Taipei: the forgotten city?

ImageToday while out with a Taiwanese friend a woman asked if she was my translator, my friend told her no– that I was just a friend who was visiting. The woman seemed surprised, “Why are you visiting Taiwan?”

Taipei isn’t one of the major vacation hot spots for westerners. When I told people I was going to Taiwan, half of them squinted and asked, “Thailand?” Taiwan is a strange little island that is still tied with China, but isn’t exactly a part of it any more. They are politically separate, though historically tied to the mainland. Coastal areas have been occupied by the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, and the Japanese at various times. 

A key spot for eastern trade routes to Europe, it is still a thriving place of commerce today. Most westerners who turn up on these shores are not here for pleasure; it’s strictly business. The city is extremely modern for the most part. They have free public wifi in most major area to cater to a tech savvy populous, their metro is incredibly clean and convenient, and yes– before you get all worried– nearly everywhere there are western style toilets (though using the squat toilets isn’t actually that hard). English is accommodated nearly everywhere. Metro and bus stops are always announced in 3-4 languages, English included.

So why haven’t westerners descended on this gem of a city? Perhaps because no one ever really hears much about it. Perhaps also because there seems to be a misconception that it is still developing. My friend said that the last time she was with American visitors, some thought that it would be mainly unpaved roads, no internet, very old fashioned. And when you get out of the cities into the mountains and farm country, such modern amenities may be spotty, but the same is true in many countries.

For those from a more temperate climate (me), the heat in the summer can be a little intense. My brother informed me that according to the weather the temperature with humidity factored in was around 105 yesterday. Today humidity was at 120% meaning, he told me, technically it was raining, but it’s so hot that it never comes down, it evaporates in the sun before it has a chance and hangs like a mist, mixing with air pollution around the mountains that surround Taipei.

So give Taipei a chance, but maybe come in the winter. It gets down to a brisk 70 degrees or so in winter.

One more week stateside

Next weekend I head out for Taiwan for a week to visit my brother (the Ge Ge) and then on to Seoul for 4 weeks. I am excited, but also a little nervous. Partly because this trip has higher stakes now. I have tentatively pre-sold a story  to a magazine that will be about my time in South Korea. This is the first time I’ll be writing to an already set theme about my travels instead of writing and pitching afterwards. I’m trying to be more proactive about my freelancing.

I have also recently been accepted into a teaching program in South Korea. I’ll be back from my trip for only a few weeks before returning to spend an entire school year there. The thing I am most concerned about is getting all the bureaucratic paperwork and such processed in time to start the end of August. I really don’t want to defer my placement until January because being in want of car, I wouldn’t be able to do much of anything around here until then.

I also have to pack up all my worldly possessions (and get rid of half of them), even what I’m not taking, because there is a chance my father might move sometime in the next year and I want to save him the hours it will take to pack up all my books and papers. It’s remarkable to me how much one manages to accumulate. I’ve decided that I will only allow myself to send along one smallish box of books for the year in South Korea. As balm to the sting of limiting my library, I have been downloading a ton of free ebooks from Gutenberg library online. There’s a great selection of classic literature in a very friendly format.

More pressingly, I’m packing as lightly and weather appropriately as possible for my month long journey. Once I arrive in Seoul I can do a more comprehensive “what-I-packed” post for the luggage conscious travelers out there. I know I found such posts to be very useful before my first trip. Though, I still packed an immense amount on my trip to England.

Anyway, I’ll be blogging from my tablet starting next week, which is incredibly annoying and difficult, so please forgive any typos. Wifi might be a bit spotty depending on which building I end up staying in in Seoul.

But I’m really excited to be sharing this experience with you guys and hopefully come September I’ll blogging about the next big adventure: teaching English in South Korea.