27 days away from home! Taiwan was really great. One of the best trips of my life.
Mom and Dad. I feel like I'm finally at the point in my life where I really appreciate my family more than ever. I love my parents and I know they love me. I will always be their son and they will always be there for me. Leaving them made me tear up a little. See you guys in November. I'll miss you.
Extended Family. For the first time, my Chinese has been good enough and I've been confident enough to actually get to know my family a little. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and my cousins- I've never really felt a bond with them before but, over the course of the month, I felt a little closer to my blood. I'm pleased to report that they are all super cool and super nice. Uncle Lei is a kind, gentle soul, Uncle Ruey is both smart and chill, Aunt Tungbow is warm-hearted and caring, and Aunt Fengchiu is super fun and in-the-know (she tipped us off on a bunch of the good spots to eat). Cousin Pinglin is super fun like her mom and Cousin Jeanine is bubbly and joyful while cousin Han-Han is more meek and gentle. Grandpa was old and jolly while Grandma was funny and sharp.
Morning Hustle. I really like how early people get up and go about their business. I would go out for breakfast at 6 am and the market would be in full swing by then. Everybody was already wheelin' and dealin', hustlin' and bustlin'. I like the liveliness to start the day. In the U.S., I feel like everybody is a grumpy zombie in the morning with Starbucks in one hand and smartphone in the other.
The Compactness. A cross-country road trip is a few hours, not a few days. The culture and sights of Taiwan are condensed into a manageable distance.
Public Transportation. Traveling in Taiwan is made even more manageable by its impressive public transportation services. Using the Taiwan High Speed Rail, you can get from Kaohsiung (southern end) to Taipei (northern end) in just an hour and a half. Buses are reliable and on time and take you from city to city for $2.50 a ticket. The MRT makes traversing the entirety of Taipei ridiculously easy. There are even public bicycles accessible to the public.
The Convenience. I'm such a fan of the 7-Elevens and OK Marts and Family Marts! There's one on every corner (sometimes 2) and they sell everything. I could probably eat for a week just at a 7-Eleven. In most cities, anything you might need can be obtained by walking within a few blocks. There are plenty of markets selling fresh fruits, veggies, meat, and fish while food and drink vendors line every street. There's almost always a train station near and convenience stores and department stores carry everything else.
The Culture. I love the fusion of all the different cultures in Taiwan. It's a blend of Chinese, Japanese, European, American, and Taiwanese aborigines cultures. There is a wonderful, unique harmony between old and new, rural and urban, elegance and cutting-edge, traditional and modern.
The People. The people in Taiwan are very nice and very friendly to foreigners. Many a time I stopped to ask a stranger for directions and he or she was more than glad to help. They always did their best and, if they weren't sure, they were careful to avoid giving us wrong directions. If I stuttered in Chinese, they were patient with me and they would smile and ask me where I was from (and sometimes they would even compliment my Chinese). Once, a couple of older ladies asked my brother for directions and he, not knowing much Chinese, managed to say, "Uhhh... Wo bu shuo zhong wen" (Uhhh... I don't say Chinese). The ladies laughed (in a delighted way) and said "Ohhh ni zen ke ai!" (Oh, you're so cute!). When we were climbing Elephant Mountain, a couple of older gentlemen we passed on the way up would give us encouragement and cheer us on, saying, "Keep going! You're almost there! You can do it!".
The Modernity. In Taipei, there were high-tech gadgets and gizmos that I haven't even seen in the States. The MRT is more modern than the NYC subway system (and much, much cleaner!) and the malls (especially the one in Taipei 101) are not inferior to those in the U.S. Houses and apartments have A/C, restaurants and public restrooms are relatively clean, there is free wifi for citizens in the entire city of Taipei, and MRT fare is paid using a very nifty, very convenient "YouYou" card. The Taiwanese have access to the latest phones and computers, high speed internet, and the only time I didn't get a signal for 4G was when we were deep in mountain region. Even then, our living space was clean and comfortable. Everything is not quite as modern as in the U.S., but it's not that far off and I didn't take that for granted.
Nature. America is beautiful but you have to drive a thousand miles to get from a mountain range to the beach. Meanwhile, Taiwan has a lot to offer in a much smaller space. Spectacular, lush mountain ranges everywhere, bamboo forests, nice parks, surprisingly beautiful rice fields, and shoreline all around. When we visited Jiufen in the mountains, it was so pretty. Climbing Mt. Guanyin and driving along Taroko Gorge were two of my favorite parts of the trip. We didn't visit Sun Moon Lake but I imagine that it's quite beautiful as well. Another thing I like is that even the tourist attractions didn't seem all that touristy and weren't too crowded.
Home Cooking. My mom and grandma cooked us up some really good meals and it was nice eating with family again.
Feet Fishes. An incredibly unique experience. These foot baths are full of little fishes that come and eat the dead skin off your feet. They have separate tanks for different fish sizes. It was pretty scary at first (especially with the larger fishes) but I got used to it after a while.
The Lees. "We're half way around the world, guys." So blessed to be able to hang out with such amazing friends so far away from home.
Completing Taiwan. Honestly, sitting in the car for so long wasn't all that fun but it felt like quite an accomplishment to make it all the way around the island.
Breakfast. I really did enjoy my breakfasts in Taiwan. I know I made a big deal about fan tuan but I think my favorite is actually the light, flaky shao bing and the crispy, savory dan bing. And the food is SO cheap. My other favorite thing about Taiwan breakfast is the drinks: dou jiang, hong cha, nai cha; I would buy and drink them every day if I could.
Bakeries. I love Taiwanese bakeries! I love the bread there. Sooo soft and just the right amount of sweetness. And the variety! The Taiwanese aren't afraid to get inventive with their bread and I'm always one for trying new things and sampling new flavors.
Baozi. These are the best baozi I've ever had in my life. So many flavors (such as buttermilk red bean, pepper steak, kimchi, black sesame, and kimchi) and SO cheap at just $10 TWD (33 cents) a bao.
Bubble Tea. So many flavors and the add-ins are so good. Coconut jelly, pudding, aloe (BIG chunks)- and the boba quality is incomparable. And the price! What is $4+ in the Ohio is just over $1 in Taiwan.
Other Drinks. It's not just the bubble tea. Just walking into a 7-Eleven, I am overwhelmed with the large selection of drinks that I enjoy. In the U.S., it's mostly just soda, juice, and teas that are too sweet. I'm really going to miss those cartons of oolong tea.
Fruit. My goodness, the fruit! Walk across the street and I get to take my pick of the freshest and juiciest. I must have eaten over a couple dozen dragon fruits and mangoes and more lychee than I've had in my life. And it just so happens those are my #1, #2, and #3 favorite fruits!
Coconut Juice. Straight from the coconut. So cool!
Night Markets & Street Food. I love night markets. I love trying things and night markets are a great opportunity to do just that. You can get a little of everything without putting so much as a dent in your wallet. If you're not sure what you're feeling, head to the night market and you're sure to find something that looks good. Plus, I really dig the liveliness and the feeling of festivity and people watching at night markets is such good fun.
Gua Bao. Pork belly, peanut powder, and pickled mustard greens wrapped in a soft, warm, steamed bun. I love everything about gua bao and, upon my first encounter, I ordered 3. Not all at once, either. I would finish the one I had, decide that I really wanted another one, and then go back. I couldn't get enough. It was probably quite amusing for the guy selling them.
Beef Noodle Soup. The best bowl of niu rou mian that I can remember. The beef was incredibly tender. The free bucket of help-yourself pickled mustard greens was a nice touch.
Shaved Ice. OMG. Honestly, this is probably my favorite dessert of all time.
Peanut Ice Cream Wraps. This has a good shot at second.
Oysters. I've never had so many oysters in my life. It's all fresh in Taiwan and I got to indulge in this food that I rarely get to eat back home.
Yan Su Ji. Tastes like memories. I got a serving from the same place from 5 years ago on STM.
Yup! Taiwan was amazing! Even so, I'm glad to be home. 3.5 weeks was enough. I missed the comfort of my own room, my shower, my computer, my bed! I won't miss Taiwan's heat and humidity and I like that things in the U.S. are more wide and spacious. I really like Taiwan, but America, my home, is still #1.