And it Hits You..
I’m at the point of having been to Taiwan enough times so that when I’m back, everything feels familiar, but also produces a very present culture shock. And it seems that no matter when I come back, the first thing that hits you is the ubiquitous motorbike. You’ll pretty much see them everywhere at any time, with 1 person, 2 people, or even 3 sharing one motorbike, weaving through the cars and streets of Taiwan. The motorbike has become an important Taiwanese symbol -for those of us who can’t understand why there are so many of them everywhere -they represent the populous, fast-paced, affordable lifestyle of the country, with motorbikes end up being a lot more convenient in getting around the city and rural regions than cars.
Another thing that becomes very apparent when you arrive in Taiwan is the food stalls. You won’t only find these in the oh so famous night markets, but my favourite ones are actually set up during the day which sell a wide variety of foods, including fresh juices, fruits, small snacks, breakfast foods, and the list goes on perpetually. However, my favourite aspects of food stalls may even be simply the people selling the food. Oftentimes, the food they’re selling is their entire job and I saw how passionate they were about the food they grew and made, and how much they wanted to share it with others -whether it be fellow locals or travelers passing by. It’s truly worthwhile to stop on the streets, have a great conversation with the locals, and have some incredible food while you’re at it.
I was fortunate to have been in Taiwan right after Chinese New Year ended, so all the busy chaos and celebrations had died down, but all the beautiful, ornate decorations and traditions still remained. I’ve never been back during the month of February, so a lot of what I saw was new to me, and seeing all the signs of good fortune and health hung up on the walls and ceilings of my family’s home to the burning of incense and visiting the temple of my family tree (my family visits this space especially during Chinese new year to pay their respects to our ancestors) instilled in me a strong sense of my own heritage.
A Moment of Calmness
We decided to drive down south to Kenting, known as the beach town of Taiwan. It’s crazy how small of a country Taiwan is, yet the north and south can have such an extreme difference in climate. Taipei was quite chilly and a jacket was needed, but when you moved down south to Kaohsiung and Kenting, the climate turns tropical and humid and you will have no problems at all swimming in the beaches mid-winter.
Our time in Kenting was brief, but we made sure to take a stop at Baisha Beach, where Life of Pi was filmed. While there were several people at the beach when we arrived, I felt incredibly at peace. We simply just sat there in the sand, listened to the waves of the ocean crash against the shore, watched people dip their toes in the water, feeling the humid, salty air on our face, and the sun started to make its way back to the horizon to mark the closing of the day.
In a stark contrast to our time at the beach earlier in the day, night time in Kenting becomes a busy hub for everyone in the area, filled with numerous food stalls, games and activities, and markets selling crafts and clothing. Night markets are a trademark of Taiwan and can easily become overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time, but a tip to avoid the chaotic crowds is to go earlier in the evening and also, don’t feel like you need to try every new, foreign food you see. Just take your time, try something new every so often, and just take in all the sights, smells, and sounds as you walk down the streets.
Back up in Kaohsiung, we visited the newly established arts district -“The Pier-2 Art Center”. Here we found a variety of independently-run small shops with several art installations and exhibits in between, such as the building of chairs pictured above. It was a great place to observe the creativity and vibrancy of Taiwan’s up and coming modern art scene and the artisans that strive to produce local, fair-trade goods.
Trading Crowds for Crops
The biggest reason for my stay in Taiwan was to visit my grandmother who lives down south. Down in the small, rural towns of the south, you’ll find plenty of rice fields, the occasional motorbike whizzing by, the characteristic blue trucks parked on the side of the roads, and the beautiful, colourful flowers in bloom (it’s blooming season in February).
Quietness, Community & Work
Farming is the main occupation in the small towns, so the lifestyle here is quite different than what I’m used to. Everyone wakes up bright and early at 5am when it’s still dark, heads out to their fields, and works the soil/harvests for most of the day. Even for those who don’t have fields to tend to, their personalities and demeanor are very laid-back and filled with a genuine warmth and happiness that is rare to see in the city.
Because of this, there is a cheerful quietness in the rural regions like no other, with the sounds of birds and ducks in the water, people harvesting their crops, with everyone somehow knowing each other throughout the town. As I spent each day in this environment, it was clear to me that the people truly enjoy their life here, living in simplicity and loving what they do. But that doesn’t stop them from having an incredible work ethic, often spending 16 hrs each day out in the fields so they can provide for their families.
My time in Taiwan was short, but filled with so many new opportunities to learn about a culture that feels so close yet distant. Being able to eat the food, spend time with my relatives and family, walking down the busy streets of the cities and the quieter roads of the towns, getting to observe people who’ve lived here their entire lives.. it is these moments that will stick with me and make me yearn for the next time I can come again.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post! If you missed my last post about all the food I ate during my time in Taiwan, you can find it here.