The second and third times I came to China, I was fortunate enough to return to a familiar place and to people I knew. When I arrived in Xiamen a month and a half ago, though, neither of those were true. Yet in the span of that month and a half, Xiamen has come to feel like home.
I have a fairly fluid concept of home. As a second-generation Army brat who still refuses to call herself a Minnesotan after living there for 15 years, I can’t point to one house, city, or even state as my home in the way that a lot of people do. To me, home is characterized by several things, most of which can change location fairly rapidly or even coexist in multiple locations at once:
- People I care about and who care about me
- Familiar surroundings
- A private bathroom, all of whose occupants I personally know – this is surprisingly important to me!
- A long-term purpose (studying, working, etc., as opposed to traveling)
Anyway, as the time of my departure from Taiwan approached yesterday, I found myself looking forward to returning home – to my familiar surroundings, my roommate and other friends, my own bathroom and my own bed, and to my stable situation as a student.
This homey feeling was epitomized in the first few minutes after exiting the ferry quay. I walked to the nearest bus station (which of course I knew) and while I waited for the correct bus (confirmed after a quick glance at the Chinese bus schedule), I saw two friends ride by on their motorcycle. Later on in the evening, I went to the cafeteria and ran into several friends. I also returned to dancing and was greeted with smiles and questions about where I’d been. Perhaps even more telling, I didn’t have the greatest time at dancing because I’m starting to become a little frustrated with my lack of improvement. It’s okay to show up and mess around for a few weeks, but after a month I feel like I should be getting a lot better – I’m here for the long-term, after all.
Yesterday and today are mainly filled with unpacking, laundry, and various other tasks that had been put off during the vacation – like this journal! After a few straight hours of typing, I managed to finish my journal from Taiwan. I’m going to link the posts that I made while in Taiwan to the fuller posts, so if you wanted to read more about something in particular, you can go to those posts (Taibei and After Taibei) and click on those topics.
As far as a little broad summarizing of the trip:
It was amazing. I am so happy that I spent my vacation this way, making the most of the time off to see a lot of cool things in Taiwan. I feel like I really got to see Taiwan – cities and nature – in the 11 days we spent there. I would like to return some day, maybe in two years when the Alishan railway is open again. I would like to see more of the east coast, preferably sans typhoon, especially the Green Island.
I liked Taiwan. In a lot of ways, it seems like a parallel universe where China is free and orderly. The abundance of natural resources and beauty is pretty incredible. (Unfortunately, the abundance of natural disasters was also pretty impressive).
I also had the most wonderful travel companions. I spent the most time with Carlos and Aleid, and we enjoyed so many interesting conversations about our countries and shared so many laughs over the ridiculous things we saw and did.
The trip was really affordable. I paid about $200 to get to and from Taibei (via ferry and plane) and another $100 or so on travel within the country (pretty good, considering the amount of ground we covered). We managed to keep our sleeping costs low – $110 for 10 nights! My biggest expense was probably food which, at $13 a day, was about twice what I spend here in China.
It was also fairly convenient. A few years ago, the Taiwanese government authorized an agency to make suggestions as to the best way to attract youth and backpackers. A lot of their measures, like the free cellphones and discounts on public transportation, really made things easy on us.
Now I’ll end with some observations of Taiwan – the good, the bad, and the funny:
- There are a lot of people in Taibei. This is not a particularly novel observation, but I’m going to share it anyway. At 6 million people, it is larger than LA by several million and isn’t too far behind New York.
- They wear a lot more face masks. I’m not sure if this is because of the increased threat of swine flu in concentrated populations, or just a practical measure while riding motor scooters (see below).
- There are freaking tons of motor scooters, apparently the most in the world per capita.
- It is very orderly in Taiwan (especially Taibei). I made an ass out of myself twice by acting like a Chinese – standing on the walking side of the elevator, and standing in front of the door of the metro train. In China, there are no such rules; the rule is that the person who pushes hardest goes first.
- There is less smoking, no eating in the metro, and everyone wears seatbelts – all because of well-publicized rules with accompanying fines that are actually enforced.
- There is so much Western stuff! The short list: Starbucks, Coldstone, Apple, Twix, Cheetos, Kinder, facebook (!), donuts, MLB, Subway, Toblerone . . .
- There is less staring here (although I did have my picture taken by a stranger for the first time). I found it interesting to note that even in such a huge and diverse urban center as Taibei, there were still less people that looked different than in my small suburban town of Coon Rapids, MN. Granted, most people in Coon Rapids are Americans, whereas the mostly-homogenous population of Taibei includes Taiwanese, Chinese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, and Filipinos, but I’m talking about appearances here. I would have to say that the average American town, regardless of size, has more diversity of appearance than any city in Asia, regardless of size.
- The way people dress in Taiwan most of the time actually would fit in in America. Less high heels and frilly dresses than China and, while still present, there is less Chinglish.
- Taiwanese girls wear more makeup than Chinese. Unfortunately, I think that many of them take it to the extreme. Example: fake eyelashes EVERYWHERE. Go to a night market, and the girl selling you stinky tofu more likely than not has false eyelashes on.
- They sell juice made from bitter gourd, which I just refuse to believe tastes good.
- For a country that views bikinis as too revealing (which is what we were told) there is an unacceptable number of people walking the streets of Taibei in underwear.
- There are a ridiculous number of 7-11’s. Family Mart and Hi Life are also big.
- There is an extremely noticeable lack of trash cans in every part of Taiwan that we went to. If every convenience store had one, it actually wouldn’t be that bad, but the truth is that the convenience store-to-trash can ratio has got to be around 4 or 5.
- As if it weren’t bad enough that Taiwan uses traditional characters and Wade-Giles instead of Hanyu pinyin, they also write in pretty much whatever direction they feel like – left-to-right most of the time, but top-to-bottom and (worst of all) right-to-left are also common.