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.
As someone born and raised in different countries, who resides in a country I didn’t grow up in, and who’s been on extended travels, I’ve been fortunate to experience living apart from my family and my comfort zones. While I often highlight the desirable aspects of life in these different places, I never realized that I could be painting a rather inaccurate picture of these experiences to a third party—until I came across an interesting read online, written by someone who’s gone on a University exchange trip—beckoned by promises of incredible fun and exoticism of foreign lands, as painted by fellow University-exchange-trip alumni—and not entirely loving the experience.
I would like to refrain from directly linking the article in question, but would like to be entitled to give my two cents’ worth, even if it means cowardly hiding behind the security of a computer screen and avoiding being embroiled in an episode of cyber-debates.
I never realized that by emphasizing on bright lights and happy things could give those unfamiliar with such an experience the impression that everything would be more or less fine and dandy if one were to move across continents and try to live in a place so obnoxiously different from what he or she is used to. Granted, not everyone may be unable to decipher the trials and tribulations between the lovely pictures and excited blog posts, but I believe travel has been far too romanticized and exoticized.
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.