Month 1 – Roundup

Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain

“Kristin, you’re becoming like Taiwanese”, says my Taiwanese friend Una to me on the train, “You’re always trying to catch the seat.”

Yes that’s true (but only because I really hate to stand on the train, MRT or bus) ;-)

I cannot believe a month has already passed since I left Germany. In the beginning, I still thought about home a lot. Like to get up in the morning and have some nice toast with cheese, to sleep on a bed with 3 mattresses (ok, that might be a little over the top), to spend Girls Night with my friends, to go over to my sister’s place and watch TV and so on.

After more than four weeks in Taiwan, my mind (and my body) has definitely arrived in Taiwan. The thin mattresses in Taiwan feel extremely comfortable to me, my favorite snack for breakfast is Onigiri (Rice Triangle/Sandwich) from FamilyMart and like the Taiwanese people, I still wear a down jacket when it’s 22°C outside. Because after-all, it’s still winter in Taipei and those temperatures just feel much colder than in Germany ;-)

I have barely written anything on this blog about Taiwan, so far. This is due to the fact that it’s extremely difficult for me to put my experiences into words. I’m not a tourist here. It would be so much easier if I could just write about sights I visit (which I rarely do). Instead, I’m a member of the family here. And a member of the community. I have received so much kindness from Una, her family, her extended family (cousins, uncles, aunts) and her neighbors. Many hours have gone by that I just spend with hanging out at some neighbors or family’s place. Always getting offered lots of food of course :)

Taiwan will never be a country that I can visit as a tourist. I’m too deeply involved in understanding it and the culture and people and traditions. Last time I went to Taiwan in 2010, I spent 3 months working for a Taiwanese company which gave me a good insight into small Taiwanese businesses and the work culture in Taiwan. This time, I learned so much about living in a Taiwanese family, family dynamics, and the gap between traditions and modern lifestyle. I believe that my friendship with Una is deeper than ever and that I have finally crossed the bridge to understand her life better.

This first month of my travel has been great. Some things did not work out according to my plan, but I manged to visit a few places I definitely wanted to see (again).

Places visited:

Taiwan: Taipei City, Sanxia, Yingge, Juifen/Jinguashi, Hualien (for Taroko Gorge), Chiayi (for Alishan Mountain), Kenting, Taiwan’s most southern point, Kaohsiung


View Traveling in Taiwan in a larger map

Favorite Place:

Kaohsiung! I love this city. It’s the second biggest city of Taiwan, located in the south (with better weather in winter), palm trees that line the big boulevards, it’s not too big and thus easy to get around and has the harbor, the Love River and some nice beaches nearby. A post about Kaohsiung will follow in the future.

Kaohsiung

Best food I ate:

We shared a great dinner at Whinos Bar & Kitchen in Taipei City with Una, her sister Vivian and her cousins Andi and Lee. The food was exceptional good, I loved the cheese and I finally had the opportunity to get some nice red wine :) It’s a fancy place, one where I can also imagine to go on a date or bring my family. Because they have knives and forks… ;-)

Whinos

I also grew very fond of the usual dinners we had at Una’s place. They would just cook noodles or rice, several kinds of vegetables, some meat and fish and a soup, which was all placed on small plates and you would just pick the stuff you want into your little bowl while you’re eating. I love the spicy sauce they have and I hope I can find something similar in Germany. I also like the idea how they arranged the food. Everyone could just pick what he likes and leave the stuff he doesn’t like.

Best accommodation:

An Lan Jie Hosel in Chiayi! I loved to stay there. Paul and Nana, who work there, are really nice people, their English is very well and Paul is joking around all the time. We had a very good time! Moreover, the hostel is located on the 14 floor and the dorm room we stayed in had a huge window front with an bombastic view of Chiayi. The Wifi connection was great, even inside the dorm room, which is not always the case (I hate it if I can only access the Wifi in the lobby of a place). An Lan Jie’s locations is close to the train station, food places like Subway are close by and they even have some breakfast at the hostel. If you ever happen to stay in Chiayi, stay here!

Other hostels I would recommend are the Journey Hostel in Hualien and Harbour Views 39 in Kaohsiung.

Most asked question:

“Have you been to Japan / Are you going to Japan?”

Taiwanese people like to go to Japan for vacation, so it’s a basic question for them to ask if s.o. has already been there or planning to go there. I often received bewildered looks because I haven’t been there and am not planning on going there anytime soon. I mean, Japan is so expensive compared to other Asian countries. I could probably travel three or four times as long in South-East Asia with a certain budget than in Japan.

Books read:

One of my goals for this trip is to have more time to read. I love reading and there’s just nothing better than sitting in a great surrounding (like on the beach) and just loose yourself into a good book. My Amazon wishlist is quite long and I hope I can read a lot of the books on it in the upcoming months.

This months, I only managed to read two books: The famous “The Beach” by Alex Garland and “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. I loved “Gone Girl”, but “The Beach” wasn’t my thing. I just cannot imagine to live on a deserted island, having no flush toilet and eating the same food every day. It does not sound like paradise to me and is not appealing to me.

Book recommendation for Taiwan:

Kat Vespucci takes Taiwan. I read this book before coming to Taiwan and I loved it. Kat is a new English teacher, who just moved to Taiwan and experiences all the funny, curious, sweet and strange things many (western) foreigners experience when they first come to Taiwan. It’s hilarious and in many ways true to the point. (“You cannot flush toilet paper in the toilet?? But it’s TOILET paper.”)

The Toilet Situation:

Taiwan has both traditional and Western type toilets. And usually, you’ll always find both of them in a public restroom. In private houses, I have never seen the traditional toilet, only Western ones.

This is a picture of a traditional toilet:

Traditional Toilet

You see, it includes a ceramic bowl set into the ground in this case and is big enough to not worry about if you „hit the hole“ ;-) The biggest problem which could occur is that you can’t get out of the squatting position to stand up…if you don’t have a lot of muscles in the legs like me. I assume this is also the reason that there are usually both types of toilets in public bathrooms. I cannot imagine a pregnant woman, a physically disabled person or a senior citizen to push themselves up from a traditional toilet.

One thing you have to know about Taiwanese toilets is that you can NEVER throw toilet paper into the toilet. No matter if traditional or Western toilet. The reason for this is still unclear to me. It is said that toilet paper will block the pipes, but to be honest, some men can really put a shitload of shit into the toilet and I’m wondering how that’s not to block the pipes??

So, back to the toilet paper. Instead of throwing it into the toilet, you’ll always find a trash bin in your stall. I was surprised that it actually isn’t as smelly as I had thought in the beginning. You should always bring your own tissue paper, since some public bathrooms don’t have toilet paper at all, and the ones who do can run out of it.

To flush the toilet, you need to find the „pedal“ and just step on it with your foot. Sometimes, there are also flush handles you have to use by hand. (Or I’m not smart enough to use them with my feet).

So, enough for the toilets.

Sick times:

So to be honest, I included this section because being sick is just a part of my life. I get sick at home, and of course, this does not change just because I’m traveling. I don’t want to pretend that everything is easy when you’re on the road and I don’t want to write only about the good stuff, because that wouldn’t draw the correct picture of how it is like to go traveling long term.

This month I had nausea and vomiting, a bad sunburn, a sunstroke (from the sunburn) including a very painful headache, a swollen face for two days (also due to the sunburn I suspect), two migraine attacks, a regular cold, food poisoning (I suspect the Fish Tacos I ate…) and just when I was about to leave for the Philippines, I got this strange itching rash on my body. I had to see a doctor about this one, got an injection and some meds. I thought I was fine but two days later, the rash returned, in new places all over my body and my eyes were swollen badly. I went to the hospital to see another doctor and got some stronger meds. 5 bags of meds in total, including steroids. Since it cannot be determined what causes the rash (the diagnosis is just Urticaria // Nesselsucht in German) the rash can return anytime and I will probably have to deal with it in the future as well. The saddest part of this is that the doctor in the hospital recommended to stay away from spicy food. Although he also said that might be a bit tricky giving my itinerary through South-East Asia.

Going to see a doctor in Taiwan was a very pleasant experience. I have a lot of trust in their healthcare system and everything was very organized in the hospital. Way, waaaay more organized than I have ever seen it in Germany.

Money spent:

423€ Living Expenses (Food, Accommodation, Transport, Shopping, Kindle Books etc.)

+ 30€ for my trips to the doctor and the hospital, including the medicine

+ 150€ to book a new flight to my next destination

Taiwan is not a dirt cheap country. I only had to pay for 10 nights of accommodation because I was staying with Una the other nights, so for a regular trip, this would have been much more expensive. In addition, I got invited to so many meals, that I usually bought only water and a few snacks to eat.

I also saved some money on riding the bike instead of renting a scooter. The hostels I stayed at usually had to offer free bikes and in Kaohsiung I used the free public C-Bike to save money for the MRT rides.

C-Bike

My C-Bike with me exploring the beaches in Kaohsiung

Taking the bus is also cheaper than taking the train in some cases, so that’s what I did as well. The long-distance buses in Taiwan are fine. The seat is comfortable and you even have a TV in front of your seat.

In general, I would compare the price level in Taiwan to the one in South Africa (although South Africa still feels a bit cheaper). I usually paid between 10-14 EUR for a dorm bed, so that’s what I consider “medium cheap“. Way cheaper than to travel in Western countries of course.

Let’s see what the next month will bring.

Is there anything you would like me to write about in my Monthly Roundup posts? Any topic I haven’t covered that is interesting to you? Please let me know in the comments.

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