Everyone travelling to Asia can relate: The scenery is stunning, the food is amazing, the history is thrilling and the people are welcoming and friendly. Besides, East Asia is known to be safe and clean. But there is more to Taipei than just that.
Both travelling in Taipei and living in the hustling and bustling capital of Taiwan is extremely delightful. The magical word here is convenience. Not only can you find convenient stores such as 7/11 and Family Mart open 24/7 never further away than your vision can reach and several other food, grocery or even book stores open around the clock – for most parts of the day and night the MRT (metro) connects all hot spots in the city. I personally would not take the MRT for less than three stops, but Taiwanese are a little bit lazy on their feet. In consequence a MRT station is never far away and it is simple to transfer to other lines. Like everywhere in Taipei constructions are given in English of course. An “Easy Card” is easily purchased and makes travelling even less difficult (and you can pay in convenient stores and at other tourist attractions with it) – either by MRT or by rental UBike. .
- Alternative Scene (Art & Music)
Originating in protest movements mainly in the 1990th, Taipei still is a great platform for small, upcoming artists, both in original art as well as music. Near the universities, in old industrial complexes and also in other quarters you can find colourful centres of creativity, full of individual, politicized, real life related and culturally very rich art of all kinds. While the art of traditional painting does not seem to be very common, young Graffiti artists paint the city walls and small sketches and scenes are scribbled on notebooks, postcards and buttons for sale.
The alternative, individual and sometimes rebellious influence is also seen in the music scene. Many small garage bands devoted themselves to Indie Rock and it is not difficult to find small places where upcoming artists present their show.
- LGBT Scene
In October I learnt that the biggest LGBT pride parade is happening in Taipei and I was impressed not only by the parade itself, but also by the supportive bystanders and the just overall happy and open atmosphere. Seeing gay couples holding hands is not an unusual sight and the gay bar area is right in the centre of a vibrant quarter of the city (Ximen). I don’t doubt that there are still plenty things to do on the way to equal treatment, but the first impression is positive.
- Style & Shopping
Especially the young generation of Taiwanese is extremely fashionable and walking through the cities of Taipei often gives you the feeling of being guest on a fashion show. People wear pretty much everything, colourful designs and all kinds of material, jazzed up with funky accessories. Some outfits would be considered “hipster” back home (80th/90thare hot!), others are definitely modern inventions or just crazy mixtures of all decades. The whole fashion interest gets extra spice, because not only women follow and set trends, but also young men are extremely fashionable and experimental about clothing. Fashion is Fun. Obviously, in a city where people pay so much attention to their looks, there are endless opportunities to shop (in all price categories). And surprisingly (and luckily) it is not difficult to find as well clothes to fit European curves.
- Hair dressers
Before going to a hair dresser in Taiwan I was terrified, so I went with a friend. We both didn’t know much Chinese at that time and the hairdresser didn’t know much English, but somehow we were able to communicate with hands and feet. Going to a hairdresser in Taiwan is a fantastic experience for you and definitely for your hair, though you should not be in a hurry. Extensive hair wash, head massage, neck massage and styling takes up some time. Oh yes, and then there’s also the cutting part which feels like live art being performed on your head. The result: beautiful! The feeling: amazing. And it is always nice to have a hairdresser being so fascinated by the sensation of touching your hair.
- Western Impact
This point might apply more to expats, but nonetheless it is interesting for everybody to observe the Western impact on Taiwan. Walking through the streets of Taiwan it is obvious that you are in Asia, but once you get a little taste of Taiwanese culture, mentality and people the Western impact stands out. Taiwanese have a very special way to translate Western culture to Taiwanese, they take over aspects of Western life and transform it into a mixture of both cultures. Coffee and coffee shops are a good example, but mostly visible in a phenomena called “Starbucks”. Only in Taipei are around 200 Starbucks shops and any time you go, they are packed. The menu is close to the one I know from Europe, but the atmosphere is entirely different. People come to Starbucks to spend a whole day, working, doing homework, meeting with colleagues. Starbucks becomes a second home and people devote themselves to it with buying cups for themselves, their families and friends. Oh yes, and besides Starbucks, it is actually possible to get great Western food in Taipei – a nice thing for expats.
- Coffee & Coffee Shops
While Taiwan is traditionally a country of tea and soy milk drinkers, especially in Taipei coffee has become extremely popular over the last years and while you can buy your morning coffee on the cheap at every corner in convenient stores, you should consider paying a little more for some morning delight in one of the plenty coffee shops instead. Some of the always very individually designed coffee shops are even equipped with their very own breweries and all offer delicious coffee creations. Coffee shop owners obviously put passion and their hearts and soul in the design of their shop and their menu.
- Confectionary & Bakery
Taiwanese love sweet stuff and they love cute stuff, so a lot of the confectionary looks great and tastes a lot like pure sugar. Nonetheless, Taipei impresses with many really good confectionaries and especially with bakeries. Even though it is not possible to get hands on a really nice dark bread (except for that one amazing German bakery), all other pastries and savoury pieces impress with taste and variety.
- Vegetarian Food
This is an aspect that should not have surprised me so much since Buddhism is big in Taiwan. Still, I am impressed with the variety of vegetarian food in Taiwan. Even though meat makes up an essential amount of people’s daily meals, it is easy to find really nice vegetarian restaurants and to live meatless every now and then, more than that: you really learn the appeal of vegetarian food once you had lunch or dinner in one of the vegetarian buffet places which are spread all over the town.
Last but not least, a major impact on how much you like being in a place has the fact whether or not you are able to communicate. You are welcomed by Chinese characters which plaster the house walls, but the street signs give you a translation for all important directions and street signs. Most people have basic knowledge of English and since it’s promoted from elementary school now you might even have kids run up to you for a short chitchat. If you are trying to improve your Chinese, Taipei is the place to be, because different meet ups for Taiwanese and foreigners to mingle happen every night.
Yeah, and then there’s the stunning scenery, the vibrant yet laid back atmosphere, delicious food, intense and interesting history and obviously fantastic, friendly, open and progressive people to give you no option but to fall in love with Taipei instantly.