The top 5 things to expect when you arrive in Taipei
Story and Photos by Ana Varela Contributor
If it’s your first time in Taipei, Taiwan, you’d be smart to be more aware of your surroundings than usual. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the city’s most delicious but sometimes hard to find food places, hidden collectible stamps and unexpected adventures. Here are a few things to keep in mind before coming to Taipei (minus the spoilers):
Yes. Stamps are everywhere in Taiwan if you know where to look. Usually, these detailed little designs include what the region or location that you are visiting is most famous for. Carrying around a journal or a stamp book is a must and is excellent for remembering where you went that day. In the future, you’ll look back at your lack of stamping skills and laugh at yourself for blaming the stamps for not imprinting properly.
Scoot Over for the Scooters:
Keep your eyes and ears open to the sudden loud buzz of an approaching scooter. Scooters can be seen most obviously at intersections where they collect and then, at the ping of a green light, ride away with an astounding sound of one hundred motors revving in unison. Their small size, however, also allows them to zip past you through the smallest streets and even the sidewalks. Yes, scooters can be intimidating to the wary pedestrian, at first. As long as you limit your zigzagging, scooterists will never do so much as graze your rain poncho. It’s always good to remember that if you can’t beat them, you can join them on your own set of wheels with Taipei’s rentable UBikes. It’s faster than walking and extremely affordable, even for broke students *shoutout*.
Voguettes and fashionistas take long strides in their most stylish outfits on their Taipei street runway. It isn’t uncommon to see someone wearing the most recent trend standing just next to someone that has combined neon stripes and pastel polka dots. While this would usually call for strange looks from either party, this is not the case in the friendly city of Taipei. Despite what many online articles say, no one seems to care about what you’re wearing so long as it isn’t offensive or extremely revealing. It should be noted though, that showing some butt cheek is OK (hence their nonexistent hemlines at clubs) but showing cleavage or even shoulders is seen as too revealing. Regardless of what part of your beautiful body you’re hoping to show off, shopping is everywhere and sales are abundant. Many stores even cater to specific styles so that you know exactly where to walk in to browse for exactly what you want. Sizes do run small so if you’re big and tall you should keep an eye out for stores that cater to foreigners.
The scooterists will never hit you. The people on the Taipei Metro will gently remind you that you cannot eat or drink at the stations or on the rail. The fashionistas will happily tell you where to shop for the best prices or trends. Most people that you ask for help will give you their undivided attention or will find someone that speaks English if they cannot. Every day that you’re in Taipei, despite making a handful of friends, you may still be shocked at the incredibly selfless hospitality that everyone offers.
Hours in Taipei require some getting used to. While some places similar to 7/11 are open 24 hours, little else has such convenient hours. Many food locations are only open for the three or four hours that their food is most popular. So, if you’re craving grilled turnip, you shouldn’t be shocked to find the stand has vanished sooner than noon.
Furthermore, if you come from a country that is used to having dinner later in the evening, Taipei’s night markets will be your best bet. Most restaurants and services close by nine or ten and the night markets turn into ghost towns at midnight. Remember, when a place is as fairy-tale-like as Taipei, the best things will be the hardest to find.
I invite you to apply to study in Taipei at a Taiwanese University or Mandarin Training Center (like me) and take advantage of the abundance of scholarships that the Taiwanese government (and sometimes CSULB) have to offer. Come get a taste of Taipei; a large city that isn’t overbearingly crowded, has delicious foods and adventures to partake in just around every corner.