Flying to Taipei and first impressions

I really wanted to get away for the Christmas and New Year break.  Work had been getting me down and so I felt like I needed a bit of pick-me-up treat.  Not being a huge fan of beaches, I opted for a two week Asian urban adventure.  Taipei seemed like a good idea… It’s not too far away and I like travelling in ugly cities.  People are generally nicer in ugly cities, with the exception of Seoul of course.  It’s like they feel that they have to try harder to compensate.  But now, sitting in my room on the third day of rain, I’m thinking maybe I could have gritted my teeth and put up with a bit of sand and sun.

I booked a ticket to Taipei on China Airlines.  The main reason for this decision was that it’s the only airline offering non-stop flights between Sydney and Taipei… And of course, the price was very competitive!  If you Google “Airlines + most fatalities + last 30 years” China Airlines comes in at the number 1 spot, beating out Korean Airlines at number 2 by about 200 people.  Mind you, for “most fatalities of all time”, Aeroflot is the hands down winner there! China Airlines was founded by an ex-air force pilot and throughout the 90s, they mainly recruited ex-ROC Air Force pilots.  It took them about 8 crashes and 700 odd fatalities, to work out that this practice wasn’t working for them.  For about the last 15 years though, they’ve been cleaning up their act. They recruit university graduates and put them through a pilot training program and have also overhauled their maintenance programme.

Anyway, today’s China Airlines is not too shabby… Now, on the Sydney – Taipei route, they fly brand new Airbus A350s. The A350 is like the Dreamliner… It has higher ceilings, bigger windows, variable mood lighting and a higher cabin pressure so you don’t feel so disgusting when you arrive.  The economy baggage allowance is 30 kg, which is perfect for “just-in-case” travelers like me.  I packed 25 kgs for two weeks, including jeans that I never wear.  That’s the heaviest outbound luggage I’ve ever had and for the shortest trip. For the interior, they’re going for a kind of zen bamboo forest thing and have done the walls in a sort of wood grain finish and an angular pattern on the carpet.  I’m not a big fan of Chinese aesthetic. For me personally, I don’t get “bamboo forest”.  I just all feels a bit chintzy.  Anyway, at the end of the day, economy is economy and we were all crammed in like cattle on a live export to Asia.

I’ve been here for four days now, and my impression of Taipei is that it’s a pretty nice place.  Visually, it’s no show-stopper… It certainly ticks the ugly box, that’s for sure… Kind of a dirty mini-Tokyo… But… It proves my  theory of “ugly city, nice people”.  People here seem very polite, kind and friendly and the language barrier doesn’t seem to cause too much awkwardness.  Overall, the city has a relaxed, unpretentious vibe to it.  It was part of the Empire of Japan for 50 years so culturally it feels like a Chinese/Japanese hybrid.  The Japanese influence can be felt most noticeably in their manners, and of course the Japanese style hot springs and Japanese food chains.  Announcements on trains are made in Mandarin, English and Japanese.

Perhaps in part due to the Japanese influence, I’ve been having flashbacks and have been reliving my time in Japan… Going into supermarkets and restaurants and not being able to read the labels and not knowing what’s in the food, and having to rely on people to always translate everything.  And then there’s the whole “gaijin” scene (whatever the Taiwanese equivalent of “gaijin” is) … Going into bars and witnessing the “zero to hero” phenomenon or the foreigners who are trapped in a bubble one way or another… And then there’s the whole who’s into rice versus potatoes versus sticky rice.  While I still do use the terminology myself, it’s always with tongue planted firmly in cheek.  I’m so glad I can just observe it now and walk away.

On the other hand, one positive flashback is the relaxed attitude towards alcohol and drinking in Asian countries… Being able to buy alcohol in the convenience store and just walk down the street drinking… Here, not only do you have the choice of the usual stuff, but you can buy shots!  It’s one of those bucket list items to walk down a city street doing shots you bought in a convenience store.  I started with Pussycat, moved on to Buttery Nipple and ended on Porn Star!

Shots.jpg

The food here is INCREDIBLE!!!  Perhaps in part due to there being a lot of elderly Buddhists living here, there are quite a number of amazing vegetarian restaurants.  So far, I’ve checked out “Three to Vegetarian”, “Minder Vegetarian” and “Rice Revolution”.  I thought the name Rice Revolution was pretty cool.  It sounds like an Asian protest rally… But the other two names?  Not sure what the idea there was.  The first two restaurants are buffet restaurants.  They each have about thirty or forty dishes.  You help yourself and then they weigh it at check-out.  Although Rice Revolution sounded cool, it was quite small and they had a very limited menu.  However, outside of designated vegetarian restaurants, it’s pretty much a porkfest everywhere else.

Other than eating and walking down streets drinking, I’ve done the usual kind of tourist stuff and checked out the main sights.  I even did a Bikram Yoga class.  If you’ve ever wondered how you Bikram Yoga could be more challenging and unpleasant… Try doing it in Chinese!  That takes it to a whole new level!

Yoga.jpg

Here are some random scenes around Taipei…

Taipei 101 viewed from Elephant Mountain…

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Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall…

One final thought…

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