Taiwan and the 101

What is a legitimate reason to visit a country? My initial motivation in visiting Taiwan was as simple as my dream of seeing the Taipei 101, which used to be the World’s tallest building until 2010. Being only a hop-over away from around South-East Asia, I decided to spend a week on the island known as the People’s Republic of China. Having met some Taiwanese on the Philippines before, I had a positive impression of the Taiwanese culture, which seemed to be happy, friendly, calm and considerate to me. 

I was not to be disappointed in this picture. Arriving in Taipei, my host Peter picked me up from the bus station. He was incredibly considerate and eager to show me around his city. He had a motorbike of his own. “You want to ride?”, he asked me when handing me a second helmet, knowingly that I was usually traveling on my own bike. Riding a motorcycle in every country I visit? Check! Reaching towards the centre of Taipei and seeing the magnificent Taipei 101 blink out between the buildings is a picture I will not forget.

Taipei at dusk with the illuminated Taipei 101.
My host Peter and his motorcycle.

In the beginning, I wondered why most of the motorbikes I saw were so scratched, but I soon could explain: Since Taiwan is very organized, even two-wheeler parking is regulated — park outside a designated area and you’ll find a ticket on your bike when returning. What to do when there is no parking space left? In Taipei, it seems totally acceptable to ust make one by squeezing your scooter between two others — I watched my host Peter performing this move and it was both entertaining and painful to watch — you might have noticed I tend to appreciate bikes. For sure, I was happy to not have my own motorcycle with me.

Touristing 101

Having a chat while seeing how the traditional pork dumplings are made.

Our first lunch was to try the famous pork dumplings at a place (actually, it’s a chain) called Din Tai Fung. Albeit a bit touristy and costly, the food really is high-quality and you can watch the cooks prepare the dumplings through glass walls… so definitely worth a visit and worth the wait around lunch time. The celebrity-like fame you tend to get as a Westerner is not only in Sout-East Asia, but also in Taiwan. At Din Tai Fung, they had a business photographer around on that day, so I got readily interviewed and photographed before being seated.

Taipei is known for its night markets, and Raohe Night Market is particularly scenic as it has a temple right next to the entrance.

Brave New (Media) World

One thing that struck me in Taiwan was the excessive use of smartphones — surely a global phenomenon nowadays, but particularly to be seen in the Far-Eastern part of Asia. The Taiwanese I met loved to take pictures and videos, and loved Social Media, Instagram in particular. For sure, it was nice to mostly have a personal photographer with me and it is entertaining to see the regular “stories” of my newly-won Taiwanese friends. It’s just that I’m feeling a little awkward when everybody, me included, is continuously holding their digital extension in their hands, where for Taiwanese, this seems to already have become normality.

I was lucky to already have some contacts in Taiwan, so, after finishing casual Taipei sightseeing, I was asked to join a friend for heading to the mountains for the weekend. While I had prepared for a hiking trip, it turned out to be night on a campsite in the mountains and having a good time. Fair enough! We were on a well-equipped camp site run by super friendly Taiwanese Hakka (the Native minority of Taiwan). We had hot pot, beers, a campfire, sparklers and boardgames — Taiwanese come prepared! As a German, I was expected to be an expert at “Rummikub”, but I honestly played it for the first time that night.

Above the clouds: the scenery in the mountains was mystic, and there were tangerines ready to pick.
Group picture after a camping night out, when some curious kids were joining us.

Getting Closer to the Heart of Taiwan

“You haven’t been to Taiwan if you haven’t seen its mountains” is what I’ve picked up in my first days in Taipei. For the remaining days, I wanted to see the lesser-populated eastern part of Taiwan, which is known for the scenery of its mountains. Peter and a friend from Austria came along and we were headed to Hualien City and to Taroko National Park. All three of us scraped our traveller’s budget and shared a room in a rather fancy hotel in the mountains, and the views from the rooftop pool were spectacular. 

The scenery around the rooftop pool inmidst Taroko National Park.
“Looks like home.” (Comment by Franz who is Austrian)
Hiking together with Franz (left) and Peter.
Cherry flowers in the mountains. We were lucky and blooming season was just starting.

I was truly amazed by the beauty of Taiwan — by Taipei’s busyness and style, by the beauty of the less-populated, hilly East of the country, and mostly by the prudent respectfulness and warmth of its people.

Sweet-potato vendor on a Taipei market.
The ever-present red lanterns — in Chinese culture, red is considered a lucky and prosperity-bringing colour
Restaurant in Hualien for traditional dumplings which are usually steamed in stacked baskets.
Hualien City “Skyline”.

I’m considering Taiwan as a true gem in the Far East and would surely like to come back, and maybe I’ll make it to (motor-)cycle around the island once. The perks of traveling is that your bucket list doesn’t really grow smaller as you’re ticking things off, but bigger as you’re finding out about new things and making more connections.

School kids in front of Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.
Taipei Liberty Square Arch.
Soldiers on the daily ceremony at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

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