What We Miss About Taipei
Taiwan has really rekindled my love for travel. Recently, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten too comfortable and forgotten how much I miss the feeling of getting lost in a foreign city. Last Sunday I landed back at LAX, but my mind was still back in Taipei, wandering its hurried streets.
I wanted to share with you some of the things I miss about the city:
- The ease of getting around (without the need to drive).
The Taipei MRT System is pretty much the best thing about the city. Seriously. I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s a modern, award-winning subway system that will take you almost anywhere you want to go in this city within minutes. Navigating it is simple, convenient, and cheap. And it’s never late. If you’re staying near Taipei Main Station, you’re never really more than 30 minutes away from any point in the city. And the best part? You’ll get a chance to rush through crowds, people watch, and occasionally get a little lost in the excitement. You could never do this sort of thing in Los Angeles. For me, I spend more hours in LA traffic than I do living in the moment. Being in Taipei gave me back some valuable hours of my life.
- Feeling safe, even at night in Taipei.
On the second day of my trip, I woke up at 5 am, unable to fall asleep from the jet lag. So I wandered around the streets near Taipei Main Station alone. I could feel the heat and humidity seep up from the dark pavement. The streets, which are usually teeming with people and speedy scooters/mopeds, were completely empty. The only people I saw were the ones camped out at a nearby 24-hour Mcdonald's; it was full of sleepy patrons -- likely homeless or students waiting for sunrise. Taiwan is probably one of the few countries in the world where you’d catch me wandering around alone at 5 am.
Clearly, I’d only do this because the crime rate is extremely low and street crime (pickpocketing, mugging etc.) is practically unheard of. As a woman, I feel especially safe, and I have no problems with walking around the city proper at any time of day or night without reservations. Keep in mind, though, that I’m comparing this to American cities that I’ve lived in like Los Angeles and Boston. Without a death wish, you’d never catch me wandering alone around LA past midnight.
- Taipei’s hectic city vibes.
On the surface, Taipei may seem like your typical modern city filled with skyscrapers and busy/hard working commuters, but at night Taipei turns into a city packed with wandering locals and food stalls. The often crowded night markets leave you wanting much more than what you had initially set out to eat. You could never find this sort of foodie hub in the U.S. Also, maybe I’ve got some deep rooted masochistic tendencies but I enjoyed crossing the busy intersections as fleets of scooters chaotically and gracefully weaved in and out of traffic, nearly taking down pedestrians down in the process. The congested streets only add to the quick-paced ambiance and perfection of the hectic city of Taipei.
- Communicating in a foreign language.
Despite my year of training in Mandarin during high school, I’ve clearly retained little to nothing in my conversational and negotiation skills. Things that I actually enjoyed in Taiwan was constantly hearing a new word or sound while nervously ordering food items from busy street vendors and convenience stores; oh, and horribly failing at negotiating the price of an item of clothing. You don’t need to know everything that’s happening but you can definitely enjoy the experience of being lost and vulnerable. It was also strangely fun to wander the streets with Ivan, conversing in English and knowing that no one else had any idea what we were talking about. Now that I’m home in Los Angeles and back in my comfort zone, it feels strange to be among people who can understand every word I say. Where did all that confusion and excitement go?
- The diversity (and accessibility) of food in Taiwan.
Taipei is probably one of the top street food cities in the world. Any Taiwanese night market is going to be packed with people. I enjoy walking through the narrow walkways and looking for the next Taiwanese snack that I’ve never tried before. There are endless possibilities. You can even find some pretty bizarre options like snake blood or turtle soup. And although there are some diverse food hubs peppered throughout L.A. (e.g. Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Little Ethiopia, etc.), it’s just not the same because of the distances I’d have to travel (by car). It’s a 45-minute drive just to get a decent bowl of pho.