Well, the most surprising part of Taiwan to most people is that it’s not in Thailand. But, I can hardly judge; I only found out that England was an island when I went there. By that time, I was 27 and had passed high school geography. So, I’ll start off by saying that Taiwan is an island off the mainland of China. The people there are Chinese. The food is Chinese. The shoe size is Chinese. But, they’re separate from China. And they want you to know that.
We went to visit friends there. They’re South African but moved there about three years ago despite my practically lying on the runway and ugly-crying in the hopes that she wouldn’t leave. She left. But, we’re still, like, really good friends. She’s one of those friends that brings me back to reality and makes my mountains shrink back into molehills. So, a 21-hour flight was a small price to pay to see her again. I don’t know what I really expected from Taiwan. I think it was all a fuzzy picture of skyscrapers, pollution and noodles.
Oh, my. I got it so wrong. Well, no, I didn’t. I got it kind of right but in the wrong frame. It’s kind of all those things, but with something unspoken that makes it special. So, here’s…
What surprised me about Taiwan:
- There is a charm about it. The flats may be crowded and big with no gardens, but the balconies have gorgeous flowers tumbling over them, the walls are covered in tiny mosaics that make them ornately pretty, and everything is just that little bit decorated.
- The orchids. Ok, so, you know how we pay R250 for an orchid at Woolworths that has, maybe, three blooms on it? So, Taiwan literally has colourful orchids sprouting out of crevices and lining the massive main roads. Little convenience stores sell orchids as tall as me with flowers that are incomprehensively 1) big and 2) vividly-coloured.
- The people are so friendly and helpful. In the tubes, when we stopped to look at the map on the wall, people would approach us and ask if we were lost or needed help. My warm-and-fuzzies just couldn’t cope.
- This is selfie-capital. I’ve never seen so many people taking so many selfies. People on a date? Both taking selfies. People on the train? Taking selfies. Escalator? Selfies. The next surprising thing was that, when I could see the pic they took (I towered over everyone there, so looking over their shoulder was really easy), they very seldom looked like themselves. I suspect a Taiwan app and am determined to find it because they looked amazing. In their selfies.
- Some fruit can be really expensive. It’s like a luxury item. But, it’s also inconsistent. So, eight individually-wrapped apples were R450. But, other apples were pretty much on a cost par with South Africa.
- I love animals and can be unbalanced about it. So, I found my happy place in Taiwan. Even I thought they were going overboard with how they look after their pets. They carry their dogs in bags or push them in strollers. On a hot day, we saw a lady walking her dog, then picking it up and cooling its paws with Wet-Wipes. While a little off-the-wall for South Africans, this warmed my heart so much.
- They eat blood. I was kind of expecting different food in terms of eating the roosters’ combs, frogs, and so on. But, I wasn’t expecting fried blood. It’s kind of congealed, cut into squares, and deep-fried. I’ll try most things, but blood is definitely out.
- Food and home decor is basically the same price as in SA. I thought it’d be cheaper, because I thought ours had a further way to travel. Is that doff? Anyway, they have a massive variety and lots of techie stuff, but we didn’t find significantly cheaper stuff.
- It’s really hot. Wow. And at any coffee shop, 7-Eleven or Family Mart, all coffee comes in two options – hot or iced. Because it’s just too hot for hot coffee. Or walking. Or lying down. I’m being dramatic (so out of character, I know). But, it was between 35 and 38 degrees, with crazy humidity. Make-up and GHD’s are futile. Unless you’re Taiwanese. They all look like they’ve got the heat sussed with their perfectly straightened hair and fabulous winged liner. It’s an enigma. They obviously have a gene that I’m sorely missing.
- Durian and stinky tofu. I’m not fussy about food, especially not fruit and vegetables. I mean, they’re plants. How bad can they be? OH.MY.WORD. I started to doubt the quality of our friendship when my “friend” insisted that we try stinky tofu (fermented bean curd) and then happily photographed us through the experience. I don’t like to be crude, so I won’t go into detail about how it tastes. But, suffice to say, when we thought we were smelling sewerage from the drains that entire week, it was usually people’s plate of stinky tofu. So, a sewer in your mouth. And durian is an exotic-looking fruit with all the promise and thrill of something pineapply and mangoey. Don’t let it fool you. It tastes like a Comrades runner’s armpit. After the race.
- There are so many scooters. Every green traffic light is like the start of a bike rally.
So, apart from the trauma of those two “delicacies”, Taiwan was a massive highlight for me. I loved the vibe, and I loved the people. Most of all, I loved the time with my friend and that she and her husband got to spend some time with my husband because he’s a little new on the scene (they moved to Taiwan a few months after we got married, three years ago).
Here are some photos of our special time in Taiwan: