Today I would love to show you a hint of life of one of my Italian girlfriends whose lifestyle simply fascinates me. Her name is Roby (Roberta); I met her during my travel adventure in the south of Argentina, precisely in El Calafate, around 6 years ago. Since then we became e-friends and I have always followed her wonderful adventures. I was particularly attracted by her long-term stay in Taiwan, and asked her to share her experience, opinions and photos here on the blog. I hope you'll flip over her amazing stories as much as I did :).
1. How did it happen that you ended up in Taiwan?
To be honest, you know that I'm a freaking traveler like you and it is a pleasure for me to answer your questions and share my experience with others.
Before I moved to Taiwan, I used to work in a hotel in Edinburgh, UK. I had many guests from mainland China as well as from Taiwan. I have a very professional approach when it comes to my work and I always want to make people feel comfortable, and since there were so many Asian people coming to my hotel, I decided to learn an Asian language. When I was a child, I was attracted by Japan because of its culture and language. I was watching a lot of anime cartoons and reading mangas. However, because of the economic reasons I chose to study Chinese. It was quite expensive since I had to take a private tutor because I work all shifts and I can't attend language courses. My first Chinese tutor was from a very remote Chinese town, very close to Russian border. Not much time had passed when I decided I had to go to Asia to live according to their own lifestyle. I needed a change in my life, I needed to get lost in a completely unknown place and start my life once again, from the beginning. I knew that their culture was totally different and that I would experience a cultural shock, and I was really looking forward to that new adventure. However, because of political and some cultural reasons I decided to go to Taiwan and not to China.
2. How long did you stay there and where exactly?
Unfortunately, I stayed there only one year, but I had a pleasure to come back there this year for one week. The place I lived in is Taipei. I really recommend everybody to visit this amazing country. If you're planning to go to China, you should definitely visit Taiwan as well.
3. What are the biggest cultural differences and what surprised you the most?
Maybe because of the fact that I am a freaking traveler I wasn't affected by the cultural differences in a negative way as some people might be. It's a cultural shock of course, but it's softer than the one you experience in China since they are much influenced by the Western culture.
There are different kind of religions, different traditions, different food. What surprised me the most is the fact that Taiwanese people are very kind. When I arrived in Taiwan, I couldn't speak Chineses, well I just could say hi and introduce myself and that's it. I remember that when I got to the main train station in Taipei, I was completely lost, and a woman approached me and offered me her help, it didn't matter for her that she spoke little English. It really surprised me that someone did so because it would be almost impossible in any crowded place in Europe, where everyone is busy with their work and always runs somewhere. Unlike most European and North American people who may be a bit racist, the Taiwanese are really interested in different cultures, they want to know where you're from, they want to learn about your country, your culture and your life.
4. Which places would you recommend to visit in Taiwan as must-see places?
Taiwan is a richly varied country, however, if you don't have much time, you should definitely visit Taipei since it's a mixture between old and modern architecture (Taipei 101 is a must - it's East Asia's tallest building which offers a breathtaking view of the city). Don't hesitate to ask me questions like 'what's the most interesting places in Taipei', 'what should I visit while I'm in Taipei' and so on. Right now, besides of sightseeing the city, I definitely recommend visiting the National Palace Museum where you'll find the biggest collection of Chinese artcraft and pottery and I assure you that you will remain breathless. Go to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall as well to see the most important monuments related to Sun Yat-sen who is the famous politician that created the new Taiwan, new China. You will see people practising taichi, yoga, dance and martial arts. I also loved the Grand Hotel, which contains a lot of political history of the country and besides it's a very nice building. When you're in the area, you can't miss Shilin Night Market which is very popular for its street food and I assure you that you will love it and will stay there for hours. Taipei temples are not to be missed either. The most popular are Confucius Temple, Lungshan Temple, Shandao Temple, however, behind the latter one there is, in my opinion of course, one of the most incredible Taiwanese temples which is called Dalongdong Baoan Temple. Then there is this place, not touristic at all, called Lin Family Mansion together with a majestic Garden, located in Banqiao District. One day you should also go to Maokong mountain near Taipei - it's quite famous for the tea, and you'll find nice tea and coffee shops there as well as you'll get a nice view of Taipei.
If you're planning on staying a bit longer, I recommend you to go to Jiufen (Chiufen) which is a very nice touristic village where you can see influences of old Chinese and Japanese culture (Taiwan is culturally influenced by both China and Japan). Then you should also visit Yilan where you will find a very famous natural sculpture of the queen, and Hualien area where you can go to Gorung Goro York. It's also very nice to see the sunrise and the sunset in Yang Ming Shan. If you have a chance to go more to the south, I definitely recommend visiting Tainan which was the previous capital of Taiwan and there you will admire a lot of old monuments. Kaohsiung is a place even more to the south. It's a big and interesting city where you can have cheap and yummy food, and you will enjoy a great atmosphere of the night markets and you will definitely become friends with the local people there. If you're already in the south of the country, go to Kenting which is a popular and a beautiful beach destination. I recommend you to fly to or take a boat to Penghu as well which is a lovely and let's say tropical island. Green Island (Lyudao) and Orchid Island (Lanyu) are also worth recommending because of it's sandy white beaches, green mountains and lush vegetation.
Oh, and of course, make sure you have time to visit Sun Moon Lake in Nantou - the area around this lake is home to Taiwanese aboriginal tribe. It's called Sun Moon because the east side resembles the sun and the west side the moon.
5. Changing of the guard.
5. What is the Taiwanese cuisine like?
Taiwanese cuisine is highly influenced by Chinese, Japanese and aboriginal cuisine. It's very nice and tasty. Western people may feel a bit disgusted by the smell of stinky tofu - it's a very strong smell. Taiwanese cuisine is completely different than the Western cuisine, they have nothing in common. I encourage everyone to try it and don't be disgusted by the smell, the colour or the shape of the food, just go for it, you'll love it. Very common ingredients in their cuisine are: pork, seafood, chicken, rice and soy. Some of Taiwanese specialities are: beef rolls and pork rolls, beef noodle soup and different kinds of noodles in general, pig's intestines, scallion pancakes, dried tofu, shrimp and meat dumplings.
6. Is Taiwan a safe place for tourists?
It is one of the safest places in which I have lived. You can leave your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy on the table in the restaurant, go to the restroom and nobody will touch your phone or anything else. One of my friends forgot his wallet in the taxi one day, and the taxi driver left it at the police station. The police contacted my friend and gave him back the whole wallet. People respect each other, but they even respect more the foreigners who visit their country.
I'm an independent traveller and I was alone in Taiwan, and I assure you that there's no danger. You can be walking in the middle of the night alone and still feel comfortable. You're actually never alone on the street because the city is always awake since lots of shops don't close during the night.
7. Are there any things tourists shouldn't do when in Taiwan because of the cultural differences or any other reason?
Tourists should be nice and polite, just as Taiwanese people are. Taiwanese are very friendly and it's a common thing that they invite you for a dinner for example, so don't refuse their invitation, and pay in kind.
Foreigners should respect their religion and their beliefs, as people are very spiritual. They are quite sensitive when it comes to traditions related to ghosts.
8. When is the best period to visit Taiwan?
Make sure not to visit Taiwan during monsoon or raining season cause it rains heavily (of course it depends on the region, but still). Sometimes it rains so much that they close schools, universities and offices. The northeast monsoon begins in September and ends in March, and of course it brings wet weather to the northeast part of Taiwan, however, at the same time the central and southern regions stay dry. The southwest monsoon starts in May and ends in September, and affects the south part of the island. I advise you to go from March until July. If you go their during the summer, you might not spend a good time since it's too hot there.
9. In your opinion, is it an expensive place or not?
It depends on your tastes. If you follow Taiwanese people and eat in places like night markets, you will spend little money and eat quite a lot. However, if you go to a fancy restaurant, you will spend almost the same money as you do in Europe. The famous clothing or technology brands cost the same as in other parts of the world.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF TAIWAN? WOULD YOU VISIT THIS COUNTRY? OR MAYBE YOU HAVE ALREADY VISITED IT? :)