Ever since my maiden voyage to Taiwan, I’ve romanticized the country something fierce. This began one Texas afternoon in the year of our Lord 2016, not long after I said a reluctant zài jiàn to a place I characterized as the “real” China in my debut Taiwan travel blog.
I was cuddled on my couch with a long-distance-turned-live-in lover watching Lucy, a sci-fi thriller set in none other than Taipei. Though my life’s sudden (and oppressive) domesticity had triggered a generalized travel thirst, I felt a particular nostalgia when the iconic bokeh of Taipei 101 strobed across the screen.
These flashbacks would outlast my fondness for my now-ex partner, and survive the American carnage that year’s presidential election ushered in, including my subsequent move over the Pacific. As it became clear, after 18 months in Asia, that my Eastern expat experiment would last for several years, I made a dramatic forecast about my forthcoming Formosan foray.
“I’ll be taking a road trip around the island, ostensibly,” I explained to one trusted Bangkok confidant when he asked where in Taiwan I’d be traveling. “But you know, if I end up loving it as much as I did the first time, I may have to spend a day or two apartment hunting.”
Reality snapped this hasty hypothesis in half like a convenience store umbrella in a typhoon—and I’m not plucking this image from ether. My third yǔ sǎn in 24 hours met its end at Yehliu Geopark, thanks to gale-force winds that nearly decapitated the “Queen’s Head” rock formation.
I discarded the ravaged carcass into the floorboard of my Toyota Yaris. “Maybe a poncho next time?” I thought out-loud, then silently reflected on how often superstition supersedes solutions in Asia—and where my own reality fell on this continuum.
If you’ve been reading this blog since at least the first of this year, you know that several of my recent rambles (namely those in Okinawa, Hokkaido and Mongolia) have gotten rained out, in spite of taking place during months that should be dry—February, July and August, respectively. While I knew that there was near-zero probability of monsoon conditions lasting an entire week of Taiwan’s third-driest month, I did wonder if I wasn’t a little cursed.
I drove to the nearest 7-11 and, along with a polka-dotted poncho, purchased taco-flavored Doritos and a sugar-free Red Bull. (Spare me your judgement—you can’t get this shit in Thailand.)
Visions of Hawaii
But rather than “Jiufen Old Street,” which was the next destination on my list, I entered the address of IWS Rental Car’s Taoyuan Airport location into my GPS. I let the car idle a good five minutes, licking Dorito dust off my fingertips as lychee-sized drops thudded on my windshield, as torn between turning back and pressing on as a sheet of nylon ripped from an umbrella skeleton.
Nevertheless I persisted, making my way past the electric blue waters of Qingshui Cliffs and toward the city of Hualien as news of Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test obscured the map on my phone’s screen. A Taiwanese friend of mine had reassured me that skies become clearer—dramatically so—the farther south and east along the island’s coast you go and, with the exception of mysterious Taroko Gorge, reality bore this out.
When I got to Taimali, whose main beach stirred visions of Hawaii in my subconscious, the despair that had nearly doomed my drive the day before was as far away as the exurbs of Taipei. I was so elated when I summited Guanshan, Kenting National Park’s view point, that the massive nuclear power plant at my feet seemed to vanish into the waves lapping beyond its main reactor.
In Kaohsiung on morning five, the city’s famous Dragon and Tiger Pagodas were smaller in real life than they’d appeared in pictures. But they matched the shirt I happened to be wearing, which was a big plus when selfie time arrived.
Taiwan As a Whole
After riding out of the heat of the day within the air-conditioned cocoon of my hotel room, I returned to the Lotus Pond over which the pagodas rise. The setting sun painted the sky pink, purple and a shade of orange that matched the yolk inside the scallion pancake I had in lieu of a sit-down dinner.
At my final stop in Kaohsiung, historical Cijin island, an elderly resident was visibly taken aback by my gleeful disposition. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a foreigner so happy on the streets of my hometown,” he said to me, in near-perfect English, as I discreetly photographed a nearby barber working his magic on a client.
I was less ecstatic upon returning to Taipei, which was still being pounded by torrential rain—I never saw the sun once during the four full days I spent there, in point of fact. Jin Ji Yuan’s out-of-this-world dim sum notwithstanding, Taipei’s atrocious weather negates many of the things the city has going for it, and obliterates the possibility that it will ever become my home.
But while my re-appraisal of the country’s capital has contradicted some of the fond memories I once had, Taiwan as a whole far exceeded my expectations. To what extent I can’t declare, or at least I shouldn’t—I’ll wait to see if my third time in Taiwan is a charm before I make any additional conclusions about the second.
The Truth About Taiwan
My EVA Air 777 lifted off from Taoyuan Airport as night fell last Thursday to reveal Taiwan’s sprawling western seaboard lit up, as if all the grains of sand on its shores had been replaced by stars. I hope you’ll stay tuned for the series of Taiwan travel blog articles I plan to publish over the next few weeks, which will detail the incredible experiences I had amid this constellation.