Taiwan: First Impressions of Taipei

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你好 or ni hao from Taipei, Taiwan!

My first week here is over and I thought I will write down some quick thoughts. Quick because I have been so busy with finishing up with my semester and traveling the rest of the time, that I have just passed out super tired around 10PM every evening while writing this post.

Or perhaps that’s because I am/was still super jet-lagged. The time difference with Boston (USA) is 13 hours. That is the most time zones I have ever traveled. Ironically, Europe is sort of in the Middle of the world in the sense that most major destinations are not more than 7-10h away. When I lived in Europe, I traveled to China, Tanzania, and the US and I never crossed more than 7 time zones.

Anyhow, I will share my little list of first impressions of Taipei with you below:

1. Winters are rainy but warm.
It’s been raining pretty much every day since my arrival. However, it never rains really heavy, it’s more like an annoying drizzle or how the British like to call it: “it’s spitting outside”. As I understand, it wouldn’t be much better in the summer, probably would be even worse with heavier rains. So it seems like it rains all the time in this country. The weather has been nice and warm though, between 18 and 26 degrees Celsius (65-78 F). Soon we will travel to the south and it will likely be much warmer (and sunnier) there.

2. Traffic is very civilized and runs smoothly. Honestly, after traveling around the world, I sort of expect messed-up traffic, but everything seems to run well here. Even in rush hours, the cars still move relatively fast. At least compared to Boston. I won’t even get started with my time in Egypt. In Taipei, the drivers seem to respect the traffic rules, and so do the pedestrians.

3. Most of the buildings are old and run down. This is something that really surprised me. I expected to see new shiny high-rise buildings. But in reality, most of the city (except for Taipei 101 area) has old and poor looking, worn down, concrete houses that almost look like they were abandoned. Zijay explained to me that this is because of the Republic of China government. They never expected to stay in Taiwan for so long and therefore built only “temporary” buildings. Now the temporary housing has become permanent and most of the city looks quite sad. The weirdest part is that the average price for these abandoned communist style apartments in the city center is 1 million USD. Ridiculous!

4. The city is very clean. On the other hand, I find the streets very clean. Weirdly, there are very few public trash bins in the city but it still stays very clean. I haven’t seen people litter at all. An oh my gosh, they have the cleanest public bathrooms I have ever seen. Even the toilets in metro stations, train stations and on the street are really clean and always have toilet paper. I am amazed. Everywhere else I have been, women’s bathrooms have always been a hot mess. Oh, and perhaps the metro is so clean because they have this strict rule that eating and drinking is not allowed in the metro. Otherwise, you’ll be fined. I was surprised to learn that even chewing gum is not okay. Luckily, since some old people complained that they cannot take their medication, drinking water should be fine now. 

5. There are too many delicious food places. The main thing I have been engaged in so far is just trying tons of new food. The food scene is just so versatile here! And everything is so cheap. You can get a 3-course meal for 3-4 dollars/euros. Primarily, you can find Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine. There is very little of anything else. But that’s not a problem for me as I am here to eat East-Asian food. The only issue is that some of the stuff is a little weird for me (like chicken feet and cow intestines – thank you, next). I just cannot get myself to try that kind of stuff. Also, FYI, stinky tofu tasted like old socks. But give me all the bubble tea and fried chicken!

Best soup dumplings in the world (at Din Tai Fung)

6. Taiwan has so many influences from the Japanese culture. I sort of already mentioned this before, but there is Japanese influence everywhere you go here. 50 years of Japanese Imperial Rule really left a mark on Taiwan. Half of the food places we have been to so far have been Japanese. Most of the cosmetics companies are Japanese. Many buildings are built by the Japanese, as well as many of the public baths near hot springs. I also think that some of the mentality of the people is quite Japanese, especially considering the orderly way of doing things. When in Beijing people sort of randomly pushed each other into the metro train, in Taipei, there are designated white lines on the ground that show people where to line up to enter the train civilly.

Sukiya

7. Clothes and makeup are super cheap. Oh man, I have already bought so much stuff that I probably don’t need. That’s because I feel most of it is the same as I would get from the US, but 3-5 times cheaper. I have bought handbags that cost 3 dollars, which would surely cost 30-50 dollars in the US. The only weird thing is the style of the clothes. The women here really try to hide their curves, particularly their bottom. So many clothes look like potato sacks on me, which I don’t particularly love. Or at least I am not used to it. Oh, and of course all the sleeves are super short for me. People are really short here. I can often look over everyone’s heads in a long line of people. As for makeup, it’s so weird to see so many whitening creams and masks. I almost have hard time finding face creams that do not have whitening qualities. I don’t like to look pale.

8. Not a lot of people speak English. I sort of assumed that since Taiwan is one of the most liberal and perhaps “Western” countries in East Asia, people will speak English fluently. Just like in Estonia. But it’s actually not true at all. Luckily I have Zijay to translate everything for me. Otherwise, I would be really lost.

This is how one orders food

9. There are vending machines for just about everything. It’s hilarious! From flowers to cake to sneakers, I have seen all sorts of vending machines in a short time. 

10. Public transit is super efficient. Okay, so I probably frightened you with the “they don’t speak English” part. But luckily the public transit is really easy to understand and runs smoothly. The map is clearly drawn out, all the stations are marked in English and in Mandarin and there are signs in both languages as well. I could easily get around the city by myself as well. A big plus for non-Mandarin speaking travelers like me! Also, everything is very orderly, tickets are cheap, and the metro is super clean. What else do you want? 

11. They really like cute stuff and everything that is themed. From Hello Kitty restaurants to modern toilet restaurant where you sit on a toilet and drink and eat out of a toilet (for real). So far I have only been to a few places, but I definitely intend to see more of these weird and cute places. We just don’t have this stuff in North of Europe. So it’s super fun for me to see. Also, there are cats and cartoons and pink stuff everywhere.

Rilakkuma cafe

12. Tea is the most common drink everywhere. Green milk tea, juice milk tea, red bean milk tea, matcha tea, passion fruit green tea, black sugar bubble tea, high mountain tea etc. etc. When you go to a supermarket, you find a few carbonated soft drinks, whereas there is ten times longer section of tea-drinks right next to it. You can have it cold, you can have it hot, with milk or without, with bubbles or without. The options are endless. Also, did you know that bubble tea was invented in Taiwan? I love it!

Bubble tea
High mountain tea

I promise to write more posts after this! There are so many cool things to share with you guys. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram (@kertutenso) to see more photos.

Bye-bye!

K.

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