Today we are going to take a break from the “Made In China” series as I’ve started my winter break and decided to do a bit of traveling. One of the perks about working in a Chinese university is a nice little 6 week vacation to separate the fall and spring semester over the Chinese new year, aka CNY. I’m going to try and report as often as I can, so here we go. First stop, a place I’ve always wanted to visit: Taiwan.
The one thing everyone always talks about when they reminisce about Taiwan is the FOOD. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as it takes a lot to impress me, but Taiwan’s variety and price of street snacks simply cannot be beat. Most things are no more than a buck or two, which means you can stuff your face for usually no more than $3-$4 USD. Taiwan is all about night markets, night markets, and more night markets. The majority of all shopping seems to be done at night when the streets and alleys come alive, vendors touting deep fried goodies and bubble tea, clothes, shoes, and just about anything else you might want to buy in an Asian travel destination. Here are a few beauties:
This baby is called the â€˜coffin sandwich.â€™
Limitless supplies of teas, fruit drinks, and smoothies.
Squid on a stick.
Bustling night market.
The other great thing about Taiwan: The scenery. Taiwan is a little volcanic rock off the southeast coast of China, with a pretty comfy subtropical climate. To my surprise, despite Taiwanâ€™s small size, itâ€™s central mountains reach peaks over 3800 meters, or nearly 12,000 feet. Not bad for an island only 99 miles wide. On the eastern side lies a little gem of a town called Hualien, famous because of its beauty and proximity to the Taroko gorge. For a few Taiwanese dollars I was able to rent a scooter and buzz up into the gorge for a day. Itâ€™s spectacular, in a word. Crystal blue waters have been carving these mountains for thousands and thousands of years, here is the result:
This last shot is the Qingshui cliffs on the coast near the gorge entrance.
This quaint little town was chalk full of friendly locals and special foods that are only cooked there. In fact all of Taiwan seems to be infected with some sort of happy virus. From street vendor to hotel receptionist to convenience store clerk, almost everyone is willing to help out a poor lost foreigner. Actually I havenâ€™t been too lost yet, thanks to the fact that Taiwanâ€™s national language is Mandarin, which I happen to speak a bit of. But besides that, it has been a real breath of fresh air being here and meeting so many friendly people. Mainland China is ripe with kindness too, but my current city, Shanghai, seems to have its own little subculture that isnâ€™t always so welcoming to foreigners. For example, most of my experiences at restaurants, on the subway, in a cab, or on a street with locals seldom develop into any meaningful conversation in Shanghai. I could count the number conversations that have started on a Shanghai subway on one hand, and Iâ€™ve surpassed that mark within 3 days in Taipei. People are quite entrepreneurial here and take a lot of pride in their work. I see so many in Shanghai who look bored out of their minds at work; either completely discontent with life or have given up altogether, itâ€™s depressing. Must be something in the water here in Taiwan.
Now I could get into the politics of whether or not Taiwan is a part of China or not, but I wonâ€™t. I will say though, that it seems much more like the socialistic ideologies have been achieved here even though it is a democratic society. Everyone seems to have a job, not too poor, not too rich, happily living and raising their families where the cost of living is low, and having a free national health care system that, from what Iâ€™ve heard, is unmatched by many. Perhaps you could say Taiwan is the land of the infinitely happy, smiling, contented middle class. Indeed, everyone who has come Taiwan seems to have caught the sickness too.