Fei Cui Valley (翡翠谷)

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Nature makes us happy. It’s why we seek the outdoors, and look for untouched wilderness. This is no more apparent in Taiwan than now.

Natural Taiwan is really as good as it sounds. While some secret gems require a world of effort to get to, others are surprisingly accessible. It’s not everyday, you come across newly uncovered rock pools and a waterfall metres away from a road, and minutes from other popular attractions. Fei Cui Valley (翡翠谷) has been incredulously overlooked.

A couple of trips to Hualien (花蓮) ago, I wrote about magical Mukumugi (暮古墓魚), a pristine place to swim and relax in despite its increasing popularity. Those yet to make a visit however, will be disappointed to discover that due to damages from last year’s typhoon season, the area is closed for rehabilitation. Before you cross off all plans to visit Hualien though, minutes from Mukumugi is a place just like it – if not better.

Fei Cui Valley follows the Fei Cui Stream (翡翠河), just 1.5km east of Mukumugi Valley in Xiulin Township (秀林鄉). But unlike Mukumugi, it requires no permit to enter. At the time of my visit which was November last year, the valley remained known to only a few locals and even less to visitors. But to no surprise, it has gained more visitors since. Still, this place is very much untouched, and if it were not for the intrepid individuals of Taiwan Adventure Outings, which I had the pleasure to travel with, Fei Cui Valley would have remained eluded from me.

We hired scooters from central Hualien, and barely half an hour later we were taking the scenic route, zipping around local farms towards Fei Cui. The entrance to Fei Cui is actually a tunnel, so a short hike through there and some shrubbery later is all it takes to arrive at the stream’s edge (see below for details and map). We traced up the river and enjoyed lunch at the first beautiful rock pool before going for a dip in its perfect, crystal green waters.  Fei Cui (翡翠), by the way, means emerald.

Our lead guide, Ryan, took us past the first rock pool to see what else was waiting in Fei Cui’s wake. The ascension may take roughly 40 minutes, but the beauty that lie beyond the first main pool made every effort worthwhile.

We climbed like monkeys around and over giant boulders; slid on rocky crags as though they were natural slippery-dips; and swam in more shimmery pools of green, some deep enough to be the cooling oases we needed from the beating sun. Our grand prize for the long journey was a small but lively waterfall. As I later found out, this is the aptly named Zi Mu (子母) or, Child Waterfall.

All in all it was so much prettier than what these photos could make you imagine. I sometimes think back to the adventures I get up to in Taiwan, and it is always being in the outdoors that bring the biggest smile to my face. Fei Cui Valley is one of my favourites –  it’s that hidden outdoor sanctuary you need without the difficult access, which makes it all the more fascinating.

Beautiful, untouched Taiwan could be within an arm’s reach, all you have to do is be adventurous and venture just a little further!

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Our rocky ascension begins after a short hike through the green past a man-made waterfall. Photo courtesy of Lace He.
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After 40 minutes, this was our reward!
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This is the first large pool which had plenty of space for lunch before a refreshing dip
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A young blue-tailed skink is disturbed as we continue our trace up the stream
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Hazzah our coup de gras! Pictures cannot do it justice.

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Ridiculously clean water makes everyone happy!

Check out the whole TAO expedition of Fei Cui, thanks to fellow explorer, Guang-hui Chuan:


Getting there

It’s easy getting to Fei Cui Valley. A 30 minute scooter ride from Hualien is all it takes to get to the entrance. We didn’t choose the fast route, and went through small roads to see farmlands, which made our trip even more beautiful!

Once you’ve parked around Banyan Road (榕樹路), head towards the trail which hugs the river. It leads through a dark tunnel or bat cave (apparently bats make a home out of it in the winter). Continue through it and on to Fei Cui Stream. There are a few spots to enter the stream at the beginning, but we chose to hike in the jungle a bit before veering off to the left over a water way. Most locals will stay in the man-made waterfall area at the beginning. Go past that before hopping into the stream to start your trace.

This is where you’ll require to do more work. Trace up until you see the really beautiful swimming pool which you see here. After that there is a 10 minute jungle trail to the waterfall, or, you can continue tracing another 40 minutes or so to Zimu waterfall as described above.

Taiwan Adventure Outings

Be adventurous.

That’s the tagline of Taiwan Adventure Outings, or TAO, as its creators Ryan Hevern and Dustin Craft like it to be known. They’re all about bringing out that adventurous spirit in everyone whilst exploring Taiwan. What started out with two guys as a means to get outdoors and meet people became much more than a hobby group.

Apart from connecting travellers with small-scale local tourism initiatives, TAO ensures they give back to the community by hosting free monthly beach and forest clean ups. They hope that TAO travellers not only appreciate Taiwan’s beauty, culture and adventures but are also given the opportunity to contribute towards maintaining these well-loved locations. In fact, they are the brains behind Taiwan National Clean Up Day, launching this May 20, which is a collaboration with long-term hikers, other activity groups and local communities to make Taiwan more beautiful.

As mentioned, my enviable experience at Fei Cui is not mine alone and I owe it to these guys for showing me the way. If you like to explore Fei Cui with company too, TAO is organising another trip for the long weekend of May. For more information on these events, the friendly guys at TAO would be more than happy to help you out!

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All You Need is Your Buddy, Taipei’s Riverside and Good Weather

Woke up to sunlight streaming through the window. Bleary-eyed and barely functioning as I was, I already knew today’s going to be a great day.

Fast forward to the afternoon and I have the sun on my face and the wind in my hair as I whiz down a bike path along the Xindian River. Today I’m making the most of the bright weather with someone I think is pretty darn special.

Sujin, an engineering student from Korea, moved to Taiwan to study Chinese. Like many expats, she made a conscious decision to move here because learning Chinese would be a big boost for her future career. Her decision to move though was based purely on practicality – her dad’s friend is already here, so there was support if she needed it; and in her opinion, China already has way too many Korean nationals. So since mingling with people from home wouldn’t do much for her language learning, she’d decided upon the less-popular destination of Taiwan.

We were lumped together in the same class at NTU’s Chinese Language Division. Both shy to speak because our Chinese sucked, but since we were both embarking on the same fresh expat/student experience together, it wasn’t before long that I was able to befriend Sujin. It probably helped that I’m not Korean too. But all kidding aside, ask any person who’s lived the expatriate life and they will tell you that making friends overseas can be as fickle as Taipei’s weather. Sometimes due to new environments, loneliness, or whatever unconscious stress that comes with the expat life, you may seek the company of people you wouldn’t necessarily hang out with back home. You meet, have amazing chats and chill like best buddies, but just as quickly as that seemingly great friendship began, so too will it end. Sorry, as damn negative as it sounds, this happens.

Fortunately the alternative to this is you will meet some of the best people while on your journey. Afterall, it’s highly likely they will experience the same hopes, excitement, anxieties and disappointments as you which come with living outside the usual comforts of home.  I consider myself rather fortunate that there are few friends I’ve shared these raw commonalities with from the very beginning. And she’s one of them.

By the middle of our first semester, we already embarked on a short getaway to celebrate her birthday. We spent a night with soju and from what I can remember, it was the first time I conversed in perfect Chinese (I am now a strong advocate for inebriated language-learning). She rode a YouBike with me with no complaints, dog-tired as she was at 4 in the morning just because I felt like it. So when I decided randomly to check out Guting Riverside Park , she was in her usual good spirits to join in.

Guting Riverside Park (古亭河濱公園) takes up a section along the Xindian River (新店), between Zhongzheng (中正橋) and Yongfu Bridge (永福橋). As with practically all of Taipei’s riverside parks, you could do whatever your heart desires here. Play tennis, go rock climbing, walk your dog, shoot some hoops,  have a picnic, take a nap, and of course ride a bike (with music blaring if you so choose). I  knew all this already because riding along the river in Taiwan is a favourite activity of mine. You could probably see where this is going, but indulge me nonetheless when I say…

…Ah yes, but on this bright sunny day, there is more to the lush green of the riverside.

Ride from Yongfu Bridge due north, past all that tasteful urban art that pinpoints notions of love for absolutely smashing wedding photography, and you’ll come across a teeny grass hill sitting solo in concrete-laid ground, opening to more green lawn. Here, when the wind is perfect, you can fly kites.

To two grown (but young) women this is a huge deal. Sujin recalled how this a pastime she shared with her father when she was younger. For myself, I am pretty sure the last time I laid hands on a kite was well before I hit the double digits. Abandoning our bikes we rushed to a street vendor, and for 150 NTD, joined families with young children on a new venture of kite-flying.

We passed some impressive-looking kites (there was a particularly mesmerising dragon) until we reached our sweet spot. Sujin held onto the spool as I pelted the ground holding the rest of it to catch the wind. Looking like pros, our wee modest kite took flight and the squawks and squeals that came with it became intangible with those of the kids nearby.

There is such a free feeling that comes with running along with the wind and then letting go of something that moments before you were holding tightly to. Perhaps too corny of an analogy for life, but I couldn’t help but reflect on my decision to drop everything in Australia and move here. Hell, I’m doing something I haven’t done for the longest time, creating memories with someone akin to a sister, and in pleasant natural surrounds. There is not a care in the world right now.

We flew our kite until dusk. We made no mention of it to each other, but I’m very sure Sujin felt the same way.

If you were to ask me what has been some of the best things I’ve experienced in Taiwan, I can tell you that unplanned, yet surprisingly eventful days like this one is what makes up the most of my memory bank. Most of them have something to do with the outdoors and physical activity. All of which are shared with a bosom buddy.

And they start simply with a little sunshine.

#AskAnAussie – Interview on Life in Taiwan

Coming up to a year of my Taiwanderful life, I sat down with Rose Vassel from the Australian Office in Taipei as part of their #AskAnAussie series to showcase experiences in Taiwan through my eyes.

Looking back on the interview, I wished I expanded a little further on my answers. Since the post, I’ve had a couple of  readers quiz me on a few points I didn’t get to cover. As a token of my appreciation to you who have been following my story, here is #AskQ in finer detail.

Why Did You Decide on Taiwan?

This question comes up more frequently than any other. Especially amongst locals. They all seem surprised that their little home is that enticing for someone to pack up and leave ‘The Lucky Country’ to this almost unheard-of island (well at least amongst some Australians. You’ll be surprised how many times people have confused it for Thailand).

It’s probably exactly this that enticed me in the first place. Yes, I came here primarily to study Chinese. But as I have mentioned here, even before moving here for the longterm, I’ve already had my heart set on Taiwan. I like that there’s still much of it to be explored. That it requires me to do some digging to find its gems. It’s not completely isolated from the rest of the world…but it definitely has plenty of room for someone like myself to discover my own adventure and experiences without having to look into a travel guide.

The secondary reason to choosing Taiwan to learn Chinese is because it still uses the Traditional characters which is becoming rare. Being overshadowed by the more commonly known Simplified Chinese adopted by mainland China and therefore better marketed to the rest of the world, means that the style here calls to my appreciation for the less-commonplace. Why I care for the extra few strokes in a character may seem arbitrary, but what I find is that with understanding how they are formed allows me to better understand the Chinese culture.

And if you don’t know already, Chinese culture is better depicted here in Taiwan rather than China itself. So for someone who wants to be thrown into the cultural deep end, Taiwan was the natural answer.

Do You Plan to Stay Here for Long?

A resounding, emphatic Yes.

I remember clearly the first day I arrived at Taoyuan airport. Alone but not lonely as my eyes drink in the surroundings I would be calling home. From that first rush of being in a new place and doing new things, the excitement I felt that I could reinvent my future into anything I wanted it to be, to finding my place in Taiwan six months in and feeling as though I already truly belong, the question now really is, what is it about this place that keeps me here?

It’s because these feelings have not faded in the slightest over the course of my time here. In fact, everyday I grow more and more enchanted by this place. The further I seek, the more I feel there is much to explore.

Taiwan is an eclectic and diverse island that allows me to mix and match my interests and more. Apart from its ever-changing landscape, its warm-hearted locals, and the array of food (some squirm-worthy yet unexpectedly delectable), it is the energy and vibe I get from this city that makes me want to stay. Afterall Taiwan isn’t crowned World Design Capital 2016 and viewed as a growing incubator of cluster and startups for nothing.

I am energetic and pro-active here. I constantly push myself to do new things – some things I didn’t dare to when I was in Australia. Like hitch-hiking. Scouring through abandoned buildings. Riding a scooter through Taipei’s peak hour traffic (and with drivers who don’t check their blind spot. Some day I will tell you how I was side-swiped by that taxi driver).

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Heading to work Taiwan-style.

These are just some of my little adventures that I have safely tucked in my memories forever. What I’ve learnt and what it has inspired me to do is stemmed from being in this place.

And if you’ve found that happy place, why would you leave it?

Seriously, No Challenges You’ve Met Along the Way?

As mentioned in the interview, sure there are some cultural differences I’ve been met with, but considering it’s all part of learning and gaining a better understanding of Taiwan and its people, I really don’t see it as a big challenge. Because I came here to have my mind opened and there’s nothing quite like a disagreement of perspectives to make me realise that goal faster and better. For the most part, the actual difference doesn’t bother me in the slightest…it is how people approach sorting out these issues that can be extremely frustrating. Like peoples’ views on public displays of affection and romantic gestures, for example (sounds familiar? check out the post here). But I almost think it’s necessary to have a disgruntled cultural experience to really understand your new friends at a deeper level. I seriously can’t imagine what my Taiwan life would be without these little disagreements to spur me forward. And I think that’s what the expat life is all about. Encountering differences, problem solving and onward adventures.

What Do You Miss and Don’t Miss About Australia?

I miss my family of course. Beaches within 10 minutes drive and hot balmy nights of an Australian summer. Oh…and a decent salad.

What I don’t miss is how comfortable it was in Australia. I had a great job, a decent wage and plenty of people who supported me. I was checking all the boxes in terms of what would give me security. But being comfortable makes me uncomfortable. I was restless and needed to do something drastic. Learning a new language amongst learning a new culture, heck, learning a new life, was the driving force that I yearned for. Despite being more settled here, I am still motivated by change. And it comes from my aspirations for a career I actually enjoy, and a lifestyle that involves discovery.

Eventually I will head back home, I know. But I’m definitely not ready to leave Taiwan just yet.

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All Photos Courtesy of Guang-Hui Chuan

So all in all this is a real insight into my life here in Taiwan. I hope you enjoyed this because I’m really laying it all out here which is quite unconventional of my blogging style. Thanks again to my readers, I hope to inspire you to experience living in Taiwan for yourself if you haven’t already. For fellow expats, I would love to hear of your own…what is your story?

Hitchhiking Across Taiwan to See a Burning Boat – Part II

Part II – The Burning of the Boat

Following my previous hitchhiking adventures to Kaohsiung, I spent a day gallivanting around the city before I eventually made it to the site where The King Boat Festival (迎王平安祭) was held.

Once every three years, the little fishing town of Donggang of Pingtung County (東港, 屏東縣) is abuzz with unusual liveliness for about a week. The King Boat Festival is a spectacular event featuring the burning of a large boat on Donggang’s beach at dawn. A long-standing tradition that dates back to the 1700s, the festival honours Wen Fu Wang Ye (溫府王爺) who lived as Wen Hong (溫鴻) and served under Emperor Taizhong of the Tang Dynasty (唐太宗: 626-649 AD). As a loyal subject, he had accumulated much credit for the emperor, and legend has it that he had even saved the emperor’s life. Unfortunately while on a mission, he along with 35 other ambassadors died at sea when a great storm struck. To show his gratitude, Emperor Taizhong honoured him and the other ambassadors as celestial emissaries (Dai Tian Xun Shou 代天巡狩). That is, representing the emperor to patrol the country and report back to the heavens.  It is believed that by burning the King Boat and sending Wen Fu Wang Ye back to the heavens will also eliminate disease and pestilence from the earth, as well as protect devout followers from ill luck.

Each King Boat is created well in advance by volunteer craftsmen and painters who build and adorn the boat into a masterpiece.
Each King Boat is created well in advance by volunteer craftsmen and painters who build and adorn the boat into a masterpiece.

This uncommon festival holds plenty to see and discover. Taiwanese locals and foreigners alike all crowd into this place, wishing to take part in it. With this year’s festival coinciding with my first year of living in Taiwan, it was something I could not miss.

Upon arriving at the town’s outskirts close to midnight, it was rather easy to spot where I needed to be. If it weren’t for the red lanterns lining the streets, then it was certainly the crowds of people making their way to Dong Long Gong (東隆宮), the temple in which the first part of the main event would be held. It was as though I had arrived at the site just as they were getting started, instead of late into the night. Like what you will find at most temple entrances, food vendors, drink stands and small stalls selling all sorts of knick knacks line the streets leading to the temple. There were game stalls as well as a Chinese Opera stage. It was like a giant night market on a weekend, only with much more to take in.

In with the masses. Nothing quite like a hot night with little personal space. But the atmosphere like I said, was absolutely hypnotic.
In with the masses. Nothing quite like a hot night with little personal space. But the atmosphere like I said, was absolutely hypnotic.

After walking the streets, I thought it was time to see what all the fuss was about. Everyone had a similar rhythm to each other as we headed to the centre of Dong Long Gong. Here, people had the chance to admire the boat up close before it is later set alight. Vibrant, gold and amassed with offerings and incense, I found myself wandering into the temple to observe devout locals pray for their fortune.

Though honouring Wang Ye was originally associated with warding off disease and illness, it is now a common belief that he would also generally bring good fortune.
Though honouring Wang Ye was originally associated with warding off disease and illness, it is now a common belief that he would also generally bring good fortune.

Traditional pipes and drums were played alongside chants as smaller offerings were made throughout the night. Finally around 1.30 am, a solemn hustle began as eager spectators, silent by the obvious change of pace, vie each other for the best spot to watch the boat move through the temple’s golden gates on its way to the beach. After the big ceremony at Dong Long Gong, I was one of the thousands who made our way to the beach for the final send-off. We left the temple earlier than I expected. At 2.30 am we reached the dark waters and stood there waiting for dawn to see the fiery finale. The atmosphere was riveting!

Somehow I managed to push my way through the crowds to the front for the best view of the boat. Being well prepared, I have brought with me a picnic mat. After standing for an hour or so, my legs gave way to the weight I was carrying and I was ready to make some little space to sit down. For your future reference, don’t carry a bulky back pack if you could help it! I was being knocked around like a pinata making my way through crowds with my cargo. Thankfully, my picnic mat proved more useful than I had imagined. I shared as much of it with the people around me…and made more new friends.

There's always a place and time to create new friendships. Even if that place is at 3 am on a seashore and in almost complete darkness.
There’s always a place and time to create new friendships. Even if that place is at 3 am on a seashore and in almost complete darkness.

At long last just before dawn broke, the boat was finally set to burn. The calm that came with the blaze as the sun rose was somewhat humbling, as though a new beginning is in the midst. As you could probably pick up from my voice, I had no energy left to stay longer, but I have been told the boat continued to burn up till midday.

At 6.30am, I slowly made my way back to the temple with my new friends who were happy to give me a lift back to Kaohsiung. Too tired to lift my thumb again for another 8-9 hour hitchhike, I finally slumped on a bus and slept the entire way back to Taipei.

Exhausted as I was, it was truly eye-opening to take part in such a spectacular festival. Thanks to Taiwan’s religious freedom and nurturing of local customs, I was able to learn about this age-old tradition and see how relevant it still remains in their lives today. I had hitchhiked a total of 4 cars, rode 2 buses, stayed awake throughout 14 hours to witness this event. But it was worth every joule of energy.

As the fire got bigger the smoke became too much for my lungs to handle. I went and found myself a little piece of paradise instead.
As the fire got bigger the smoke became too much for my lungs to handle. I went and found myself a little piece of paradise instead.
Once the festival was over, Donggang returned to the sleepy fishing village it was before.
Once the festival was over, Donggang returned to the sleepy fishing village it was before.

What I Learnt About Taiwan (in 6 months)

To celebrate my 6 months of being an expat in Taiwan, I thought I’d share some thoughts of my experience of living here so far. There’s been plenty to absorb and learn from, and I hope Taiwan continues to keep me intrigued with an ever-growing list of curious places to discover.

1. Taipei is a very relaxed capital city and the locals are some of the best people you will meet

I think the folks back home in Australia are pretty laid-back. We are well-known for our easy-going persona and our no worries approach to life. But I honestly think Taiwan locals can rival us. The people here really take ‘whatever goes’ to heart. You see it in the likes of weaving traffic, the makeshift shops in front of MRT stations and footpaths, the way the people can all walk and eat at the same time (no joke, I saw a man scoff down steaming noodle soup without breaking his stride),  and how old folks here love to play their old-school Chinese music on portable sound systems for the whole world to hear. This is not to say Taiwanese people lack decorum. Being relaxed doesn’t mean manners and courtesy are forgotten. In fact, if anything it extends even further here because their relaxed nature is probably derived from the way they consider the people around them.

I was travelling from Danshui (淡水) to Bali (八里) and of course, I misplaced my ferry ticket for the return trip. Coming from Australia, the cost of a return trip in Taiwanese dollars really isn’t a big matter, and I was more than happy to pay for my floopiness. My friend however was adamant that he could talk to the guard at the pier to let me through. No, I can’t disregard the rules – it’s only fair that I buy a new ticket, I thought. We arrived at the pier where my friend spoke in a string of very fast Chinese. I expected a solemn look of disapproval, a shake of the head. Low and behold, the guard actually hurried us through. “Don’t worry about the ticket. Quick, go before you miss your boat!”

That would have never happened in Australia. Yes we are chilled but the locals here are much more flexible with rules and regulations, and I like to think it is because of their kindness and generosity that makes them so. I have met some of the most beautiful people here who have declared me as one of their own, a member of their family (oh, bless!). My friends have opened up to me more of Taiwan than I could ever explore alone, and I’m so grateful and happy to have met them.  It truly is the people that makes a place worthwhile, and I have been more appreciative of what Taiwan has shown me so far because of them.

2. It’s very safe

I don’t walk home alone in the dark in some Australian cities, but I do here.  It can be 4am and I will walk through suburban areas to get home, even where it’s not too well-lit because Taipei is that safe. Again, I think it has something to do in the way they regard people around them and that also includes their possessions. I have seen countless people in cafes get up from their seats and leave their bags to go out and do whatever they need to do. I’ve witnessed plenty of laptops and other electronic valuables left on tables, unlocked, with their Facebook accounts logged-in like they are giving privacy and personal security the finger. My friend doesn’t give two hoots if he leaves his helmet on his scooter. Why would anyone steal? he asked. At first it was shocking, but it’s quite liberating and uplifting to put that much faith in strangers, that I now leave my possessions when I need to be elsewhere for awhile too. I must remind myself not to make it a habit when I eventually return to Australia, but I sure as hell wish I could. It’s like a reinforcement of faith in humanity whenever I come back to my seat and find my things untouched!

3. Taiwan probably has the nicest police around – and really convenient police stations

Going back to #1 on the chart, and again maybe it is because I am a foreigner that I come across such displays of kindness, but geezes the police here are lovely!  On a trip around Yilan, my friends and I were waiting for our driver who was no where to be seen. My friend had a bus to catch back to Taipei for which she already purchased the ticket, and so was visibly distressed when time was running much shorter than she would like.  Seeing three forlorn foreigners on the side of the road, a traffic officer whilst in the middle of his duties of directing traffic, walked over to help us make a several phone calls. Never mind the rushing of vehicles going every which way, they’ll sort themselves out.

Our most recent encounter with the police was much closer to home – in fact it was our house in which an officer came knocking because someone reported us for noise disturbance (house party for our dear housemate, Monica! No regrets!). Not only did the nice policeman spoke in a gentle manner reminding us to keep the noise level down, he also apologised for the inconvenience of coming up to our party pad and hoped that he didn’t spoil our evening! This was something I have never seen or heard of before. I’m not sure who was more apologetic at this stage, but we wrapped things up and headed the party elsewhere so we wouldn’t have to trouble him for another visit. Kindness over hostility goes a long way, don’t you think? I think police everywhere should take this approach on board!

Apart from the niceness, how’s this for convenience. If you’re travelling around Taiwan and have no place to stay, you can head to the local police station for a place to rest your weary head. It won’t cost you anything, and apparently their interrogation rooms are used to accommodate for the less-organised traveller more than anything else.  Oh and you can also check your blood pressure, for crying out loud.

4. Taipei is fun but the outlying regions are better

This is probably more a biased statement since I like my nature, and taking a trip out of the city always leaves me feeling revitalised.  It’s not all forests and oceans though. There are still plenty of things to see and do.  A trip to Zhongzheng park overlooking the Keelung harbour; night-time scooter rides around YangmingshanDanshui riverside bike rides, a stroll along the more local Zhongyuan night market, or a visit to Zhinan Temple in Maokong are a few of my favourite mini getaways when the city life gets a little too much.

At the Zhongzheng Park overlooking the Keelung Harbour. Coming here at night is especially a treat for the ears as they ship cargo into the harbour. It’s like crashing thunder.
Taipei night view from up on high Yangmingshan

5. Only foreigners wear sunglasses and show skin

No wrinkles for us. No sunburn either – we’re a stickler for sunscreen!

This is still something I’m trying to get used to. That is when it’s glaring bright outside and none of the locals wear sunnies.  I’ve seen the odd few but it’s definitely rare to come by. And even if it’s hot out at 35 degrees C and the humidity reads a ridiculous 70% or more, most locals still wear long sleeves and pants. I really don’t know how they manage that many extra layers. If you don’t mind the stares, then by all means strut that strapless dress or singlet top like no tomorrow.  I understand people here have different views on what beauty is, and staying pale-skinned is one of those beauty assets, but I rather make it be blatantly known that I am a foreigner who’d rather go brown than sweat myself silly. And on a beauty note, wouldn’t they want to wear sunnies to stop the squinting wrinkles?

6. Bins are hard to come by

Which makes it even more surprising that Taipei for the most part is very clean! Of course you will still come across stray trash, and especially around night markets, but for the general cleanliness of the city, we should really applaud the cleaners of Taipei. Seeing I come from a land where bins are found every couple of metres though, I am a little annoyed that I have to carry my trash around if I don’t want to be a litterbug.  I have gotten used to carrying plastic bags just so I could store all my garbage in one place until I find a bin. And despite the fact convenience store clerks are more than happy to get rid of your trash for you, I still find it a nuisance to go into one just for the sole purpose of disposing rubbish responsibly. When you do find a bin though, most often than not, it’ll be separated for recyclables. It’s also nice to see young people volunteering at some night markets to help folks sort out the packaging in which their tasty snacks came in.

7. Surgical masks are necessary, even if you’re only slightly ill

Sick but totally ready to blast through our Chinese class behind masks!

This is more so an important cultural practice than a medical or healthcare one. Yes, it is surprising at first to see someone with maybe just a cold wearing a mask that makes it look much more serious than it really is. I’ve had people refute that it’s basically useless at keeping germs at bay. I agree, if you’re feeling sick or have some kind of contagious virus hanging about then best to stay at home. But the work and study life in Taiwan doesn’t allow people to have this liberty as much as some of us Aussies do back home. When sick leave is hard to come by or minimum attendance is necessary, people will go about their day sick with the sniffles or worse. So what to do to ease the anxiety of the people around them, worried that they too may catch that nasty cold? Wear a mask. You will see billboards in MRT stations and hear announcements on trains saying that this is out of consideration to other people. I think that’s fair.

8. Hospitals do not have ‘Level 4’

It's not just in Taiwan that floors with 4 in it are omitted. This one also got rid of unlucky 13 . Picture by Chrisobyrne at the English language Wikipedia.
It’s not just in Taiwan that fourth floors are omitted. This one’s in Shanghai. Picture by Chrisobyrne at the English language Wikipedia.

Taiwan is a land of many traditions and customs. Some people may view these as being too superstitious and pedantic, but if it doesn’t hurt anybody, I say why not keep these customs alive, since it makes for interesting trivia like this one. The number 4 is regarded as a bad number in Chinese culture because its pronunciation is akin to that of the Chinese word for death. So seeing there are more vulnerable patrons in a hospital, I think it’s a rather kind gesture to not send anyone up or down to the death level.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure I will come across more surprising situations and quirks that Taiwan has to offer, and I promise you that I will keep you posted!