Once upon a time, not so much during my Peace Corps service, but much more as I’ve been living in Chengdu with the Foreign Service, I’ve heard mythical-sounding tales of a land called Taiwan. The fairy tales from this far away land include mentions of easy access to western food, an abundance of bookstores and streets where one can walk without needing to be on high-alert for slick phlegm deposits.
I didn’t buy into the story. A princess can’t kiss a frog and end up with a prince, nor can she slide her foot into a glass slipper and live happily ever after. (Although, there are some beautiful heels that I have often thought could grace my closet and at least make my wardrobe happy until the next season.) And, in no world, make-believe or real, can China possibly be spit-free.
Yes Virginia, there is a Taiwan. It took only three days to turn me into a believer.
Taiwan was beautiful and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of the wonders it has to offer with our short long-weekend trip.
On the first full day we were there, our wonderful hosts took us to waffles (mine slathered in peanut butter and bananas) for breakfast and then to a local grocery store where the dairy section had not only several types of cheese to choose from, but also milk that required refrigeration. That was followed by a bike ride where waiting at crosswalks to cross a road was the norm and everyone stuck with the right-hand side of the street. Our little adventure took us to a frozen yogurt parlor and then on to a fabulous bookstore where I meandered through aisles of various volumes, fanning them in front of my face to smell the gluey, musty paper smell that can only be created by a book. The evening included dinner at an Italian-style pizzeria and then a stroll through the night market where I bought a sundress (we had just learned that morning of our new posting to KL, so my mind was on equatorial-appropriate outfits) and a bag of fun-shaped waffles. (I’m not sure what it is with the Taiwanese and their overwhelming affection for waffles, but who can argue with pig and elephant shaped mini-waffles?)
Day two saw us visiting Taipei 101, a giant building in the center of town that has a 91st floor observation deck and is home to the world’s fastest elevator. (I could really use one of those in my apartment building! It would make the daily trip up and down from the 24th floor so much quicker.) Oh, yes, and another trip to a bookstore that was filled with English-language books. The luggage weight allotted to Mainland la jiao sauce for Lulu was quickly replaced by book weight. It’s a fair trade!
After passing on the opportunity to ride the dazhi (a Ferris wheel on the top of a building), we hit up another night market, where again I indulged in some fun-shaped waffles. (This time I went with a motorcycle and a gun. I must admit, eating a gun waffle is pretty awesome. I wonder if I could qualify for NRA membership…)
To round out our weekend in Taipei, John took us to the city’s public library. That’s right! I’d nearly forgotten what one of those was. The building was six stories of stories, including an entire section of English books. (He even had his own library card and favorite reading nook!) Not only that, but outside the front door of the main entrance was an amazing invention- a book vending machine! It was filled with books on a spinner. Using their library card and the touch screen, patrons can choose a book and have it dropped into the delivery slot, making for a quick literary getaway! (Looking back, this paragraph is filled with way too many exclamation points, but I was that excited by the availability of books in Taiwan. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” I understand the sentiment, but to be fair, I am not sure he ever lived for two years in a place without easy access to libraries and bookstores. I would like to think he’d understand, and forgive, my enthusiasm.)
Three days of Taiwan meant three days of beautiful blue skies and sunshine, three days of fabulous food (and probably at least three gained pounds), three days of literature-filled outings (and many more than three books purchased.)
But, most importantly, Taiwan meant a weekend of happily ever after with our great friends John and Lulu, living the Foreign Service fairy tale.