The Taiwanese sense of hospitality is intense. I didn’t know this until just before my trip, but the Taiwanese are famous for their sense of hospitality. And wow, that reputation played out.
I arrived in Taipei late at night after a few intense days in Shanghai. Although I usually go the way of airport taxi queues, I knew on this trip I would be exhausted so I arranged a car with the hotel. These are those little moments that make me feel like I’ve truly Arrived. I roll straight out of the airport, past struggling tourists in the taxi queue and into a black car where the driver, dressed in a hat and with white gloves no less, waits while holding open my door. I sink into the sculpted leather seats and open one of the awaiting bottles of water before dozing the rest of the way to the hotel. This is heaven to me right now.
At the office the next day my coworkers insist on walking me to the nearby Shilin nightmarket and showing me around themselves. The head of our country office insists on giving me a gift. (My Asian manners have failed me here – I arrived in this office without one and the guilt, especially once I experience the Taiwanese sense of hospitality, is intense.) When a last minute call is scheduled keeping me in the office on a Friday until 7pm, my coworkers simply wait and then we go to the night market when it’s concluded.
The Shilin Night Market isn’t like any other I’ve been to. For one thing, it’s much more upscale, for another, it’s famous (deservedly so) for it’s food. I would drown myself in the experience if I wasn’t so darned tired by this point. Still, maybe another little taste of black sesame candy, or famous fried chicken, or just one more steamed bun wouldn’t hurt………oh, what fruit is that?
My coworkers insist on purchasing little tastes and items of things for me, are excellent tour guides, and eventually deposit me in a taxi back to my hotel where the staff takes over. The night before I felt tired but a little exhilarated by this level of travel. By the time I return to the hotel I’m so tired and blanketed in so much caring and thoughtfulness that I nearly, irrationally, cry.
Of course that’s a sign that I’m past my limit, so I suppose it isn’t much of a surprise when, no matter how hard I try, I can’t pry myself from the hotel the next day. Instead I watch movies, nap, and order room service.
But I force myself to rally on Sunday before flying back to Singapore. I work out a deal with a taxi driver to visit some of the top sites just outside of Taipei: a mountainous natural park, volcano fumaroles, and two tourist towns: Jiufen and Yehliu.
On the way, we head into Yangmingshan National Park, just north of Taipei. The park is lovely, and huge. It’s almost impossible to cruise through without advance planning. Luckily my taxi driver has some ideas on where to drop me for a few views, but I probably only see about 3% of the park. Poor planning on my part. I do, however, manage to come across a performance and tv broadcast which is quite fun.
Jiufen is full of crowded back alleyways with delicious smelling food. It’s a veritable warren and tourist trap, but it’s also cozy and interesting on a drizzly day. I stand out on the balcony at the end of one maze of alleyways and look out over the ocean. For a moment I have to catch my breath and let the wonder creep back in and far beyond the ocean I am gazing at is California. I am quite literally on the opposite side of the ocean from my country.
Finally, we arrive in a seaport and I fall completely in love with Yehliu. First, there’s the Geopark where the ocean crashes madly upon rocks leaving incredible formations behind. Then, there’s the entire sea port which feels like an Asian Mystic Seaport.
How is it possible to miss a home and wish for the next horizon so deeply and at the same time?