Tomorrow evening, Steve and I will board a flight out of Taipei to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Our last day in Taipei will be filled with frantic errands, like mailing a package off to the United States, hanging out one last time with friends we’ve barely gotten to know, and ordering our favorite dishes for dinner one last time.
For several weeks now, I’ve been saying goodbye to Taiwan. Every time I walk by a market stall and catch a glimpse of a snack I once tried, I silently mourn the fact that I won’t be able to try it again. Each time I buy a tea drink, I think about the many desolate tea-less countries ahead, and that I won’t just be able to buy us tea to go with our lunch. In small ways and big, I am feeling nostalgia about our time here already.
I am going to miss Taiwan. There is just no way around that simple fact. I think Steve and I have made it pretty clear that we think Taiwan is the bee’s knees when it comes to so many things, but on this, our next-to-last evening in Taiwan, it’s really hitting hard that not only will we have to say goodbye to a number of amazing, beautiful things, but that we will also need to take on a different frame of mind for travel in other countries, particularly in Southeast Asia. It is a mixed blessing, but right now, I can only grasp how sad we are to be leaving Taiwan. Reader, if we have not convinced you yet that Taiwan should be a destination for you too someday, here is our last ditch attempt.
Taiwan is safe. We have never known a country as safe as Taiwan. I really mean it. We have never hesitated to come out or to walk home at any hour of the night. We regularly walk down dark alleys that look semi-deserted because they’re usually fascinating and full of strange stores. Guns are illegal in Taiwan, and while I’m sure there are pickpockets and thieves, you really wouldn’t know it from people’s behavior here. There is usually such a hodgepodge of things lying outside people’s homes; some people’s entire kitchens are outside, with pots and pans, carving knives and basins, simply lying on the sidewalk. And nobody worries about security! It’s amazing.
The most danger you can be in (and it’s actually significant) is if you’re riding a scooter around without a helmet, because those scooters are fast, and we’ve seen a few accidents. But traffic here is still much more reasonable than China, and I’m sure more reasonable than a lot of the places we will be heading to. I think as much as I love being safe and feeling incredibly comfortable walking around at night, I still will not truly appreciate it until we return to a place like Chicago or another large city, where constant discomfort is useful in keeping you safe and sane. In terms of scams or touts trying to cheat you out of your money, I’ll say that I’ve met a few, and undoubtedly would have met more if I looked the part of a foreigner, but that Taiwan has nothing on China in this department!
Taiwan is clean. Oh, my gosh is it clean. Steve, our friend Diane, and I just spent five minutes tonight at the MRT station loudly proclaiming how much we loved clean bathrooms in Taiwan. Dirty bathrooms are a predictable evil the world over, but somehow, most public toilets in Taiwan, and especially the ones in the MRT or subway stations, are well-equipped with toilet paper and even smell decent. I was raised as a small child to understand that toilet paper is a sine qua non of traveling in China, and that I could always find some in my mom’s purse. We’ll have to make sure we carry a good supply now that we’re leaving Taiwan for the “wilds” of Southeast Asia again. And while Taiwan is not made up of bathrooms, I think the public facilities are generally a metric of how clean a country is — and the rest of Taiwan lives up to the high standard that is set by these bathrooms. It’s almost a surprise because public trashcans are *not* everywhere in this country, so I don’t entirely know how they keep it so clean. But the streets and public facilities are just spotless here, and it has a larger effect on you than you would think.
Finally, Taiwan is easy. We have found it easy because I speak the language. For Steve and I, non-English menus are the norm, not the exception. We can easily find laundromats and hospitals, ask locals for directions and bargain at the night market. But even if you don’t speak a lick of Mandarin, Cantonese, and Taiwanese, most people know a few words of English. Especially the younger generation and people in the service industry (two groups that overlap a lot) in Taiwan know a lot of English, and make it easy for you to find your way and feed yourself here.
And it is incredibly cheap. The exchange rate is roughly 30 NT to the USD, and if it sounds like a lot, it’s not as cheap as some of the places we’ll be going, but it wields a considerable amount of purchasing power. A large cup of the aforementioned jasmine green tea is 20 NT, and a bowl of hot noodles at a corner stall is usually 30-40 NT. A can of beer (local, not Heinekein) at the 7-11 is 40-50 NT, and a delicious restaurant meal with a drink can be had for less than 200 NT. Finally, Our apartment in Kaohsiung was 6500 NT a month excluding utilities, something for which our friends in D.C. and the Bay Area simply shook their heads and decided not to talk to us.
Finally, Taiwan is incredibly comfortable because it is a very well-developed nation. Hot water? A/C? Everyone has it. Electricity? Free Internet access provided by the local municipalities? Taiwan has it. Starbucks, expensive electronics, restaurants and cuisines from every culture in the world? It’s here. A robust health care system with government-paid insurance? Yes. Nationwide recycling and composting services? With a whopping 42% participation rate to boot! The biggest complaint Steve had about Kaohsiung was that nobody seemed to make a good bagel, though we remedied that as soon as we arrived back in Taipei.
And yes, Taiwan still has stinky tofu, delicacies, and snacks at every night market that will seem strange, funny, and intriguing.
It has brilliant and scenic mountains, beaches, and lakes.
Towering statues, temples full of incense, crumbling forts and historic relics at every turn.
And people who are so friendly and welcoming and easy to talk to that I can forgive their obsession with yellow ducks and Hello Kitty and begin to plan my next trip. Yes, maybe the year after next, I’ll bring my parents, and we’ll go to Tainan and Kaohsiung, and we’ll have to see Taroko Gorge too…
After all, goodbye isn’t really goodbye, as long as you know you’ll be back.
Until next time, Taiwan.