The first day
“What?!” I hear you exclaim, “Has this blog about living in Taiwan turned into a blog about living in Taiwan, written when you’re actually living there? Now I’ve heard everything.”
Yes, unbelievably, I am now writing from Taipei HQ. It’s 8:30pm here (11:30pm for the Aussie readership out there i.e. people I coerced into following this most spectacularly entertaining blog), and I have had a full and interesting first day.
Let me give you a preview of what you are about to read, with a juicy selection of key words:
Toothbrushes. Ducks. “I thought you were Chinese”. A shirtless man. A giant dumpling. In that order, but not necessarily intertwined (unfortunate, because my life could sure do with a shirtless guy cradling a giant dumpling).
So the tale begins upon my landing in Taipei at 5am this morning. (Although some may argue it began when I chose “egg” as opposed to “fried rice” at 3am this morning for breakfast- though the implications of this decision have yet to come to light). I had a lovely welcome to Taiwan when as soon as I got off the plane, I got chatting to the girl I sat next to on the flight. Friends in Taiwan count: +1. Winning.
After exiting the airport, I took a bus and train ride to my new home. Yes, new home! Thanks to the almighty power of the internet, I have been able to connect with two wonderful girls- Quyen and Amy- who not only quickly became friends, but also my future housemates. So it was with a wonderful rush of excitement that I lugged up my 22kg suitcase up the 5 flights of stairs to my new house.
It is just fantastic! Very open, quite modern and wide. I would put some pictures up, but it’s a bit in shambles because there is random crap everywhere. Empty jars, little porcelain traditional Chinese figures, an unopened bottle of calcium tablets, questionable body oil, one of those exercise machines which you know has been through a lawsuit, and three used toothbrushes- one (somewhat reasonably) found in the bathroom, and the other two (unreasonably) found hiding in bedroom drawers are just some of the treasures which greeted us.After a great, long chat to Amy over tea where it quickly became evident that we are Canadian/Aussie carbon copies of each other, I set off to get some lunch. I thought this would be a relatively simple affair but boy was I wrong. For some reason, the last time I came to Taipei I don’t remember having a problem finding places which I could place an order. I thought at least my patchy Japanese would be able to help with deciphering the type of meat in a dish, but none of the menus contained enough Kanji I knew. Basically, I was staring, hoping to make sense of all these symbols so I could begin my journey to Happyville, but when you’re illiterate in a language, you ain’t going nowhere yo.
I felt so helpless, and it dawned on me that this was going to be my uncomfortable life for so long as I didn’t know any Mandarin. Yes, I know, I could have just pointed to somewhere on the sign and hoped for the best. “Please no pigs guts, please no pigs guts”. YOLO/FOMO, right? But, dammit, on my first day I just really wanted something I was going to enjoy and not be stressed trying to work out if I could even eat it.
Being the genius I am, I chose to eat at a duck place. A place where the menu items all look largely indiscernible from each other. A place where it’s clear they never get foreigners. Oh, and to compound this I should add, I don’t even like duck. Yes, you go Glen Momo.
I chose it is because it was the only place with pictures next to the menu items. See, there was a reason! So there I was trying to decide from Duck Dish 1 through to 10, when I couldn’t even work out the difference between them. I don’t mean to be offensive, but they all looked the same. Eventually, I decided on Duck Dish 5 because somehow it looked the yummiest of the lot. With a sense of relief, I started moving to line up, but then I realised I didn’t know how to even communicate this.
I was thoroughly ducked. But suddenly, it came to me. “Aha!” I thought. “I’ll just hold up my fingers!” However, then the fuzzy realization came that how to hold up my fingers in Taiwan to represent “5” would be different from how we do it in the West. I was pretty sure that in Chinese speaking countries you have to hold your hand like a rock to show “5”, but I was too scared to risk it. What would happen if I was wrong, and showing a fist was a call to arms? And suddenly there are just ducks flying everywhere, and then I ruined duck eating for everyone? Yes, this was all going through my head in the duck shop.
So, I settled on Duck Dish 1. Surely, they could understand if I confidently held up my index finger, and acted just like a native Taiwanese person would with my very natural “1 please” in English. They looked at each other, somewhat taken aback, and pointed to the paper menu at Duck Dish 1. “This, silly foreign girl?”, they probably said. I expressed my “YES!” with violent head nodding. Somehow I survived the exchange and was presented for the low, low price of 85$ TWD (AU$3.5) with this culinary masterpiece. #turningTaiwaneseinlessthan24hours
The taste was… interesting. As I worked my way around the plate, liking some cuts of meat more than others, I finally got to the two cuts which just freaked my foreigner heart out. In an effort to open to new things, I tried them despite my reservations. Embarrassingly, I am pretty sure one was tofu, so that was a relief and a half. But the dark one in the shape of a tongue, well, it could well be a tongue. Yay.
After that, I roamed around my area and found all these vendors selling fruits and vegetables on the side of a busy street. I loved being amongst all the colours of the produce and the energy of the vendors. I loved that it was so different from what I am used to in Australia- what with needing to dodge speeding motorcycles just to get a Vitamin C kick. They know how to make you work for it here!
My next stop was a really gorgeous café right in front of my house. I had the most delicious milk tea with such a pretty gradient! Unsurprisingly, the menu was all in Chinese so I tried my luck ordering in English. Upon hearing my English the waitress appeared to be very confused. Not at my words, but the fact I was speaking in English. A phrase that those who know me know is hilariously familiar to me…
After retreating back home for a bit of a rest, I ventured to a night market a 12 minute walk from my house. It was so brilliant- so much bustling, so many people and interesting things to look at. It was mainly a produce market so there was an abundance of fresh and bright fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and baked goods.
Feeling peckish, I bought one of the few meals on offer. A giant dumpling! It was only 35$ TWD (AU$1.40)! It was so fascinating to watch the woman make each dumpling completely from scratch. What a talent! It was pretty yummy, and was really quite filling. However, the sloth in me wanted MORE, so I got some bread from one of the many bakeries still open at night. Isn’t that cool? That’s one of the things I love about this place. It’s so alive, even at night. As I walked on, I was surrounded by all the bright lights from all the restaurants, hairdressers, kitchen fitout stores, bakeries, and markets still thriving with business late into the night. In fact, I bought a big, fluffy blanket at a bedding store on my walk home. Because buying bedding is what all the cool kids do here on a Friday night.
So what was a largely uneventful day gave me lots of food for thought (and let’s be honest, consumption).
To be serious, it really does feel surreal that I am finally here. I think it’s still too early for me to truly comprehend that this will become my home for a yet to be decided time. I certainly can’t grasp that I have willingly thrown myself again into this situation that is inevitably going to be sprinkled with specks of frustration, confusion, problems stemming from language barriers, loneliness and questioning, “Is this what I really want?”. Admittedly, I had faint thoughts about all those things today, and it’s only day one.
But, I guess that comes part and package with moving to a foreign country that is so different from your own. I think that’s the thrill I’m looking for. That rush you get when you can finally convey what you want after struggling to communicate even the most basic of emotions and needs. When the nuances of language, place and people which were completely lost on you suddenly become illuminated, and with that clarity you can finally see the true beauty of it all. When you make your first friend who you speak primarily in the language you’re learning- not for practice, but because you now can. When in those moments of lonliness where you are missing all your friends and family, but, you can look around and see you’ve got that where you are now too. When you ask, “Is this what I really want?” and the answer is Yes.
So here’s to that journey of saying Yes. I don’t want to force it, to try and make myself grow or feel a certain way. Because I have tried that before and it doesn’t work. I want it to be however it unfolds- the good, bad and ugly. Inevitably I will want to say (hell) no sometimes. But I want to embrace this whole, crazy experience with open arms, heart and mouth, so that I’ll leave (metaphorically) heavier with great memories, friends, new knowledge and opportunities.
Take care of me Taipei!