I’ve seen my fair bit of Taiwan, but more often than not I stay in Taipei when I visit. Taipei holds a special place in my heart because it was one of my first international destinations… at the age of one year old. As someone who was raised by a Taiwanese mother, it is so frustrating to me that people don’t know more about her country. I’m sure many people feel this way about their home countries, but I feel so strongly about it that I’m taking action… by writing a blog post!
When people think of Asia, they generally think of major cities like Tokyo, Bangkok, Shanghai, or even Kuala Lampur. Taipei is often overlooked or forgotten. This, I will never understand. So here is my petition to you, dear friend, to give Taipei a chance. Let’s paint this town a bright red-envelope red because I want you to love Taipei as much as I do. And I promise there is something there for everyone to love.
To me, Taipei is a rebellious teenager that has yet to realize the power of its voice. Like many major cities of the world, it is a melting pot of many different cultural aspects. But all the same, it is Taiwanese to its core and fiercely proud to be so. Depending on whom you ask, Taiwan can be considered a territory of China. I personally disagree, as does everyone who actually lives in Taiwan. To the west across the Taiwan Strait, lies Mainland China. To the north, I can see South Korea and Japan from my backyard! (This is a joke. You can’t really, so don’t be mad at me if you try). Congratulations! You now probably know more about world geography than most Americans (a joke, guys. Americans are smart).
Taipei has somehow managed the perfect balance of Western influence. I regularly dance down the aisles of Seven Eleven or bob in line at Starbucks to Bruno Mars. Uptown funk, indeed. Not to mention, I watched Tom Cruise kill it in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation last week complete with Chinese subtitles. International brands flood the streets as well as the many shopping centers. There is actually a shopping area where you can find Forever 21, H&M, Zara, and Uniqlo all within short walking distance of one another. Am I in a Westfield shopping mall? No! I am in Taipei, silly! Besides traditional Taiwanese foods including thick cut toast, egg tarts, hot pot (affectionately known as shabu shabu), tea eggs, and Fool’s Noodles, Taipei is thriving with international foods. Korean BBQ and Japanese Katsu are in crazy abundance, while French patisseries and Italian restaurants offer a quick escape for the palate.
Besides eating, shopping is always one of my favourite things to do in Taipei and I think that any ABC (American-born Chinese) child would agree. Taipei is notoriously famous for its night markets. You want cool pencils and stationary? There’s a night market for that. Looking for a completely new wardrobe? There is a night market for that too! Like umbrella hawkers on a rainy day in New York, these stands pop up magically most nights. Sometimes I wander down the narrow streets of night markets and just take in the sights (and the smells of delicious street food!). Refusing to adhere to any one fashion, vendors and shopkeepers entice shoppers by matter-of-factly stating that this is “so in” in Japan, Korea, Europe, wherever right now. My favorite thing about shopping at night markets is that the vendors will not hesitate to tell you that something will look awful on you. You like that cute 1950s inspired pleated skirt? “NO,” they say, “No. You will look like a beached whale wearing that.” Or as the man said to my 6’3” brother when he asked for an XXXL shirt, “No, XXXLs are for fatties.” Harsh? Yes, definitely. But it adds the element of entertainment, plus they’re usually right (especially about me being a beached whale in that skirt, such a shame). Apparently Taiwan is a dream for small business owners, because these shop owners are doing just fine, and that makes me love shopping in their small, cozy stores even more!
Taipei is alive and it is vibrant. People speak Mandarin and Taiwanese (yes, it’s a real thing!), and with the increasing number of students and multinational companies moving to Taiwan, comes the admittedly comforting sound of English. People sometimes say that Taipei is boring. I will concede that in terms of monuments, Taipei pales in comparison to London or Paris but I really believe that Taipei is not about the attractions. It’s about the living. And what a goddamn great place to live! On the way home from visiting the pandas at the Taipei Zoo the other day, I seriously considered making myself comfortable on the floor of the MRT (subway) for an afternoon nap. It is that clean. I mean, the city actually charges its residents for the amount of garbage collected. There is little to no trash but there is free wifi nearly everywhere, truly a traveler’s dream come true. Healthcare is universal and if you’re in need of plastic surgery, then Taipei has got your back! I jest, reader, you don’t need plastic surgery. You’re gorgeous. But I’m just sayin’.
And the people? They love their city as much as I do. And no doubt, they want you to love it as much as they do. So I say, give Taipei a chance. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop by and say ni hao. Grab a pineapple cake and a pearl milk tea and enjoy this gem of Asia. Taipei hasn’t really decided who or what it wants to be. But, that’s okay. It’s a little bit of everything, and it is just perfect.
P.S. I know the title is misleading. You were expecting a list of 101 reasons to visit… but it just seemed like a clever titles, guys! Mercy, please. I’ll make a list of 101 in the future!
[Originally published on August 25, 2015]
Photos posted are my own: @finding_nimo Instagram