I’ll always have a soft spot for Taiwan, having spent many summers there as a child. The sights, sounds, smells, and obviously the food are deeply ingrained in my memory. It’s been over a decade since I last stepped foot on Taiwanese soil but I didn’t quite expect the reaction that I had when we landed after a whirlwind dash around Japan.
Four days is hardly enough time to really get to know a place. By the time you’ve settled in, it’s time to leave. That said, aside from the night markets, which have changed considerably due to new health regulations (i.e. they’re cleaner), and some of my old favourites no longer being around, it was almost as if I had never been away. There is something to do at every hour of the night and day — it’s as though Taipei never sleeps. I suppose you could say that of Tokyo, as well, but the energy is different in Taipei. It’s louder, it smells more (good and bad), there are motorbikes and cars and people everywhere, it’s an attack on the senses if you’re not prepared for it. The buzz of the city can be a bit overwhelming, dizzying at times. Although I can read a bit of Chinese, every corner kind of looks the same and one can easily get lost if you’re not paying attention. We tried using 7-Eleven as land markers but quickly realised that there is at least one 7-Eleven on each corner, sometimes two on the same street!
When I was a wee girl, I happily followed my parents wherever they went without paying much attention to all the moving parts. But now the sight of another car coming down the wrong way on a one way road makes me nervous, especially when we’re sitting in a taxi opposite the car. That said, everything always seems to turn out okay. There isn’t much shouting or honking at the bad drivers, especially the taxi drivers, who make very bold moves to snag a new customer. I suppose if everyone were to get upset by each car that cut them off or nearly rammed into them, the entire city would be in a constant fit of rage. It’s always been like that, though, so I suppose after a while you just become accustomed to the city’s chaotic rhythm.
We did enjoy the lower cost of living (especially the food) in Taiwan compared to Japan. You can still feed a family of four a proper breakfast for under 300TWD (around a fiver). You could easily do the same for lunch and dinner. And of course, we’re talking proper street food here, most of which you can eat without the fear of getting ill. The hubs also pointed out that the shops may be nice inside, but the exterior of the buildings look like they could use a bit of TLC. Perhaps that helps keep the costs down? Or not. Who knows? I’m no economist. But yes, not much has changed in that sense.
I suppose it isn’t fair to compare Japan with Taiwan, especially since we went from living like royals to ‘getting down’ with the locals. But the standard of service is definitely better (or different) in Japan. It’s a different culture after all. And it’s not to say that the Taiwanese don’t pride themselves in service. They do, but it’s carried out in its own unique style, especially when you compare local shops to local shops. They’re very warm and open and incredibly hospitable. All in all, Taipei was wonderful — thrilling, nostalgic, full of tastiness (more to come on this) but sometimes very tiring and overwhelming. Although our recent trip was not quite the fortnight we would have wished to spend there, hubs was able to get a taste of the country and I certainly had my fill of my favourite local delights.