Just some random final observances.
Not a pretty city
One of the first things I noticed is that Taipei seems rundown. I didn’t notice a particular style of architecture and all the buildings seemed old. I emailed my dad about this, and he confirmed that a lot of “foreigners” feel the same way.
That being said, the parks and gardens were very nice, and Beitou was cute. And of course I have yet to see other parts of Taiwan, which I’ve heard are gorgeous.
Very warm people
While I didn’t think the city was pretty to look at, I found the people extremely warm. Every person I spoke to was kind, from the half a dozen older people who clamored to give me directions to the flower market, to the National Taiwan University student who gave me an incomprehensible tour, to the lady I asked about the chou dofu. People were also polite, but not super formal, hence, the warmth.
I had a harder time than I expected understanding people. I think this was sometimes because they were speaking Taiwanese or another language to me. However, I feel like I handled it okay.
An awesome subway system
How awesome? It’s:
Easy to use. I found the maps and token system easy to understand, and I never once got lost on the trains (on foot is another story).
Clean. Like, really clean. No urine smell or garbage. They are also pretty strict about not eating or drinking on the subway or even the stations (later my uncle told me about he got chastised for chewing gum while waiting for a train). During one ride, I saw a girl with a large soda cup get escorted off by a guard. In the beginning of my trip, I popped a hard candy in my mouth, and while no one stared, I now know that was a no-no.
Safe. Or at least it seemed that way. The trains were enclosed or surrounded by high walls, which, I’m guessing, prevent refuse or, God forbid, people from going onto the tracks.
On time. At least in my experience. The trains came when the signs said they would, and I was never on one that inexplicably sat umoving on the tracks.
Relaxing. In at least one station, gentle, soothing music would play when the train was about to arrive.
Something else I noticed was how people treated the seats reserved for the elderly, people who were pregnant, and those with disabilities. While New Yorkers ignore those signs and give up their seats only on a case by case basis, Taipei-ers followed that rule to a tee. In the beginning of my trip, I totally took one of those seats, but later noticed how no one would, not even when all the other seats were taken and those were still empty. I soon followed suit.
Everything, especially the food, was so freaking cheap. I think I mentioned I’d often get two tea eggs from convenience stores for maybe 20 cents American. The most expensive meals I had — which were from CoCo Curry — were right around $10, which is considered cheap in NYC.
I loved Taipei and would visit again. I would even stay in the same hotel and revisit the same sights. But here are some things I would do differently:
Actually go to Shihsanhang Museum of Archaeology. Apparently it’s just a 30-minute bus ride from that hotel. D’oh!
Take a day trip to Jiufen. It was on my docket of things to do but I was too lazy.
Eat at Din Tai Fung. And make sure it’s open before I go.
Go to the Zhishan Garden at the National Palace Museum. Ditto re: open.
Actually make it to Yangmingshan National Park. Only take a cab or bus instead of try to walk.
Have beef noodle soup. Somehow I skipped this, maybe because it was kind of warm and humid while I was there, but maybe also because of the effort of finding a place that wasn’t a tourist trap.
Try chou dofu. Maybe.