Another day began with the whirring of motorcycle and car engine. At the corner of the street, the business of the little eatery was rolling. The front of the shop looked misty from the rising steam of big bamboo steamers. Batches of dumplings and assorted buns, called bao, were ready for the early risers and wage earners.
Slowly but not quietly, Taipei City awakened in a smother of mid-summer heat.
I dropped by the eatery for a breakfast takeaway – iced soymilk held in tall plastic cup, three dumplings and two cha shao bao – all for less than a fiver, and made my way to the office.
In July last year, I flew from Nottingham to Taipei for a two-month legal internship. Prior to leaving, I was asked many a time, why Taiwan? The legal system was completely different from what I learnt in my LLB degree in England. And while I’ve studied (Simplified) Chinese back in Malaysia, the laws and regulations in Taiwan are codified in Traditional Chinese.
My answer was always short and straightforward: I like the city.
In the summer of 2012, I travelled to Taipei with two of my closest friends. We stayed in the heart of youth culture, Ximending, romped around town till late every day of that week and spoilt ourselves with immense amount of street food every meal and in between.
The people were friendly, the food was good, the place felt safe and transportation was easy. I remember, sitting by the fountain of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, I told P that I feel so at ease in Taipei I want to come back to work here one day.
And I did.
Exactly a year after, I was accepted into the one of the largest firms in the country for a three-month paid internship, meeting great people, seeing and learning exceptional things.
It took some hard work, few red bulls and a lot of luck, but Taipei City reciprocated my feelings for it.
From top to bottom: The four Chinese characters read, “ziyou guangchang”, means the Liberty Square. / The blue and white octagonal building is Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, flanked by National Theatre and National Concert Hall.
The streets of Taipei are dotted with eateries. Within every 5-minute walk (or sometimes less!), there will be a convenience store like Family Mart or 7-Eleven that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, selling a wide variety of products, from cold/hot food to facial masks, as well as many incredible services.
You can top up mobile phone credits, send parcels, renew driver’s license, call a taxi, pay a bill/ticket and even get dry cleaning done! “Eat, drink, poo and pee, at 7-Eleven, you can do everything!”, said J enthusiastically and maybe a tad too tersely in Mandarin.
I found it more unbelievable when he told me that I could also stand a chance of winning the lottery if I keep the receipts from my purchases. Winners will be announced on the 25th of every odd month and as long as all or part of the digits on my receipt match the number of the grand prize, I can proceed to a bank to claim my winnings. Prizes range from NT$200 to NT$2million and that’s equivalent to £41000!
A few friends affirmed that they’d won the lottery before and it was pure effortless gain.
There are no less Buddhist/Taoist temples in Taiwan because these religious beliefs are prevalent in the society. This leads to a large establishment of vegetarian restaurants around town, serving all things green and indirectly playing an important role in “saving cows…[and] the world“.
And speaking of eco-friendly habits, many Taiwanese would bring their own containers when they get their takeaway, use their own stainless-steel cutleries when they eat out. Their level of involvement in preserving the environment is beyond laudable and very impressive.
People are generally polite and well mannered. They would queue up patiently for the MRT (the tube) and no traces of leftover sandwich, crisp packet or empty bottle can be found in between seats (like *cough*Underground*cough*).
Perhaps it is the teachings of Chinese medicine and it’s influence in the society, girls in Taiwan take extra care of their physiques and well-being. I was, for many times, advised to stay away from taking cold drinks in the morning because “it’s not good for your stomach, especially during your menses!”.
Like South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, there are plentiful of beauty and health stores in Taiwan. The moment you step into one you’ll be immediately greeted (or mauled) with a high-pitched, doll-like tone of “欢迎光临!” (reads huan ying guang lin, which means Welcome!) then offered assistance by an overly friendly retailer. The same thing applies to boutiques, bakeries… and almost every shop really. They are generous with their smiles and thank-yous. It is, sometimes, a bit overwhelming.
Even though Taiwan, like South Korea, isn’t as metropolitan as its two other counterparts of the Four Asian Tigers – Hong Kong and Singapore – it is a high-tech hive that boasts commendable industrial policies. The country delivers world class technology and is home to many household brands like HTC, Acer, Asus, D-Link etc.
One of my favourite things to do in Taipei is to hole up in Eslite. It is the largest book store chain in Taiwan and opens 24 hours. I was told that it is a trendy hang-out spot for youngsters because, in addition to finding a perfect read, there’s also a chance that you can find the perfect one. It’s a very diverting, and no less tempting, idea.
I love Eslite because it’s a bright spacious place where I could flick through a lot, and I mean, A LOT of books. Even though 80% of the books are written in Chinese, there’s no shortage of foreign input in this repository of information and knowledge.
It is no surprise that Taiwanese are absolutely fine to go by the world with their limited English because the publishing sector of the country is a powerful and defining indicator of the country’s cultural strength. They have excellent authors, editors and translators who write, edit and translate massive amount of publications meticulously. So there’s no fear of deficiency in the national’s literature resources at all.
From top to bottom: A reading corner of Eslite in Xinyi District. / Setting off sky lantern that bore well wishes and prayers in Pingxi. / A bird-eye view from Jiufen, a beautiful village on top of a mountain in Ruifang District. / Bottom two pictures are the street and tea house at Jiufen respectively.
People might move slower in this city but their hospitality doesn’t. I can go on and on about Taipei for hours or days, telling you about the amazing people I met and sharing interesting stories that I personally experienced.
So to those of you who once asked, “why Taiwan?”, maybe it’s time for you to answer me, “Why not Taiwan?”
With love x