My love affair with Taiwan – the people and the food!
During my 2016 travels I wanted to include Asian countries I haven’t been to before. I did a few Google searches and Taiwan kept popping up as a ‘must-go’ destination for seasoned travelers. I didn’t find very specific information but blogs, travel guides and friends all said ‘plan on at least 2 weeks to do the country justice’ This is how Taiwan ended up on my itinerary. I didn’t do much in-depth research and my plan in Taiwan included 3 items: Taroko National Park, historic city of Tainan and night markets. I ended up going around the entire island visiting Hualien, Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung.
Taiwan is an example of a society on how compassion, warmth, kindness and mindfulness creates a harmonious culture in daily life. Regardless of where I was in Taiwan, I felt safe, secure and taken care of. There is no concern about theft, I got in stranger’s cars without thinking twice, and walked down dark narrow alleys without fear at night. Even when I was surrounded by people with whom I couldn’t verbally communicate with, I was greeting by a warm and friendly expression – plus sharing food knows no language barrier!
A month prior to departing Seattle I started booking accommodations in Taiwan. I couldn’t find any reasonably priced rooms in Taipei since I was arriving the weekend of Taiwan’s presidential election. I opted for a homestay with Ann, I was a bit nervous about staying at a stranger’s home but as Ann and I communicated over email my doubts were eased. Prior to my arrival, Ann constantly sent me information on how to book rail tickets in advance and best sights to visit in Taiwan. I was surprised and grateful a stranger, who is allowing me to live for free at her home for 3 nights is going thru all this trouble to make my travels easier.
The week before my arrival in Taipei, I was in Kyoto exploring Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. In Kyoto I met two young Taiwanese women, Han-Yu and Liya. Han-Yu and I spent 2 days exploring the shrines and temples in Kyoto, she’s considerably younger than me but that did not stop us from having intellectual conversations about relationships, politics and religion. Han-Yu and I saw each other again in Taipei. I met Liya at the guesthouse I was staying at in Kyoto. Liya is in her early 20’s but she has a good grasp on racial relations in the world and global politics. Liya gave me a personalized tour in Taichung including the culinary delights of the famous night markets.
When I arrived in Taipei Ann picked me up, fed me delicious soup, had a subway card and English map of Taipei ready for me. Ann’s cousin Raye lives with her and is equally generous! Ann, Raye and I spent the weekend being tourists, we did a road trip around the northern coast – places that are not easily accessible by tourists and public transportation. We talked politics, culture, literature, travel, religion, family, etc all weekend, I wasn’t a stranger in Ann’s house, I was part of the family.
I don’t cry often but I was so overwhelmed by Ann and Raye’s kindness and generosity, I cried after Ann dropped me off at the train station to take my train to Taroko National Park.
In Taroko I stayed at a B&B with a local aboriginal family that didn’t speak any English but we managed well with google translate. The family was constantly feeding me and explaining their tribal life to me. The first day I went to Taroko on the local bus I met an old man at the bus stop, he did not speak English but for three days he always rode the bus with me to the national park to ensure I made it safely to the trailhead I wanted to explore that day and then waited for me until I was ready to go back to my B&B end of the day. It’s these little gestures that make Taiwan unique.
My first night Tainan I met Wendy, young Taiwanese who is studying for the national tour guide examination. She picked me up from my hotel and drove me to one of the famous night markets, she carefully explained the foods that are specific to Tainan and recommended I try a few. We continued our evening to a local favorite for beef soup – I don’t think a foreigner has ever been to this restaurant, there is no way you’d know what to order here if you didn’t read Mandarin. Wendy wanted to show me one of Tainan’s famous museums at night, the Chimei, it’s a marvelous structure that looks similar to the White House. The second night in Tainan I met a couple at the hot pot restaurant I was eating – we started talking and before you know it I was in their car and they drove me to Anping and the historical streets of Tainan. Sophie and Andy also introduced me to authentic Taiwanese pudding, creamy deliciousness with red beans! Thanks to their guidance I was able to make the most of my day of sightseeing in Anping.
I had many similar encounters similar to the ones listed above, I was constantly greeted with warm smiles and helpfulness. I have a hard time imagining a non-English speaking tourist in the U.S. having a similar experience. The Taiwanese went out of their way to welcome me, it wasn’t just a handful of people, it was everyone I met. The tour guide in Kaohsuing drove out of his way to give me a traditional teahouse experience, a place where locals come to relax, sit on straw mats and drink delicious tea.
I want to understand how an entire society can be this compassionate, Taiwan is a country of many religions. I met Taiwanese who practiced Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Atheism, Catholism but the underlying message was always how to live in harmony. The Taiwanese not just practice their religion; they live it in their daily lives.
I’m curious if other tourists have had a similar experience as mine in Taiwan, were you also greeted with open arms? I’d love to hear from you, please send me an email with your story at firstname.lastname@example.org