On my way to Indonesia during the national break in Korea, I had an 18-hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. Instead of testing out the lounges of the airport and living off junk food till my next flight, I met with a friend and together we hit the centre of the city, ready to explore. With just the end of the afternoon and the evening, we decided to discover what the city is so well known for, its night markets.
It wasn’t just the difference in culture that hit me as soon as I set foot out of the airport terminal, it was the climate too. End of September and it was 39 degrees, with the weather app indicating it felt like 46. Not a single gust of wind. We were sweating from just waiting for the bus to arrive. The one hour bus ride to the centre of Taipei was an interesting one, passing through mountains, industrial areas, smaller cities, and eventually arriving at one of the most heavily dense traffic streets I’ve ever seen. Scooters slalom through everyone and everything, and take off like its raceday every time the traffic light hits green. Having entire families fit on one scooter is normal here, and also turned out to be more than acceptable a day later, in Indonesia. Truly a different world compared to Korea.
In Seoul, especially the younger generation, attempts to adapt to the western, American lifestyle, being very obsessed with their appearance, clothing, bicycles, cars, phones, drones and virtual and augmented reality gadgets. In general, the lifestyle in Seoul is very advanced, with various forms of technology being miles ahead of anything in Europe and the life expectancy being almost as high as 90 within the next few years. Taipei, on the other hand, is a step back. A mile behind. A city where the culture of working very hard for very little is still very prominent. Where the gap between young and old is much bigger than it looks. A city where streets are underdeveloped, others have just developed, and areas with very well maintained temples or palace gates. It sure was very interesting to see the unimaginable difference between the two cities, despite the fact they are so located rather near to each other.
It is, of course, very difficult to say, that I have been to and seen Taipei because of the 7 hours I spent in the city itself. But from strolling through the areas known amongst the locals and eating at two different night markets, I feel like I got a decent understanding of the people and a taste of their culture. As Lonely Planet so well puts it, Taipei is “a tough little city whose beauty lies in its blend of Chinese culture with a curious fusion of Japanese and Southeast Asian influences. Less people speak English (or try to speak English) than in Seoul, from what I experienced, people aren’t as friendly and as willing to help as the Koreans, yet they are more surprised to see a foreigner than people in Seoul would be.
Spending the afternoon and evening on the streets and eating away at YuanHuan-Nightmarket and QingGuang Nightmarket, I observed and learned from the people around me and got to experience Taiwanese cuisine, before I had to get on the bus back to the airport. Doing so was quite an adventure. After a walk along the river with a view of Taipei’s skyline and dodging a few more scooters every now and then, we eventually made it to the bus station. Feeling relieved that we had found it, we only soon realized we had to cross the road to get to the correct side, but the only way to get there was to go underground. Hoping it would be just a straight hallway to the other side, we were amazed when we landed in a multi-story underground shopping mall maze. With misleading signs everywhere, we ended up taking three escalators, two elevators and spent over 20 minutes following people with suitcases, hoping they were getting on the same bus and knew what they were doing. It was part of the experience, as everyone always says.
Nevertheless, a nice layover and a great opportunity to spend an afternoon and an evening in such a vibrant yet very different city. It was time spend a good 8 hours at the airport now, waiting for my second flight of the journey, Taipei to Jakarta. Through the means of comedy shows, my Spotify playlists and a few cokes, I managed to stay awake. Typically, I’m the type of person who would wake up right after the gate closes, even if I would set 10 consecutive alarms.
Better safe than sorry 😉