31st May -5th June 2016
I was happy to have been in China but I was also happy to leave it. When I arrived in Taiwan without much of a plan I wondered how I would feel about being here.
It didn’t take long before my question was answered when a random stranger, presumably from seeing my backpack (or bewildered expression, maybe), came over and asked me if I needed any help figuring out the metro. I said that’d be great and he kindly helped me get on my way. His kindness stayed with me and set me up for a great time in Taiwan.
As I arrive to the hostel, which although hard to find is a really unique set up. In a very thin building, starting from the second floor about a shop and split over multiple floors. It has a very cool rustic feel. It’s also the start of very hot and humid days but bitingly cold AC inside. Although the locals from this part of the world are used to it, it’s certainly a shock to my body!
The first night after meeting a couple of guys we head down to the famous (meaning, I hadn’t heard of them before) Shilin night markets. It was a collection of everything; good street food, a fun fair, a textile fair, everything you could imagine at fantastically lower prices. Including a bracelet which I had made by hand in front of me to spec for all of about £2/3.
A great start! The next day was followed by a visit to the National Palace Museum.
One of the most enlightening museums I’ve ever been to. I think the reason it had such an effect was, having just come from China and not enjoying it to the fullest, it gave me a real appreciation for Chinese Art; especially that of intricate ivory and coral pieces. An appreciation I never had before that. On top of that, it had a great 21st Century exhibition and I learnt about the art piece “Up the River During Qingming”. This is an exquisite piece of artwork on a rice paper scroll that was continuously taught to and reinterpreted or copied by students throughout the Chinese Dynasties.
Taiwan’s history is also compelling. Being ruled by China, it was then taken over by Japan for 50 years in the 20th Century. By all accounts, it seems to have been ruled very fairly and great improvements were made to the infrastructure and education. A lot of the social qualities also reflect what I saw in Japan; kind, orderly and clever. After WW2, Japan lost the territory back to China. For the next 50 years, Taiwan saw double digit growth continuously, making them one of the Four Asian Tigers. This, built on top of the improved infrastructure made Taiwan a fantastic place to be and helped elevate all parts of the population on the whole, it would seem. A lot of the locals are now talking about independence and, indeed, treat China and the Chinese, as foreign tourists in much of the museums and attractions.
History lesson over.
My afternoon is spent at Taipei 101. Every country seems to have its’ own lookout tower. This one is slightly more appealing as there aren’t any other skyscrapers for it to compete with. It really does give you a view of the whole place. Given there’s no smog of course. Which a lot of the time it is there, just lingering in the distance.
In the night we went to find a local bar. It proved extremely hard. Eventually a local pointed us towards a little hideaway called Ron’s Bar. Ron is apparently a famous actor in these parts and the place is brimming with young woman (seriously, there’s only one guy who’s on a date with someone). It’s pricey by local standards but has a very cool vibe about it.
We’re glad to have stumbled upon it.
Another little while exploring the streets before a group of us headed out to get a few beers and check out some other markets.
After returning from the markets and checking out the local Rainbow bridge we have the good fortune of coming across a local person playing guitar in the streets. He catches our eye, and our eyes, so we stop and listen. He speaks a little English for our benefit and goes on to play a couple of English tunes.
The next day I’m up and at it to make my way over to Chiayi county. I’ve been invited to share some of my experiences with a local school. It would appear that I’m the most excited person about this entire thing.
The journey is much easier than expected, or maybe Taiwan is a lot smaller than I expected(!), and I’m there hours too early. Happy to wonder, I end up in a park. The heat is getting to me and I park myself on a bench where I fall asleep.
I’m awoken by a number of little flying creatures. Having forgotten to DEET spray up this morning I don’t realise how much I will come to regret this until a couple of days later.
When I meet Pochi, the young gentleman who invited me in the first place, he arrives on his moped. Uh oh. I try to play it cool but my nerves immediately show when I hop on and am hugging him tightly. He quickly pulls over and asks me if I’ve ever ridden on the back before. He shows me where to hold on to and also asks me to shuffle backwards as I’m literally pushing against him so I don’t fall off. It’s a pretty terrifying journey. Even though Pochi has been considerate, hasn’t gone very fast and even brought a helmet along for me, the fear was still there.
Pochi kindly buys me some ice tea so cool both my temperature and my nerves. We then go on to meet another Couch Surfer and get some street-food-esque lunch. We head back to the church to find out where we’ll be sleeping tonight.
> This is one uniquely awesome Couch Surfing experience!
Then we head out to get to know each other a little better over drinks and snacks.
Eventually, we come back to the room and get ready for bed. My bites are starting to appear and I’m starting to realise how much hell they are going to cause me.
We also visited the local community with Pochi. Everyone was so incredibly friendly and happy. Many people wouldn’t even take our money after we ordered something. The others said to give it to Pochi instead because he’s a good man.
We took a few photos at the many pieces of 3d art.
I love how quirky this little town is for somewhere that isn’t touristy. It’s great!
Before we have to run we also get some lovely iced coffee’s from a local vendor. He does everything from Italian to rose coffee and it was the best I’ve had on my travels.
> You’re friends. No payment.
Some people are just genuinely good souls. After we’re finished here I’m rushing back to Taipei. Liis, my extremely travelled and endearing travel companion for the school, has kindly organised for me to stay with someone. When I arrive, it appears he’s out, and without Wifi I don’t know what to do. I’m starting to panic a little bit less in these situations because they do tend to work out. The local 7/11 convenience store doesn’t have Wifi I can get on to for some reason and it’s already dark, so the panic increases slightly. I start wondering back down the street and find a little café called look me.
They do me some iced coffee (will I sleep tonight?!) and let me use their wifi. As the café is about to shut they ask me if I’m sorted for the night. I tell them he hasn’t responded but I’ll be fine. They say don’t be silly and tell me to wait here until he responds.
When he does he tells me he’s an hour away. I thank the café for their hospitality. Their response?
> You’re staying here until he comes. Let’s have a few games of darts.
More genuinely good, lovely people in the world. I feel so lucky to meet so many of them!
Eventually, my host turns up, woman in hand. He’s a lovely chap, is Japanese, and works as a director for a games company based in Taiwan. His flat is gorgeous and I feel fortunate to be able to sleep here for just one night.
All in all, Taiwan has been awesome. I wish I could stay a little bit longer but the morning comes and I’m on my way to Hong Kong.