A Peace of Taiwan in My Sole

The last night of our four-day trip to Taipei, I wanted to be bold!

From my understanding, many massage parlors function as a dual enterprise. While you can indeed receive a massage, if not careful, you could find yourself receiving something a little more than a basic package. Granted, these “special” deals might be strictly reserved for my male counterparts since scantily dressed women have never inquired whether I’d like a “sexy massage.”

Regardless of this knowledge, I was determined to satisfy my urge to get a foot massage.  Four days in a row, I abused my soles with the long excursions across Taipei. At the end of every journey, I nosily peeped through the glass, quickly assessing the legitimacy of the establishment, simultaneously wishing I was the one lounging in a plush green chair with my feet up. My desire to relieve this physical stress continued to brew. It was imperative that I addressed this issue. After all, what’s wrong with spoiling yourself a little?

After careful consideration, and days of being teased by the constant allure, I had to fulfill my curiosity. So I embarked on a journey to an unknown territory…

Bright and inviting, I strolled in Sunday evening and was greeted with a friendly smile from the owner. She kindly escorted me to an area where I would prepare for my foot massage by soaking my feet in a pail of skin-softening bath salts. Now on the other side of the glass, it was evident that this parlor was not the shady ones I had heard and read about. The establishment was bright and clean. Within moments, my mind was at ease. No shady business here.

The parlor was also distinct in its use of Chinese and Japanese texts. While soaking my feet, the co-owner greeted me as well. Noticing the immense influence of Japanese, I asked him if this was Japanese owned business. Once confirming my assumptions, I attempted to speak a little Japanese. After almost five years of not speaking the language, it was definitely a struggle. It ended up being an interesting compilation of Japanese and Chinese.  But nonetheless, we were able to communicate.

After five minutes of soak time and a little conversation, it was time for the real deal. It was finally my time to enjoy the plush green chair and what would hopefully be a pleasurable, lawful experience.

And it was. In fact, it was the best 40 minutes my soles had ever experienced! For only NTD 500 (or about USD 17), my precious feetsy’s and I were pampered like a princess. Not only was I provided a delicious cup of tea with, I also enjoyed a delightful exchange with my masseuse! Although he was an elderly gentleman, he was quite lively and very enthused. Curious to know about my studies and whereabouts, we discussed several topics, periodically interrupting the conversation to explain the complex reflexology as he applied pressure to certain areas. Overall, the experience surpassed my expectations.

In retrospect, my initial concerns were unwarranted. Taiwan is not China. Taipei is not Shanghai. The quality of life differs, as well as how they conduct business. Clearly, I had nothing to worry about. The masseuse’s performance yielded a sense of tranquility exclusively available in Taiwan. I left feeling like a new woman, ready to take on the commotion of Shanghai. Twenty bucks well spent.

Time Out in Taiwan

Our trip to Taiwan began with a flourish.  After touching down Taipei we made our way through customs and immigration only to be told that Nicky could not come with us.  As a non-US passport holder, unbeknownest to us, he was required to have a visa to enter Taiwan.  He was taken off to immigration; he told us to go on and have a good trip and he would keep us updated.  With that we trudged on through the airport, got Taiwanese sim cards for our phones, and were on our way.  After checking into the hotel we were off to the Shilin night market to explore and get a sense of the Taiwanese atmosphere.

As a group we all shopped, wandered around, tasted the local street fair, and just relaxed after a long week.  At the market it was fun to see what each vendor was selling.  A shop that specialized in socks was nestled in between one that sold formal floor length dresses and one that sold various types of bags.  The sheer range of diversity we found in the night market was unbelievable.  There were even vendors with their products spread out on blankets on the street trying to catch people’s eyes as they went by.  The number of people who could fit into that size of an area was also overwhelming; stopping to look at something, without moving out of the way of the foot traffic, was dangerous to your wellbeing.  One of the best parts of the night market, however, was the food.  While there I tried some delicious cranberry iced tea and mouth-watering grilled chicken.  The dinner was definitely the best part of the night market.

The next day we visited an ancient temple and then made our way to 228 Memorial Park.  The park was not only a place full of history, but also a great place to relax and just have fun.  We were all enamored by the stone foot “massage” path we came across.  While a few brave souls ventured across, the rest of the group looked on with great amusement as we winced and cursed our way down the path.  Upon completing it though we all felt very proud and only mildly sore.  After that, one would assume that we would be on our way with more culturally and historically important ventures, but, when you put a bunch of 20 something’s in a park with a playground we must try the toys from our childhood.  We all scattered on the playground, some opting for the seesaw and remembering first hand why it is good to not only keep it balanced but also to hold on.  Others enjoyed the swing set, and still others of us climbed the metal structure to see what the park looked like from a higher vantage point.  We had a great time just goofing around and relaxing until Fuji finally asked if we could get on with the important parts of our trip.

Later that day we went to the top of Taipei 101, the tallest building in Taiwan, and until a few years ago the tallest in the world.  To reach the observation deck on the 89th floor you take an elevator, which covers the entire distance in 37 seconds!  The ride was great; however, my ears were not too pleased, as they popped every 10 floors – not the most pleasant experience but well worth it.  From the top you could walk all the way around and see a 360-degree view of Taipei.  Looking down on the city reminded me of the view from the top of the Eifel Tower and how small everything looked from up there.  From the top of the tower we were able to watch the sun set over the mountains.  The sunset was a beautiful ending to a fantastic first full day in Taiwan.

Taipei: Blending the Urban and Rural

Taiwan is a truly remarkable place. After traveling there for a few days, I see it almost as a novelty in the Asian world, an effectively free country that appears to have done a lot of things right in terms of fostering a positive environmental and political discourse. So often I feel that scholars focus on the negative effects of the industrializing countries of Asia in terms of reckless pollution and political suppression, but in Taiwan these issues seem to be more muted. The city of Taipei, in which my peers and I spent the entirety of our stay, is almost seamlessly incorporated into the surrounding environment characterized by dense forest and rolling mountains. There are no skyscrapers besides the lone Taipei 101, which serves as almost a comical structure amidst the otherwise mid-ride urban building developments. As one of the local people said to me, “I think it is ugly. It makes no sense! We spent way too much money on that.” Nonetheless, the city of Taipei seems to dissolve into the mountains surrounding it, as one can see from any one of the gorgeous views seen at the top of one of the peaks surrounding the city, or the top of Taipei 101. These images made me think about American perceptions of what cities should be and how people are assumed to live in such environments.

I feel that in the United States urban areas are simply considered the opposite of rural ones. One can live in the city or the countryside. The compromise, which has become a popular American phenomenon, is the existence of suburbs that combine the conveniences of a city and the comforts of a less populated environment. But what I saw in Taipei was the mergence of the urban and rural, apartment buildings built right up to the tree line of huge mountains, for example. Or riding on a metro that suddenly went from traveling underground to a raised track overlooking a forest canopy. A local Taiwanese woman I spoke with said she lives 20 minutes outside of her downtown office, in a small, quiet apartment in the mountains. This account represented a unique harmony between what I previously assumed to be contesting lifestyles. I can certainly see how Taipei can be an exceptionally livable city, one in which people aren’t necessarily faced with the decision between inhabiting a peaceful environment and one that reaps the benefits of industrialization. Though there are various economic challenges faces the city and the country of Taiwan, from what I can see that Taipei has struck the balance between modernization and preservation of the ever-vital natural environment.

Taipei’s Night Markets

Yes. You can use Facebook. No. They do not spit as you walk past. Yes. Cars stop for pedestrians. No. The cars do not swerve in and out of the designated lanes. Most certainly the people of Taiwan are the nicest and well-mannered people I have encountered in quite some time. Nothing beats hearing an “excuse me” as someone crosses in front of you.

A less than two hour flight covering 432 miles gets you to Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport. After a forty minute ride you can be in Taipei City—Taiwan’s capital. This past weekend the group visited Taipei, Taiwan, or as known to those in Taiwan, Taibei (台北). We arrived at night in what I thought to be a Las Vegas imitation. Flashing lights and signs adorned almost every building near our hotel.

If you are eager to jump right into Taipei’s shopping world, then a trip to a night market is just for you. After arriving at our hotel, the group went to Shilin Night Market, only a few metro stops away from us. Shilin is one of the most famous night markets in Taipei. While I acted like a six year old at Disney World and wanted everything I saw, I left empty handed. Don’t worry; I made up for it the other nights.

The shopping experience in Taipei is very different from the shopping experience in Shanghai. If I want to shop in Shanghai, I have to get to Qipu Road Clothing Market before it closes at 6pm. Since I feel guilty going shopping before I finish my homework, it is difficult to make a trip to Qipu during the week. Night markets in Taipei are open from late afternoon until midnight and some are open later on weekends. The concept of a night market allows you to work, explore Taipei, or be lazy during the day, and then enjoy a nighttime shopping spree.

While Taipei has several night markets, I only visited the Shilin Night Market and the Wufenpu Night Market. Shilin is a mix of clothing vendors (those with whom you can bargain), food vendors, and actual stores. Wufenpu lacks food vendors and most of the stores are willing to bargain with you. Be careful, though! Most stores at Wufenpu are not equipped with dressing rooms.

Do I prefer shopping in Shanghai or shopping in Taipei? I must say that I prefer shopping in Taipei. The clothes are are better quality, and I seemed to be better at bargaining with Taiwanese people, or maybe I paid more than I actually realize. If you find yourself visiting Taipei anytime soon, visit Shilin. Grab a bite to eat and start shopping. There’s nothing better!













An Ode to Taipei’s Youth

The allure of Taiwan is immediate and powerful. When we left Shanghai, we were leaving behind a city of global attention and economic power, but we were also leaving behind a city of pungent smells, smoggy air, and honking cars with no intention of braking. Simply smelling Taipei’s clean air brought a smile to my face. However, what I really found and loved most in Taipei was its blossoming culture of youth and creativity.

Call us hipsters, coffeehouse addicts, or pretentious idealists, but the conscientious youth generation is powerful in both the United States and Taiwan. In the U.S., we are the creative force behind trendy green movements, grassroots political campaigns, and countless coffeehouse businesses. In the U.S., so many college-educated twenty-somethings want to move to a big city, “live their truth” (read: find yourself through an indefinite time of self-exploration), and change the world. It is no mistake that many of us chose the Davidson in Shanghai program because we were attracted to the big city. We wanted an opportunity to be at the heart of the action, at the crossroads of international culture and economy. In Shanghai, I certainly found the center of international economy; it is impossible to travel twenty minutes in Shanghai without seeing an endless array of skyscrapers and glittering billboards. While the international economy thrives in Shanghai, the youth culture seems to flounder.

In Taipei, the twenty-somethings are truly at the cultural heart of Taiwan. They run the night markets, which churn out an endless supply of fashion and food. They listen to “World Music” from the U.S., Japan, Korea, and more, but they also create their own Taiwanese pop. College students from the National Taiwan University are political participants and sometimes even political shapers and activists. The walls of the city are full of bulletins for poetry readings, film screenings, and educational lectures. Creative graffiti lines the walls of the Old Town, as if proclaiming that the youth are firmly Taiwanese, not pawns of colonization. The youth are dynamic, active, and highly visible.

On the other end, the youth generation of Shanghai is at the center of business and economic growth. To prepare for a future of economic success, most of the high school and college-aged students in Shanghai study as much as possible. Education is truly a full-time job in China. So, instead of seeing young adults traveling around Shanghai, gathering together, promoting fashion, and creating culture, many are preparing for their futures. I am always weary of stereotypes, but in this case the stereotype is partially true: Chinese students simply study more than American students in general.

In the U.S., we value experience more than academic learning. Mark Twain’s famous quote summarizes this view: “Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education.” Fuji would call this phenomenon anti-intellectualism, but I think it is also related to a love of pragmatism and the self-made person. In Taipei, I felt the same sort of phenomenon. The college students were out trying new things, making mistakes, and learning through experience. They seemed to care more about creativity and experiential learning than money. Taipei was so comfortable to me because my age group in Taiwan felt just like my peers back home.

The youth generation can tell so much about a country: where the country is coming from, where the country is now, and where the country is going. In Shanghai, the youth generation emphasizes China’s economic development. In the United States, the youth generation emphasizes experience or anti-intellectualism (depending on your perception). In Taipei, the youth generation emphasizes Taiwan’s blossoming creativity and cultural growth.