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Published: November 25th 2019
Preparations were in play for an outdoor wedding
Over the past 25 years, I have visited China, Hong Kong, and Macau, but never Taiwan. All of these can be classified as Chinese, but with a different history. Fortunately, Taipei is also served directly from Vancouver, so it became my City Tour for 2019.
The trip didn't start well, as I misjudged the weather. I quickly realized this as I exited the airport for the subway, and nearly everyone had a jacket on and in some cases a down jacket. While I knew it wasn't going to be overly hot, I didn't realize how cool 18 to 20c can actually be when it is windy and humid. Some of the summer clothes I brought would not be needed. My other first impression was the cleanliness of the city. I really couldn't find a piece of garbage anywhere... Ironically, it was also challenging to find a trash can anywhere. Where did everyone put their garbage? Was everyone under CCTV surveillance and knew that if they did dispose of their trash on the street, they would be thrown into an unmarked van and never seen again. ;-) I thought they must take it home with them in some cases. Later into
the trip, I realized that the convenience stores had garbage cans and in some cases, public washrooms.
On the topic of convenience stores, Taiwan has the second most per capita in the world (South Korea is first). They seemed to be everywhere and never more than 100 meters from one in the commercial sections. On one street corner, I could see four 7-Elevens... They all seemed to have a constant flow of people through them, though.
The other thing that caught my attention day one was how easy it was to get around the city. With an extensive subway and bus system, Uber, and bike-sharing, nothing seemed too far away. Because of all of this, I didn't witness the gridlock that seems to be so prevalent in other large cities in the developing world. What was unique about Taipei, though, was their Easy Card. This pre-paid cash card could be used for the entire transportation system (bike-sharing included) as well at convenience stores and museums, amongst other things. One would add value to the card at machines in the subway stations.
Why I typically rent a bike on a Sunday in most cities I visit, I have
Taipei from the Hills
A view of Taipei from the Chih Nan Temple
never used a bike-sharing system outside of London. It was so good here that I used it not just for site-seeing, but also to get around town where the subway or bus system was not as convenient. Rides under 30 minutes were only USD 0.25. The bikes had baskets, locks, and were all in good shape.
Whenever I come to a capital city, I am always amazed at the density of people. Transit, streets, malls, and restaurants all seem to be busy with people. It is quite the contrast to my home city of Edmonton, which still struggles to rejuvenate its downtown core. To put it into numbers, my home province of Alberta has 18 times more land mass than Taiwan, but only 1/6 of the people. Density brings services.
While Thailand still stands out in my mind as the culinary capital of the world, Taipei would be only second to Bangkok with night markets. These are always so much fun to explore and see exotic food being prepared and eaten. Taipei seems to have a night market in literally every neighbourhood. I went to four, and they were all different. My favourite was the Raohe Night Market.
Notice the tarps. It rains a lot in this country!
It was somewhat touristy, but just the right size and had the yummiest dishes. Remember that the Chinese tend to eat the ENTIRE animal, so one has to get used to seeing dishes with body parts no longer generally served in North America. The other food standout was the restaurant Din Tai Fung
. The restaurant has been around since 1972 and expanded internationally since 1996. Its food and line-ups are legendary. I visited three of them, and they all had line-ups between 30 and 140 minutes. While you wait, you prepare your order. I was stunned at how good the food was and how well they executed. This is another one of those restaurants I wish I could just up left up and move back to Canada.
Another distinguishing feature of Taipei was the use of English. This was notably better than what I have seen in China. Translations were also better because of it. I am sure this has something to do with the United States' involvement and influence in the country since its founding in 1949. I used Google Translate picture function this time, which translates photos of some languages. Once again, a game-changer when travelling.
Gua bao is not really hamburger other than in physical resemblance. The meat, in this case, is pork belly.
I really enjoyed my nine-day stay in Taipei. Like most of east and south Asia, the food, culture, value, security, and weather make them appealing parts of the world to visit. Video of photos from the trip.
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