I arrived in Taipei with no expectations whatsoever. I stepped off the plane and was thrilled to be greeted with free wi-fi at the airport, the first of many great things I would encounter in my short time here. Whilst making my way through the arrivals terminal, it began to dawn on me just how unprepared I was for this country. I think I realised this after I paid a visit to the currency exchange desk and out of habit, thanked the very confused lady who served me, in Japanese. Well that wasn’t going to be very useful to me here, was it? After a quick google search of basic Mandarin I had mastered “nihao” (“hello”) and “xie xie” (“thank you”) and was ready to take on the chaotic city of Taipei, or so I thought.
I didn’t expect to experience culture shock coming to Taiwan, especially since I’ve been to Hong Kong and China before. On the surface, these are three very similar countries. I’ve put it down to the combination of the sudden change in climate, culture and language, that resulted in a less than smooth transition from Japan.
I now know first hand from experience that the Taiwanese are a very friendly lot, but after coming from Japan where the majority of people are extraordinarily friendly, polite by nature, and will go out of their way to assist the lost and confused foreigner, the sometimes blunt attitudes of a small but noticeable number of Taiwanese were a little shocking. I did my best with my “nihao”s and “xie xie”s but I still felt a bit put out by the attitude’s of some shopkeepers and market stall holders. Perhaps it was simply because of the language barrier I was suddenly facing. Believe me, I’m definitely not a master of Japanese, but at least I was able to communicate basic ideas, read some signs, and ask for help if I needed it. But in Taipei, I suddenly found myself unable to understand anything that was going on around me, let alone effectively communicate with anyone. Accepting that I was unable to get simple points across, or ask questions, or read any signs or menus, was a difficult adjustment to have to make.
Then there was the heat. MY GOD IT WAS HOT. Well, it was only 30°C which I should be very used to, being from Brisbane, but after the cool Japanese spring I’d been enjoying, Taipei felt like one giant, noisy (and sometimes smelly) sauna. The heat washed over me like a bucket of warm cordial, leaving me sticky with sweat and drained of energy. I forgot what it was like to actually sweat from my face so heavily that I couldn’t apply moisturiser, and to be so hot that it was impossible to get dry after a shower before feeling damp again. Needless to say no matter how many bubble teas and fresh juices I got from the street stalls in my attempts to cool down, I really didn’t cope well.
But I wasn’t going to let a little bit of sweat and miscommunication get in my way of enjoying Taipei. I saw the changing of the guard at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, coughed through a cloud of incense smoke at XiangTian Temple, burnt my tongue on AMAZING soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, and stuffed myself full of tasty Taiwanese specialties at Shilin night market (the last two I will be blogging about soon).
I’ll leave you with three of my favourite photos from Taipei. The first three were taken at a tiny little hole in the wall restaurant I came across, that seemed to double as a house. It was run solely by a sweet little lady who didn’t speak a word of English but smiled blankly at me as I looked around for any pictures of the food she could serve, there were none to be seen. After quickly shuffling to the fridge, she pulled out a tray of raw dumplings to which I grinned and gave the thumbs up. They were crazy good; bursting with delicious herby porky flavour. Not my all time favourites, but hey, you’re talking to a dumpling connoisseur here. The fourth photo has no story. Just a little old lady hidden behind her trolley of who-knows-what.