It doesn’t matter that it has been four months since I last breathed Taiwanese air—at times like these, in an effort to preserve these memories that are beginning to shift and rearrange themselves in my head to make way for new memories, for new memories to build upon these old memories—I will do my best to write, to record these memories all down, so that months and years ahead, even when the mind tries to play tricks, these words will stand testament to all I’ve experienced.
1. Stores that open till late. Having a full workday meant a lot of my experiences around the country was restricted to nighttime, save for weekends. In many Western countries, it would have been disastrous for me because stores and businesses often stop operating pretty early. Being the true-bred city girl that I am, I embraced this aspect of Taiwan immediately. It helped a lot that it was actually safe to hang out at night as well. My heart is constricting now that I’m recalling all the lovely, quaint little cafes, tucked away in back alleys teeming with life. Not to mention that big cities are really pretty at night—Taipei 101 was definitely quite a site to behold from Elephant Mountain or 象山 which is technically more of a hill than a mountain, but still offered one of the best views of Taipei 101. I really miss those little hikes up Elephant Mountain after work and thoroughly sweating through my clothes thanks to the humidity and heat.
2. Feeling safe when it’s late at night. This might not only be unique to Taiwan, but it’s the first foreign country in which I’ve felt safe when it’s late. A very big reason I felt safe at night in Taiwan, especially in the major cities, was because the stores remained open till late, and also because I could count on many people still being up and about when it’s late thanks to these stores that remain open. This is one of the many things I love about Asian cities. It also helps a whole lot that the Taiwanese in general are immensely trustworthy and upright people who seem to always put others before them.
3. Typhoon holidays. Although I initially had my fears, being inexperienced with such extreme manifestations of nature, I took cues from colleagues and friends—locals who helped me quickly soak up the “typhoon culture.” I remember stocking up on canned food etc, and getting jittery from reading up about typhoons online—according to some sources, power and water supplies may even be cut off in some more serious cases. Fast-forward to the day of the typhoon itself, with the government declaring a half-day work day in addition to a full day of typhoon holiday—I remember wanting to scurry home to safety as quickly as possible, but somehow gave in to colleagues and ended up catching a night movie, and heading home while the typhoon was on the brink of breaking out into full-force.
4. Always second-guessing earthquake tremors. Earthquakes are quite the norm in Taiwan since the country is in a seismically active zone, but fortunately most of them are small and cause little damage. This means that although tremors can be felt in surrounding areas, there will not be serious damage to property and lives. This may come off weird-sounding, but thanks to my overly bouncy bed, I often mistook the movement I felt while sitting on my bed (in a Japanese-styled tatami room which explains why I was often on the bed instead of a chair) with earthquake tremors. It didn’t help at all that my blood vessels and heart thumped in overdrive after every workout, enough to feel like my body was swaying—I might get some raised eyebrows here but I’ve done my best to explain this. My history of having low blood pressure did not help either because my occasional dizzy spells were not quite unlike the swaying caused my earthquake tremors. Nevertheless I am immensely grateful that I have never been caught in the centre of an earthquake.