Leaving My Heart In Taiwan
Iced coffee, tea egg, dan bing
The breakfast I never knew I was missing but am SO COMPLETELY in love with. Life in Taiwan is amazing. The people are friendly, the sights are beyond Instagram worthy and I am living for all of the weird Asian street food. Upon my arrival, my sister and I discussed all of the must-do and see activities in the area after crying like babies when we hugged in the airport. She has been living in Taiwan for the past 2 and a half years and this is my first time visiting so it’s a pretty big deal. I made the unfortunate choice of wearing brand new vans on a 26-hour flight and was a tad crippled when I got off the plane which meant our first 2 days were spent coloring flamingos out of a jumbo picture book (thanks Alexia!). While I knew we had a full month of sister bonding time ahead of us, curling up on the couch and laughing about stories, old and new, was exactly what I needed.
Once my ankle had returned to a normal size, we left her tiny (but perfectly decorated) stone walk up in Jiangzicui, and set out to see all of the sites. From the memorials in Chiang Kai Shek to the Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) at Din Tai Fung – everything was totally up my alley. I have always loved Asian food but never knew just how much until visiting Taipei. The tea egg, which is just your everyday egg hardboiled in tea leaves/spices, is hands down my new favorite snack. Plain, with mustard, with relish, with hot sauce…I don’t care. I love it and I want 5. Then, there’s dan bing. A crepe like egg filled most commonly with pork (but better with tuna) served with a sweet soy sauce. I’m telling you now – if you haven’t tried it, you don’t know how amazing eggs can be. While I’m sure the food would be good anywhere, the fact that Leah speaks Chinese is a HUGE help. The small street side stalls that give off the yummiest aroma have little to no signage and even less interest from foreigners. Since nothing is bad, I hand her the reigns and let her order whatever she enjoys, knowing that there are very few things I won’t want to try here in Asia. Once they begin speaking in Mandarin, I sit back in awe at how eloquent the language sounds.
Aside from trying all the food, we have spent our days wandering around on trains and getting lost under the lanterns in Juifen. The narrow paths that wind in and out of artisan booths are dimly lit with red and orange hues. The humidity moves through your hair and over your skin in waves with the breeze and the sky turns to a gradient of pastels once the sun goes down. For me, falling in love with Asia was easy. Between the culture, ornate landmarks, weird fashion and dumplings…what’s not to like? And in Taiwan, my love affair with South East Asia grew more and more by the day.
You would think that by sundown the temperature would become a bit more manageable but it’s kind of the opposite. At least during the day there tends to be a breeze that makes 92 degrees farenheit feel closer to 90… But at night, 84 feels like 84 and I can hear my hair growing thanks to the 100% humidity. While it would make sense to stay in the A/C during these hours, the magic of Taiwan resides in the night markets. Each neighborhood is best known for something different, but there are treasures hidden within all. Crazy garments and funky earrings dangle from the lanes in Shida while the smell of stinky tofu and fried quail eggs fill your nose in the streets of Shilin. Everything is different, everything is weird and everything is overwhelming but that’s what makes Asia so incredible.
On the nights we weren’t drinking Taiwanese beer and playing carnival games at markets, we were sipping plum wine and eating Japanese barbeque. We might have burnt a few green peppers on our little table top fire pit but everything tastes better when you're laughing with new friends and trying new food you can’t properly pronounce. In what I’m told is true Taiwanese fashion, our Friday night dinner was followed by A LOT of karaoke at a bar called Cinnamon. You never realize how many songs you can passionately belt until you literally become Taylor Swift for a full 3 minutes and 22 seconds and are telling off all your ex boyfriends while harmonizing “Our Song”.
Needless to say, I am leaving a piece of my heart in Taiwan. I never anticipated that 10 days in one place could make such an impact but isn’t that the beauty of traveling around the world? Every country, small village, smiling face, rooftop sunrise and beachfront sunset leaves an imprint in your memory that you get to take home with you. After 10 months abroad, I have hundreds of little emotional keepsakes that I get to file away in my spiritual suitcase and write about in my Asian tape covered journal and I couldn’t be happier about it.
While I continue salivating over tuna triangles, it’s time to pack my bag for the next stop on my mini retirement – India. While Josh and his brother Curtis take over the van in Raglan, my sister and I will be touring the South of India for 3 chai filled weeks. As always, I’ll be sure to report back on my favorite street food, any noteworthy sunset destinations and which local beer tasted the best (with or without a fridge).