Everyone has a vision of a far-off place—a place that is everything they could ask for. For some, it may be room service in a high-rise apartment, or bottle service at some bourgy lounge surrounded by glamorous sexy women; for others, an unlimited credit card for shopping at a moment’s notice. For me? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to have any one of those things! Shoot…who wouldn’t?!
But as far as I’m concerned, when I think of travel, I think of places far away, where the culture is different. Where the places are exciting and new, and a far cry from the usual weekend at the dive bar around the corner or the movie theatre for some nachos and free refills on buttered popcorn. My getaway is Taiwan. At halfway around the world, it’s not just 180 degrees in distance around the globe, but also in terms of culture and social norms. It’s a great place for experiencing a world outside of the one I’ve become accustomed to, and one that I’ll never forget.
Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world prior to January 4th of this year (2010), is a beautiful and extraordinary feat of architectural engineering. From below it resembles sections of a bamboo stalk, and from above it unveils a spectacular view of the city of Taipei.
In stepping away from touristy, generic sightseeing, I then like to get to the inner workings of a culture by experiencing the local night market nearby and taking in all the different aspects of the Taiwanese lifestyle. A string of street vendors selling their wares out in front of closed storefronts for many city blocks provides a fun and interesting diversion. You can find anything there—from cool, nifty gadgets for your cell phone and cheap knockoffs of designer clothing, to vendor-style local food to nibble on as you wander around. I found myself stopping at most of these food vendors and looking to see what they were cooking: interesting barbecue-pork-filled buns at one, steamed dumplings at another, and cream-filled pastries at yet another. By far my personal favorite part of the trip. Delicious!
You’ll find subtle differences in the culture that are easy enough to adapt to. For example, locals are generally nicer than those in some of the other major cities around the world. It’s easy to ask someone for directions, or even to start up a friendly conversation. And instead of going to the local bar, try hitting up KTV and your local karaoke place, where you can rent a private room, complete with your own flat-screen television and song selection, by the hour. Order up some drinks, and sing as off-key as you’d like, for the only people you’re embarrassing are yourself and the people in the room throwing back a few drinks next to ya!
Photograph by: Nancy Tai McLeod