Traveling Experience in Taiwan – Part 1

Look how packed it is!

I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and lived there for three years. After that, I moved to Vancouver and grew up there. My kindergarten, primary, intermediate, middle, and high school years were all in Vancouver. I also did not have the chance to go back to Taiwan. As a result, it felt like I knew nothing of the place I was born in. I did not remember my first three years in Taiwan. My parents sometimes joked saying that I was a ‘banana,’ meaning I was yellow on the outside, but white on the inside (I hope this does not offend anyone). My knowledge consisted only of information given to me by word of mouth from my parents and friends. In high school, I had to write a history report for one of my International Baccalaureate classes. I used this as a chance to understand the history of Taiwan. What I found was that Taiwan consisted of a mix of European, Japanese, and Chinese history and culture. So what was this mysterious island which I have always heard about but never got to experience?

Well, the summer after my first year at McGill, I was accepted into a program to teach English at an elementary school in southern Taiwan. So, I could finally explore Taiwan and what it meant to me. The plane ride from Vancouver was twelve hours and as I got off and got my luggage, I was a little bit nervous since I was traveling alone. My parents always spoke a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese at home and I went to Mandarin school for some years, so my level of proficiency was, I would say, on a 1 to 10 scale, a 7. My grandmother came to pick me up from the airport and we rode a taxi to her home. As I was in the taxi, I kept my eyes focused on the scenery and wanted to note the differences between Taiwan and Canada. I could not notice much, but as soon as I got off the taxi, it was so different!

Taiwan is smaller than Vancouver Island, yet 23 million people live on here! The population is almost on par with Canada and think about how big Canada is already! I noticed that buildings were jam packed together. My grandmother’s house was in an alleyway you accessed from a main street and as soon as you walked out of the alleyway, you would be submerged with shops to your right and left and restaurants all over the place! It was so convenient because let’s say I was hungry, I could walk out of my grandmother’s house and in 10-15 seconds there was a sushi restaurant accessible to me. However, at night, when you try to sleep, due to the high density, you can hear scooters, cars, people, and all kinds of sounds.

Another sort of ‘trademark’ of Taiwan was the 7-11 shops. When I first went into one, the staff immediately called out ‘welcome!’ I was like whoa, are they saying that to me? When I exited, the staff called out ‘thank you!’ and again I was surprised. I learned though that they do this for every customer. Now learning how useful they were surprised me because in Canada, I do not encounter 7-11s a lot. 7-11 shops are basically found on every single street in Taiwan and are open 24/7. There are so many kinds of drinks you can buy (green tea, black tea, etc…), food such as Japanese onigiri and bento boxes (sort of like lunch in a lunchbox), and get this, you can even pay your electricity bills there! Also, the stuff you buy here is so cheap. A regular 500 mL drink can just run you about $1. One more thing is when you bought a bento box, the staff at 7-11 could heat it up for you and you can take it home and eat it hot! I was like wow! This was quite a shock to me.

This will probably be a 3 part series of blog posts as this is getting quite long. Stay tuned! I will talk about night markets, the metro system, and more!

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