One year ago last Friday I moved for Taiwan. Right after I returned in December, I gave you a debrief/ by the numbers sort of post so if you want to see a lot of specifics of the trip.
When Dave, my friend and coworker who was there for the first week I was, and I arrived in Taipei, it was hot and humid. Sweltering, muggy, suffocating–whatever you want to call it. We were tired and it was hot and we didn’t understand the language. We attempted a day of work and made it most of the way through, though, to be honest, I don’t think either of us were productive in the least. Dave’s luggage didn’t arrive (except, of course, his tux for a wedding he was going straight to after Taiwan) so that 6’6″ guy and I went to the store to get some clothes to tide him over. He found a shirt that fit and some socks but the largest underwear in the store, as Dave hilariously recounts, wouldn’t make it past his knees when he tried them on later.
We went to get some shabu shabu for dinner that night. The menu was entirely in Chinese and the people working there didn’t speak English at all so we ordered by pointing randomly to a line on the menu. The beef, which–as it turns out–we had ordered was pretty good. A thus I started my almost four months in the country.
It’s so hard to sum up four months in a place with so many varied experiences. Theer was the time in Jianmen, the Taiwan (Republic of China) island 2km off of mainland (People’s Republic of) China that I went to because it had a very interesting history of isolation followed by English colonial-by-way-of-Singapore influence followed by heavy military presence and bombing. It was a fascinating place. The people there also spoke very little English and even though I was near the end of my time in Taiwan and I’d had a one-on-one Chinese tutor, my language skills were not enough to get me by. I was in way over my head. At a noodle restaurant that was drying its fresh noodle on racks outside, I pointed and gestured that I wanted a bowl of whatever everyone else was having and that I was just one person to be seated.
After 15 minutes of mulling around near the entrance, I took the proprietress’ pointing at a bowl to mean that it was mine and I should follow. It was not my food and when I sat at the tableful of strangers, it was obvious I had sat in someone else’s seat. One guy, who was at the table with his friend–the other person at the table, an old woman, seemed unrelated–got me a chair. Later he offered me some of the chicken he and his friend were sharing. Pointing at the chicken and then the three of us: “together.” He also gave me tips about the hot sauce: “good”, pushing over one bottle. Later when the proprietress gave me a funny look while he was paying I didn’t make much of it–after all, as far as I could tell, I was the only white guy on that island, so I got plenty of funny looks. He came back over to the table “you no pay.” I felt ridiculous for nearly crying in the middle of the restaurant but I couldn’t help it.
There were the hoards of guys in Bangkok that tried to sell me fake tours or “massages”. There was the cab driver in Taipei that short-changed me.
I obviously stuck out, perhaps not as much as my 6’6″ tall friend when he was there, but I did. Sometimes it was fine, or even good. I’d make a faux pas or get myself in a jam and people would give me some leeway or help me out. Other times it just felt more like I was a complete outsider. In four months of taking the bus every single day, both ways, and often again in the evenings, I saw another westerner on the bus exactly once. I’m sure the women on the bus thought I was a bit odd.
It’s hard to explain what living there was like because there were so many different experiences. On an average day, my activities were mostly the same: wake up, shower, eat, work, eat, work, maybe run errands, make dinner, and go out or watch TV or write or read or play guitar or whatever. It was just what I was eating was different and the surroundings and people were completely different; the language and writing were (for the most part) not understandable.
I’ll try to give you a better taste through some photos. I’ve picked out some of my favorites because they give a feel for the place, because I like them artistically or because I think they’re quirky or funny. Feel free to ask more about any of the photos if the caption isn’t sufficient and I’ll give you more info if I remember.
You can also read some of my posts from when I was in Taiwan or otherwise traveling.
Taipei, early September
Shabu Shabu restaurant on XingAn Rd.
taxi at an intersection
Danshui Night Market, at dusk
Longdong Park along the northern coast
Scooters near Keelung
seafood market along Fuji harbor
sales/ net girl at seafood market along Fuji harbor
a mock-up (machine) shop
(many more below the break)