Taiwan side story 1 – Taipei ordeal -

During my visit to Taiwan the other day, there were interesting facts about the country in comparison to Japan. Here are a few bits of the story.

I was once told Taiwan is just like Japan about 30 years ago, and in fact I felt it that way quite often. For instance, the city of Taipei is a modern place with WiFi connection everywhere, but it still is home to a chaotic and laid back atmosphere that large cities in Japan have forgotten.

I saw a mysterious solo BBQer in the street,

I saw a superhuman sample in the wig shop,

And you can see a whole bunch of scooters and dogs.

I’ve met this one last year, so he seems to be rocking a bit of a friendly facial expression, just like friendliness plus ennui divided by three.

I also managed to see an old friend from Japan.

Trying every Taiwanese beer with Ken from Goldrush… First time to see him in years, but neither of us had changed much, especially in terms of the passion for bikes.

Local diners are complete with the presence of dogs, though I’m a cat person myself. The beers tasted rather plain, as they are like everyday table wines. The black one is not that black nor thick, as if it were served half & half.

These beers were sold at convenience stores for about 100 yen per can, so things are cheaper all in all. However, at Daiso, the 100 yen shop from Japan, it was all 39 Taiwanese Dollars, or about 110 yen, making it actually more expensive than in Japan. Lineup of merchandise was about the same, so the retail price would apparently stay the same if the goods are manufactured in China and so forth. Speaking of convenience stores, there are heaps of FamilyMart stores, which surprised me last year by the thickness of the plastic bags. This year, though, the bag thickness stayed the same but they had started charging about three yen for a bag. With this point, effectiveness of this whole ecological movement aside, Taiwan is more advanced than Japan.

In Taiwan, they speak Chinese and Taiwanese (which I heard is a variation of southern Chinese dialect). Some people study English and Japanese as foreign languages, but you don’t get lucky all the time. I was surviving language incompatibility at typical places like local diners by uttering simple English words like “meat,” “vegetable,” “rice” and “soup” as well as pointing and gesturing. Substitute kind Taiwanese big mamas in this equation, and you get this:

I wasn’t feeling well this time, so I dropped about 500 yen for this feast. It may look messy just because I had already started eating. I’m not good at taking pictures before eating because I just forget. The soup, chicken, meat on rice, and the straw-like vegetable, they tasted absolutely great.

I also had noodles at this famous shop often, which was under 200 yen for the bigger size. Rice noodles and pork intestine simmered together, topped with coriander. It’s fast, cheap and good, so is popular among tourists as well as locals. You only have to specify regular or large size and yes or no to coriander, so it’s rather easy for non Chinese speakers to order as well.

When you actually do need to communicate, conversation through writing can be helpful. It was the first time for me to experience that my Japanese ability saved me abroad.

Once when I rode a taxi, the driver didn’t understand it when I said “Taipei Station.” It was hard to believe such a simple thing could not work, but repeating it didn’t help either. Then I wrote it in Chinese/Japanese characters on a piece of paper, and I was all taken care of. As I got off at the station I said “thank you” in Chinese to the driver, and he said “thank you,” in English. I felt like, dude, that’s great you actually understand English, it could have been greater if you had used that ability somewhere else earlier!

As I took a ride on Taiwan High Speed Rail from Taipei to Taichung, the challenges never left me alone. The ticket vending machines were just like what we have in Sapporo for subway lines, except that, of course, it was all in Chinese. There were all these selections of where to go, how many adult and child passengers and so on, and I was so happy when I made it through all these traps and got the right ticket, right after which I found the “English” button on the start screen. Anyways there was one thing left to do now; grab a train lunch and hop on the car.

The story is getting a little bit long…to be continued.

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