The past month has been such a whirlwind, as evidenced by my long absence from this space. Time has flown by (and is still flying by) as usual and even though I know I should embrace the moment and not fret too much about what may or may not come, I can’t help but to jump to two months ahead—I already have a list of all the things I’ll miss about this place. Granted, every country has its pros and cons and like my dear mother recently commented, there is no “ideal” place on earth. Regardless, we live in a universe governed by nature and no human can escape the forces of the almighty Mother Nature. The grass may always be greener on the other side, but when you think about it what you have isn’t that bad after all. It’s our innate craving for novelty, our tendency to fall into a state of absolute boredom from routine living that convinces us that the grass is always greener on the other side. As aforementioned, and as usual, my mind can never only live in the moment without jumping multiple steps ahead and envisioning situations way ahead of the moment I’m in—nevertheless, there will be so many things I’ll miss about my experiences here and the following list is only a part of it.
Taiwanese mangoes. Mangoes are for sure one of my favourite fruits. Don’t be fooled if they’re still very green—they’re probably already quite soft, quite ripe and oh-so-yummy. They’re usually a quarter or a third the size of the other type of reddish-orange mangoes you see here, and they taste quite different. Taiwanese mangoes have this bite to them that other mangoes don’t, are more (superbly) fibrous and are sure to improve bowel movement by a thousandfold. Be sure to peel the mango skin instead of trying to cut through the tough fibre. You probably have to make a small incision at the top of the mango before peeling. And don’t even dream about eating these mangoes without being armed with some sturdy dental floss.
Quality bubble tea/drink stores every few steps you make. I’ve given up bemoaning the lack of quality bubble tea stores in Edmonton, where the tea is not made from real tea, but is instead made of a jumble of ice, a crazy amount of sugar, colouring and flavouring. What’s worse is they cost so much. These drink stores here even deliver their drinks to your doorstep for a very low minimum spending requirement. There’s a reason why tea has always been steeped in Chinese culture and cuisine—pun intended (I think). What’s even better is that these stores have evolved from offering milk tea to offering many other creative drinks, all the while staying true to their tea roots. For a tea fanatic like me, this is heaven.
Delightful back alleys and little lanes so full of character and colour. I’ve found that the best way to discover these places is to never walk the same route twice, not that I’ve actually stuck to this resolve. Reach your destination via one route, and return via another. You never know when you’ll stumble into another cluster of lanes and alleys teeming with life, and you’ll start chiding yourself for passing by the area countless of times without even knowing the existence of that cluster of lanes and alleys.
Ever-abundant, affordable and awesome food and drinks. I once thought that Singapore had too many food stalls, stores, food courts, hawker centres, restaurants, cafes etc. combined together—I was wrong. If I thought Singapore really knows how to enjoy food, Taiwan does it better. You’ll practically never ever go hungry in Taiwan, even at odd hours. Of course, convenience stores play a big part in feeding hungry people in the middle of the night but I’ll save this for the next paragraph. Nevertheless, I’m thankful that I’ve grown up on Chinese food, so I feel right at home with all the Chinese food here. Granted, Chinese food and “oily” pretty much go hand-in-hand, and the summer heat doesn’t relent that much either, but really, how can I ask for any more? Cheap, convenient, abundant and yummy. Of course I’ll overlook the fact that I’ve recently experienced a bad bout of gastric problems.
Awe-inducing Taiwanese convenience stores. I’ve promised myself that I have to take a video of them very soon. If not a video, many pictures—but I’ll probably earn myself many amused “what-a-tourist” looks from others in the store when I actually do this, even though this is probably only true in my head. Packaged milk drinks in so many flavours, milk alternatives in so many flavours as well, puddings/jello, coffee, tea etc. in so many different flavours, fresh-cut fruit, cha ye dan/tea leaf eggs, grilled sweet potatoes, reheat-at-the-store hot meals, onigiri, Vietnamese spring rolls, and so much more—and they all look pretty appetizing in general, whereas I tend to avoid convenience stores elsewhere because of their awfully inflated prices and unsanitary-looking and unappetizing offerings. There’s even tables and chairs for you to have a meal there. A quick look on Google told me that Taiwanese convenience stores offer many services as well, such as bill payments, online shopping pick-ups, mail, and so many more. These convenience stores really make life so much easier.
Seriously efficient transport system. From personal observations, I think Taiwan has made it especially convenient for locals and foreigners alike to appreciate its many sights, both natural and man-made. The MRT practically goes everywhere, including popular tourist spots that are equally popular with locals. Some public buses even provide free WIFI and charging terminals. There’s charging stations at every MRT station and free WIFI at those stations. Haven’t actually tested out the WIFI strength at these stations, but I still think these features are pretty impressive. And what can top having a main station at the heart of the city that houses almost every single mode of transport, sans air and sea transport modes? I’m guessing there’s a strong association between the locals’ high level of inter-city/intra-country mobility, and the government’s decision to build the Taipei Main Station. Sure, other cities and towns out of Taipei may not have equally developed transport systems within their cities or towns, but you can’t ask for too much.
The shopping. Night markets, specialty stores in delightful back alleys, rows and rows of endless stores on just about every street. Affordable prices, quite good quality considering the price, fashionable, what else do you need? This is pretty self-explanatory.
Having people actually understand and share my very characteristically “Asian” habits. Ask for hot water in a Western-styled eatery offering Western food in North America and you’ll get a puzzled look, even if hardly noticeable. Try explaining that watermelons are “cooling” and durians or grapes are “heaty” in North America to non-Asians. I want to refrain from making sweeping generalizations but my subjective experiences tell me that it’ll be pretty difficult to successfully explain such concepts there—having said that, I’m sure the concept of yin and yang is spreading quite successfully in the West, even if still quite slowly. I also once tried to ignore very Asian advice pertaining to eating habits. Let’s just say I’ve learnt my lesson very well.
Having to nod, laugh and pretend I understand people when I only understand about half of what’s been said. I’m definitely very grateful that I grew up having to learn Mandarin even if I might have hated it in my younger years. I now earnestly regret not putting more effort into learning Mandarin, because my Mandarin was sub-par in Singapore’s standards, what more of Taiwanese standards. I’ve gotten quite used to being able to talk pretty excitedly one moment and feeling quite lost at the next moment when the conversation shifts to something else and contains more difficult Mandarin vocabulary. Of course, in my effort to improve my Mandarin, something that I’ve never desired to do prior to living in Taiwan, I’ve asked far too many questions regarding what certain Mandarin words mean. But sometimes I just let it go and sit back while being thoroughly puzzled and unable to follow the conversation. I’ve never experienced something quite like this before and it’s pretty humbling. I can practically constantly hear my dear ex-Mandarin teacher in my ear at such moments.
Incredibly friendly and helpful strangers. They always say Taiwanese are among the friendliest people on earth, if not the friendliest. And it’s true when they say that, when they say Taiwanese are the friendliest, there’s a reason for that. Sure, I’ve met the odd ones out with attitudes that aren’t the best, but in general their generosity, helpfulness and ingrained habit of always putting others before themselves is pretty amazing.
The precious people who’ve helped me in uncountable ways. I can’t emphasize this enough. I arrived practically not knowing a soul, but halfway into my internship, I’m humbled and incredibly grateful to say that I’ve made precious friends in and out of the office whom I’ll remember forever, whom I’m eternally grateful for and whom I’ll be thoroughly heartbroken to part from. They say blood is thicker than water, but as a Chinese saying goes, and as one of my new friends have said—when you’re at home depend on your family, but when you’re out, depend on your friends. This advice might not be appropriate in every situation but I think what’s key is that when you’ve found friends you can depend on—although I’ve always believed that you can never and should never truly depend on anyone except yourself—you’ve truly found gold.
I’m certain that I would never be able to stand where I’m standing without these precious people. I guess all I can do is hold them close to my hearts, and understand that wherever I’m standing, I’m standing there because of the people who’ve helped me in one way of another, even those who have impacted my life in seemingly undesirable ways those moments way back in the past. I’ve practically written an essay, but I’m happy that I’m back, I’m back in my groove with words just pouring and pouring out of me. Even if I find myself ruminating about past experiences more than before, when I shouldn’t be
All content © Carissa Tham 2017