying around – but for me personally, it’s still sometimes frustrating not to know where to put your leftovers on the way. There are for sure more fun things than to carry around your garbage for an hour, but hey, that’s just the German tidiness fanatic point of view. And what is more important: Although there are no bins, the streets are extremely clean! And in bigger cities like Taipei or Kaohsiung, you will also find bins at most MRT stations or public attractions, so don’t worry!
2. Food as far as the eye can reach
Actually, if you’re going to spend some time in Taiwan, the last thing you’re going to be is hungry. You will find food stands and little restaurants all over the place, ranging from traditional Taiwanese or Chinese food to all kinds of different flavors. I honestly can’t tell how much I’ve eaten during my time here but at least I tried to document everything a bit by taking photos of each dish. And I have to say: Yeah, that was quite a lot! But I guess you just don’t have any other choice than to savor all the delicious food you are able to grab in Taiwan. Especially the plenty of night markets located all over the cities are simply gorgeous and still achieve to excite me every single time. Frankly, I think I have never seen so much food gathered in one single place. And I definitely won’t forget the night market tours, eating through uncountable amounts of meals – but as I said before: You simply cannot resist! So, make sure to prepare your stomach sufficiently when visiting Taiwan!
Another thing I want to mention in this context is one of the most famous Taiwanese dishes: stinky tofu. It was quite funny to see the eagerness of the locals trying to convince us of the delicacy of this traditional food. As the name suggests, stinky tofu apparently has not the most delicate smell in the world but to be honest, I expected worse. Although it’s neither pleasing nor disgusting, I will definitely won’t forget the smell. For that, I have just scented it at way too many night markets. To differentiate, there are two different kinds of stinky tofu: steamed and fried. Whereas the steamed version wasn’t quite my kind of taste (to the regret of our boss), the fried one was really acceptable as it didn’t have such a strong original flavor – but you need some sauce to get at least some taste, e.g. kimchi. This might be only my own opinion but at least no one can say I haven’t tried it :9
3. Thirsty? Grab a tea!
Another aspect I will definitely miss back in Germany is the large variety of tea shops. No matter if you want to quench your thirst with hot, cold or mixed tea, you will find stalls offering delicious and affordable drinks almost everywhere. Cold tea like the famous bubble tea or other varieties of tea with different juices or milk is just perfect for hot days in Taiwan. All mugs are served welded and are thus perfect for takeaway. For most drinks, you can even decide yourself how much ice and sugar you want to have inside and therefore fit the drink to your personal preferences. It is simply a good alternative to plain water or other juices and beverages!
4. Attack of the Scooters
It seems like almost every Taiwanese owns a scooter – it is basically the most convenient way to cover a distance in Taiwan’s cities. As a result, the streets and lanes are overcrowded with the small vehicles. On the one hand, it’s sometimes a bit annoying as a pedestrian in more narrow streets since you have to pay attention all the time. On the other hand, it is also a quite funny incidence to observe when droves of scooters ‘conquer’ the street. And it’s even more funny when you are inside this crowd yourself with your little bicycle! In this situation, I have to say I even felt a bit as part of “the gang”, even though I wasn’t driving a scooter. And I still cannot stop the music in my head playing Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’” – probably better known to most of you through the opening line “They see me rollin’, they hatin’, patrolling they tryin’ to catch me ridin' dirty”. Quite a catchy song.
5. The People – When kindness is an art
I could tell lots of stories describing the kindness of the Taiwanese people. From one of those many times I was asking the way and sometimes even occupied up to four residents the same time, from kind store owners and passers-by that came to rescue if someone didn’t speak any English (even if it was a competing shop or food stand) or from people translating Chinese tour guide’s explanations in English voluntarily so I could understand it as well. During my time in Taiwan I experienced this kindness almost every day, so it would be unfair to reduce it to one single story. Moreover, I just want to say thank you for all the hospitality and readiness to help. Even though the communication wasn’t always that easy, it’s these attributes that truly connect cultures.
6. The Country of Temples
Honestly, I have no idea how many different temples I have seen so far in Taiwan, but there are tons of it dispersed all over the country. Following official numbers, the country has over 12,000 registered temples – more than the number of convenience stores. Actually, ‘temples’ are not only referring to the large aesthetic buildings most people would think of, but moreover also to smaller structures that can be found all over the cities right next to small shops and food stalls. This is the reason why you can effectively find a temple every other street. I have to admit that for me as an European tourist, it was sometimes a bit strange to visit those temples and take pictures while plenty of Taiwanese were praying at the same time. I know that religion plays an important part in their lives and having the feeling of disturbing them during their prayers was kind of odd. Nevertheless, seeing some of the oldest temples in Taiwan has been a great experience. From more decent Confucius Temples to more pompous Taoist Temples and large shrines, visiting those historic places is just a part of understanding the Taiwanese culture and history more thoroughly.
7. Convenience Stores – The definition of convenience
Convenience stores like 7/11 are basically located everywhere throughout the city. And it’s not the assortment or the cheap prices that impressed me but rather the multifunctionality. Besides buying your every-day items, you can get your dry cleaning done, pay bills and tickets, call a taxi, recharge your cell phone minutes or Easycard, send and receive packages, buy tickets to shows and games, redeem lottery winnings, get money from the ATM or print, copy and fax – and probably a lot more. That’s what I call convenient! Overall, the possibilities are simply amazing and the fact that the stores are almost open the whole day makes the convenience stores in Taiwan so much more valuable than those we have in Germany. I mean I can pick up some stuff spontaneously at 11 PM! Awesome! In my home country, everything closes at 8. Come on Germany, you can do better than that…
8. The Infrastructure – easy, easier, Easycard
Before I came to Taiwan for the first time, I didn’t quite know what to expect from the country. What are the living standards? How is the infrastructure? And I have to say I was really positively surprised by the latter. Taiwan’s transportation system is actually pretty convenient and easy to use – although probably most locals are using scooters as mentioned before. The MRT in bigger cities like Taipei or Kaohsiung is modern and works exceptionally well, using an easy-to-understand color system. In cities without a MRT, the most convenient way to cover a distance is probably by bus. As I haven’t used the bus that frequently I can’t tell too much about it, but the times I used it in Tainan were also incredibly simple. To travel in between cities, you can either use the Highspeed Railway, conventional trains or long-distance busses (there are various different providers). Depending on the time and money you want to spend, all of those alternatives will bring you (rather) fast and safely to your destination. I personally have to say that even though the long-distance busses were relatively slow compared to e.g. the HSR, I really enjoyed the space and comfort provided.
But indisputably the best aspect about Taiwan’s infrastructure is the Easycard! It is comparable to for example the Oyster Card in London and can be used for contactless payment in busses, MRTs, selected long-distance busses or even for your purchase in convenient stores, YouBike rentals or street parking meters. What should I say? It is just incredibly helpful and easy to use! And if you’re running out of credit you can simply recharge the card at any train or MRT station or the convenience store of your trust. And again: Taiwan: 1, Germany: 0
9. The Landscape – Surreal beauty
Picturesque sceneries, flourishing forests, idyllic beaches, wide mountains, calm waters – Taiwan offers basically everything you have ever dreamed of. The subtropical volcanic island is more than 70% towering, jagged mountains that in some places rise nearly straight out of the Pacific Ocean. Volcanic activity has created numerous hot springs and cavernous lava rock coastlines on Taiwan. Sandstone protrusions on the northern and southern tips have been whipped by the wind into beautiful and surreal landscapes. And Taiwan is home to many natural spectacles that can’t be found together anywhere else.
One could probably describe the beauty of Taiwan for hours, but the better alternative is to experience Taiwan yourself! I was overwhelmed by this spectacular country and I promise you will be too!
10. Welcome to Jia-Jia, Welcome Home!
Reflecting my Taiwan experience wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the reason that brought me here, the reason that gave me that unique opportunity: The Jia-Jia-at West Market Hotel. What I expected to be quite a normal hotel at first, turned out to be so much more than that. Not only that its concept is kind of different from normal, but the values it represents and the old stories it revives are just one of a kind. Jia-Jia describes itself as follows: ‘The idea of the JJ-W Hotel germinated from a deep love for the local history and a wish to refresh it with contemporary ideas’. What might sound a bit confusing at the first glance, becomes even more evident when making the ‘Jia-Jia experience’ yourself. Every floor, every single room, every piece of furniture has a story to tell and immerses you into that entire experience. It has a reason that it took us several days to get to know all parts of the JJ-W.
Although the concept of the hotel is to represent a ‘Non-home’, a dynamic hotel exhibition project integrating art and life, I have to say that I simply fell in love with the hotel and its employees and thus see Jia-Jia as my home in Taiwan!
With all that being said: Farewell, Taiwan! Until next time!