I still have a couple of posts to write on my brother’s visit, but again uploading the photos to WordPress is taking forever, so I’m skipping forward to a general post on my impressions of Taiwan. Obviously I will also be writing detailed posts on our trip with lots of pictures, but this is a start at least. This trip allowed me to complete another item of my 35 Before 35 challenge. Number 29 on the list is “Visit a continent I’ve never been to before”, and I had previously never been to Asia. Thanks, Taiwan! I am also counting this as my August 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge… so it’s a double whammy 😉 Now here are some first impressions/thoughts:
- Do not drink on the Metro!! (In Taipei at least). You can carry drinks with you, but don’t even think about consuming them. This rule is taken very seriously! We were told off for this within hours of my arrival. Also, on escalators you stand on the right and let people pass on the left. Again, they are very serious about this and apparantly perfect strangers will shout at you for standing on the left (I did not experience this, but Jan says he did)
Bubble tea is weird! It was okay at first, but after a while the “bubbles” just became too much. What is that weird chewy stuff anyway? Also, the one we bought had small white things floating in it, each with a black spot in the middle (a seed, I suppose?). They looked like something I usually find in soup, but there they were in my drink. Weird! They tasted of nothing but had a soft/mushy texture. We christened them frog’s spawn.
- It’s surprisingly difficult to get by with English in Taiwan. Most people speak a few words (hello, please, sorry and maybe a few numbers), but very few are fluent. An smartphone app or dictionary come in very useful! Jan had two – one that you could use to scan Chinese symbols and it would give you the English translation and one where you drew the symbol yourself – useful when the other one couldn’t read what you were pointing it at, because it was unclear or handwritten, for example. Also, before he left Jan had a Chinese colleague write him a sentence saying “I’m allergic to peanuts. Please tell me if there’s anything here I can’t eat”. If possible, I would highly recommend doing something like that if you’re allergic to anything.
- I am happy to try most things, but just wasn’t brave enough for all the food I saw on offer, like whole squids on a stick (I’m not a fan of squid at the best of times!) and duck’s heads… complete with beak. How does one even eat a duck’s head? And what is there to actually eat? Surely all the good stuff is in the body? Also, oyster omelette is possibly the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Never again!
- Drivers in Taiwan are crazy! If a light has only just turned red, it seems to be taken as a suggestion rather than an order. Some busy crossings have police standing at them holding sticks to wave traffic on… despite the existence of a light that’s in perfect working order?! And as for the people on scooters… I’m convinced they have a death wish! They’ll squeeze themselves into the tiniest gaps in traffic… some of them even with their small children perched in front of them on the scooter! Madness!
- I was amazed by the amount of milk/dairy products the Taiwanese consume. I’d always thought Asians were basically lactose intolerant and rarely used dairy products (with the exception of India, of course). In Taiwan, milk tea is incredibly popular… and by that I mean tea made with milk instead of whatr, not just black tea with a drop of milk. At the hotels, I also saw a lot of Asians drinking milk with breakfast.
- The temples are beautiful. And everyone is so tolerant. We stopped at one small, local temple near our hotel in Taipei to see what was going on (a celebration of Buddha’s birthday, it turned out). One man explained to us how the temple worked, gave us some incense and told us what to do. Then, when we asked whether it was okay to take a photo of the inside (don’t want to be disrespectful), he insisted on taking a photo of the two of us in front of it. His English wasn’t brilliant, but he was able to make himself understood and he was so, so friendly.
- On a similar note, the Taiwanese are incredibly polite, to the extent that it’s almost embarrassing. They will thank you profusely for every tiny little thing, and one person even bowed his way out of the hotel room after showing me how everything worked. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond…
- Sun Moon Lake may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and the views of the Pacific along the east coast of the island are stunning! Taroko Gorge is also incredibly impressive. I’m told Alishan national park is also amazing, so I can see I need to go back and experience even more of the amazing sights nature has to offer.
That’s enough for now, I think. More details will follow in individual posts about the places we visited.