To kick-off my winter break, I spend a week in Taiwan with my aunt! My first two days include eating delicious shaved ice and traveling outside of Taipei to a small town called Jiufen (which inspired Spirited Away)!
Monday, December 22nd, 11:25pm
Let the adventure begin! After ending the semester, I have a month (from December 19th to January 22nd) to go wherever my wallet can take me! So my plans are: Week one in Taiwan visiting my aunt, week two in Shanghai interning, week three in Korea, week four back in Shanghai, and then a few days before the semester starts in Nanjing!
Excited to set-off, I checked out of my apartment early this morning and took a bus to the airport. I landed in Taipei no problem and delighted in the unblocked Wi-Fi. Then as I was standing in the line for immigration, I realized: I. Had. No. Visa. Waaaaah!
I was convinced that I was going to get thrown out of the country and shipped back to Shanghai immediately. I texted my mom and scared the living daylights out of her before she looked up the visa situation on the internet and found that U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to enter Taiwan. Whew. Crisis averted. Although as my mom pointed out, they wouldn’t have let me on the plane if I weren’t allowed into the country.
So off I went through immigration, feeling very relieved. When I left the baggage claim area, I had trouble finding my aunt, Yuin-Hua, and I had absolutely no way to contact her. But luckily I spotted her two seconds after I despaired of sleeping on the streets of Taipei, and we greeted each other with a hug. It was so good to see a friendly face again, especially coming from a family member!
Yuin-Hua and I took a bus back to Taipei before switching to the subway line and walking to the apartment she’s staying in while living in Taiwan. After quickly unpacking, Yuin-Hua and I hit the road again to explore the local night markets in the area. The shops lining the alleyways mostly sold trendy clothing and accessories, and lots of young college students were out and about in the nice weather. I enjoyed window-shopping (although what I really wanted to do was grab all the clothing from the mannequins and run for my life).
After strolling around for a while, I got to try out Taiwan’s famous shaved ice! I got a chocolate banana shaved ice, and it was glorious. But afterwords, I was shivering like crazy since my insides had become as cold as the rest of my body. I definitely downed my shaved ice too quickly, but I couldn’t help it! It was too delicious!
All in all, I’m exhausted. I think what’s struck me the most about Taiwan is that, apart from the VPN situation, I really don’t feel like I’ve left China at all. I could be in any Chinese city and the only difference is the traditional characters lining all of the billboards and advertisements. Maybe that’s just a testament to how similar all big cities are as opposed to how similar Taiwan and China are.
Tuesday, December 23rd, 9:38pm
This Tuesday, I took the afternoon to explore Taiwan independently. Last night, I decided that I wanted to go to Jiufen, an old mining town turned tourist destination (and also the inspiration for the movie Spirited Away). Since I can’t pass up anything even remotely related to Studio Ghibli, I had my heart set on exploring Jiufen.
I had a bit of trouble finding the right bus stop and I ended up taking a taxi with four other strangers into the city instead. The taxi driver turned out to be a hoot. He wasted no time in showing us the YouTube video of a commercial he had starred in, and he also pulled over and bought us all little cakes from a street vendor. Yum.
Jiufen was different than I was expecting. It was certainly cute and had a lot of charm, but I didn’t feel like I walked into Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Still, I loved the interesting architecture, the narrow alleyways, the beautiful views of the ocean, and even the endless staircases. (No need for a Stairmaster in Jiufen).
But on the other hand, the shopping street was absolutely swarming with tourists. I wanted to walk around and look at the things the vendors were selling and try out different street foods, but I had to fight my way through crowds every step of the way. Oi. It was absolutely ridiculous. Way, way, way too touristy. Once I broke out of the main shopping street, I felt like I could finally breathe.
I arrived back in Taipei around 6:00pm after a nice ride back with the friendly cab driver, and I’ve been resting and reading since about 8:00pm. I really enjoyed the day, but man am I beat. Thinking back to when I first arrived in China, I definitely would not have been able to take a day trip outside an unfamiliar city by myself – and now look at how things have changed!
Bonus: I’ve got lots of extra pictures from the night market and Jiufen! Check them out, and let me know if you have a favorite!