From the moment I first saw people were lined up to buy meat from a shirtless man wielding a cleaver with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, I knew I was going to love Taipei.
This was the immersion I was hoping for when I left the USA behind me.
Sure, it was less of a “seamless immersion” than I wanted - being a white women completely prevented that. Still, everyone let me observe, linger, and take lots of pictures.
There are the obvious things I could say about Taipei and my time there: the food is delicious, the temples are beautiful, and the people are warm.....
but... that wasn't just it.
I discovered quite a few other things about Taipei. Plain and simple, you can't make this shit up....
THINGS I NOTICED IN TAIPEI, TAIWAN
1. OBSESSION WITH LOTTERY SCRATCH CARDS
Scratch lottery cards are everywhere in Taipei. Everywhere. I'm talking store windows, I'm talking night markets, I'm talking entire stores dedicated to the sale of lottery scratch cards. There are even lottery cafes (as I call them) that sell scratch cards with patio seating like you're enjoying a croissant in France.
I did a little bit of research (like.... clicked the first 3 links in google) on why lotto cards are such a phenomenon, but I never really got any leads. I prefer that. From my observation, people in Taipei just love their damn lotto.
2. NO TRASH CANS
For a city that is known for its street food AND its impeccably clean streets/metro, something did not add up in Taipei. There were hardly any garbage cans. Ever. Every single day I would walk for blocks with an empty cup or wrapper in my hand, eyes frantic for a place to discard it. A pocket in my backpack eventually just became my trash pocket, and I would fill it up during my outings, and empty it later at my hostel.
UPDATE: According to Quora (I know, not the most reliable source), “It’s because of Taiwan has a policy of reducing waste and encouraging recycling which means that they make it expensive and inconvenient to generate household waste. In particular, you have to put waste into prepaid bags which you have to buy.”
3. NO GROCERY STORES
Yeah there are a lot of street markets, but do people really just live off of fried bread, black chicken legs, and live crabs?
Maybe. It sure seems like it considering I never saw a supermarket the entire time I was in Taipei. The closest thing was a 7-11, of which there were dozens.
4. BIKERS, BIKERS, EVERYWHERE
There were bikers all over the place in Taipei. No... not scooters, although there were a ton of those too. Cyclists. There were cyclists all over the city. You know the type - spandex and reflectors. Yeah, they were everywhere.
This was one thing I noticed, but didn't care too much about until I learned the reason: the east coast of the country is a cyclist destination for people who are into that sort of thing. A lot of people start or end their trip in Taipei, ergo, cyclists all over the place.
The city is actually very equipped for this with bike lanes everywhere and a very inexpensive city bike rental program. If you can figure out the bike rental machine (I couldn't), it is a great way to get around the city!
5. THEY BAG DRINKS
When you order a drink, you will receive it in a bag. All drinks get handed to you in little drink sized bags. At first, it just seemed extremely wasteful to me. It was also super annoying because this was just more garbage I had to carry around.
It wasn't until I needed both of my hands to take pictures that I hooked my drink, in bag, to the carabiner clip on my backpack that I realized - this is awesome!
Not sure if everyone else does this, or if they just redundantly carry their drink around in a bag, but either way, I am low key pro drinks in bags now.
6. DO PEDESTRIANS HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY?
I thought I had seen it all with the crosswalk lights in Berlin wearing hats. Nope. That doesn't even come close to the crosswalk lights in Taipei. These guys walk/run to the pace you should be moving depending on how much time is left. Clearly Taipei has put some energy into their crosswalks and yet..... I cannot confirm that the pedestrians have the right of way.
Here is the situation: the light turns green, I start to cross, and suddenly EVERYONE is coming towards me, honking their horns and aggravated I am in their way. Their way? Don't I always have the right of way as a pedestrian? Help please.
Little did I know that this would only be chapter one in what would become the "Maddie vs. crosswalks in Asia” story.
7. EVERYONE IS ALWAYS ON THEIR PHONES
and it is great! As much as everyone says it is refreshing when everyone puts down their phones and "lives in the moment," I can confirm it is almost equally refreshing when everyone is just on their phone and no one cares.
I know this seems so ~millennial~ of me, but I am traveling alone. Sometimes I want to be on my phone. I also love to take pictures of my food. No one even looks up in Taipei when I kneel on a chair to take a picture of my table... uh... I mean... I never did that.
I am a firm believer that phone culture isn't going anywhere, so it was pretty nice to see an entire country that agrees with me. No phone judgment rocks.
8. FLYING SQUIRRELS
I was hiking down Elephant mountain after sunset (with what felt like about half of Taipei) when suddenly I heard a large rustle overhead. I looked up. What appeared to be a cat was hanging on a thin branch, 30 feet above me. As I watched, it jumped from one thin branch to another, extending its arms and catching the wind. Suddenly, it hit me - this was no cat. This was a FLYING SQUIRREL. IN THE FLESH. NOT IN A ZOO. IN REALITY.
I have no clue how to track flying squirrels, but I can officially confirm that they live in the Taiwanese mountains (google will also confirm this).
Keep your eyes peeled - it truly is incredible!