Confessions Of An Introverted Traveller

Travel is usually seen as something joyful and happy… And it is… I personally love it. And I love meeting new people, visiting and discovering new places. I am so thankful to have been able to travel as much as I have. 

But I’ve got something to confess… I am also an introverted person. I feel exhausted if I talk with people for too long and if don’t have time for myself, I will become really serious and not fun to be around. 

When travelling, I often feel the pressure of going out and visiting all there is to visit in a place. It feels like if you’re not doing something, you’re wasting your time. I think that growing up in a society with the mentality “if you’re not being productive, you don’t have value/add value to the world”… takes a toll.

For me, this means that sometimes, I just don’t feel like going out of my hotel room. Sometimes I just want to be in my own little bubble away from the rest of the world; I just want to be back home, with a glass of wine and my favourite film. If I’m feeling a bit extra that day, maybe some popcorn and a nice comfy blanket. Sometimes I just want to speak my language and not make an effort at all to remember how to say certain things.

But you’re travelling, and you’re seeing all these new things, meeting all these new interesting people, experiencing new cuisines… How ungrateful of you to just stay at the hostel and watch a movie. Such a waste… 

I has these thoughts as well… Until I planned my own trip around Taiwan. I did my lists and my planning to visit as much as I could, but by the second week ended up exhausted. Tired from talking to people all day, from taking pictures of things that honestly, didn’t seem that special because I didn’t have time to read the description. From looking for the food that was popular at that place, even if I felt like eating something else… Until I arrived to a particularly good hostel where by chance, I had the room to myself for a few hours. I put on a face mask, did my nails, had a nap, watched a film and felt 100% better with myself. 

Then I realised…


You don’t have to visit every single tourist attraction to have a good time.

If you enjoyed that cup of coffee while people watching, you did not waste your time.

You are allowed to enjoy and relax during your travels in any way you want.


I had the chance to meet Kasia & Victor, a lovely Spanish-Polish couple who have been travelling for a while now. They made me realise that I wasn’t alone in this idea. They have a very interesting blog post about “slow travel” (in Spanish). The concept is about enjoying every step of the way. Not focusing on the “touristy” stuff and just observing life in the place you’re staying. It’s about getting to know the culture and people. About being a “traveller” rather than a “tourist”.

I am well aware that not everyone has that much time off work to do this, but even if you have a week… Rather than planning a “gymkhana week” where you’re going from touristic attraction to the next touristic attraction, maybe try to slow down. Take the pressure off yourself. Let your self relax and breath and enjoy.

Instead of getting that perfect shot for your IG and ignoring the child that has stopped playing with a ball to help an old man, you could be present in where you are and watch life happening around you.

Be a Tourist in Your Own City

Nowadays, it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s Instagram pictures and their life. Social media can be a blessing to keep in touch with family and friends who live far away from us, but also a curse if we compare our lives to strangers who seem to be continuously on vacation.

Sure you can think “I’m going to get off social media and only focus on my life”, but we are human. It’s normal to have these feelings of wanting what other people have, specially if it looks as cool as being one day in Rome and the next in Thailand.

What has helped me it’s to be a tourist in my own city, thinking of ways to switch it up and not fall into monotony.

How?

  • Find a new coffee shop/restaurant
  • Find events near you (facebook groups, meetup.com)
  • Think of your hobbies and look for activities around your area
  • Go to a guided tour (some are even free)
  • Make your own guided tour: research about the History of your city
  • Try geocaching
  • Do some volunteering

Why?

It helps you feel refreshed, you see the city with new eyes and it takes you out of your confort zone.

El Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain

Side effects of travelling

“Oh, I don’t do that anymore, because when I was in X country #1…” “Oh, in X country #2 I found this thing that…” “In X country #3, things are way better…”(*read with annoying posh voice”) 

If you are anything like me, the above sentences would make you roll your eyes so hard it hurt. Or at least judge in a “selfie from below” angle the person saying those things. I used to be from the judging team. But I’m afraid I have slightly converted (hopefully I am not that posh/annoying) into one of those people now. 

This past year I have been travelling quite a lot, and first of all I feel privileged, lucky, grateful, humbled, all of the above and more for the amazing experiences. However, I also missed home. A lot of people only see the glamorised version part of travel that is trying new foods, meeting lots of new and interesting people, seeing amazing scenery… But we are not taking into account that maybe one day you’re not having the best time and just want a bit of your own country’s comfort food, or your sofa and a film or simply to vent out with a friend in your own language. 

And then you come home and you finally get the dish you’ve been craving for the second half of the trip… and it’s not as good as you remember, or it doesn’t give you the same sense of comfort that it used to. You meet up with your friends, but you don’t feel you can vent out as naturally as you used to, or you suddenly don’t find as many common interests as you used to. You go to your favourite spot in the city, but you don’t feel the same sense of belonging you used to feel. 

Travelling changes you and it changes the way you think. How could it not? You see different ways of living, different people, different foods… You are not the same you used to be and you feel a stranger in a world that used to feel like home. 

For me Spain and UK were places I considered to be my home. However, when I went back to Spain from living in London for 4 years, I didn’t fully understand how the supermarket aisles worked anymore or what to buy, I didn’t like how uncomfortable the metro seats are, I thought people talked way louder than they should… And then visiting London I hated the pollution I used to not even notice, somehow found the accent annoying at times, the fake politeness would get on my nerves… 

It is said that second times are always worse than the firsts… I reckon they are not worse, you are just more aware than you were before, and with a broader perspective comes… bigger responsibility(?). Sorry, that was my inner nerd speaking 🙂 When you have a wider perspective, some of the innocence when you see things for the first time is gone. You are left with the beautiful picture, sure, but the sense of awe is not there anymore. I am aware that change is a constant of life and that it makes us grow and become who we are. But it can be scary and confusing. Other people love it… And that’s okay too.

Are you saying you would have stayed in your country had you known the consequences? No.

So you are okay with being not particularly good with change but not living in your own country? Yes. Because life is short and the world too big for me to stay at one place only.

Isn’t it scary and hard? Yes. But so it is following someone else’s life path. I’ll tell you what though, you do you, I’ll be all over the globe doing me.

Solo travelling

Isn’t it scary?

It’s not my worst nightmare, to be honest…

Don’t you get bored?

No, my own company is delightful.

How do you do it?

I have already explained in this post. But I simply pack my bags and I’m on my way.

I just couldn’t…

Well… ¡surprise! You don’t have to.

More than 7 years ago my dream of going to Taiwan to learn Chinese started to take form. While studying Translation and Interpretation at university, I had the chance to learn Chinese. I loved the language and its history and culture have always been fascinating for me. I also discovered Taiwan. I started to watch Taiwanese TV series and distinguish their accent. I read all the blogs and articles there were and slowly but surely I started planning.

7 years later, even though, the plan had more side walks than high roads, I am in Taiwan. Proud of my self, thankful to life and happy.

But… all by yourself?

For starters, I think of myself as a rather introvert and empathic person. Large crowds stress me a lot. Being with someone 24/7 sets me in a bad mood. I need my alone time to recharge. This means that I have a high level of self knowledge and I know what I need and when I need it. I don’t hate having people around me, but I do need my alone time.

Also, it is my dream, it is very specific and it is very far away from Europe. It’s not that I don’t have friends who would like to come with me, but we each have our own lives. Some don’t have time, others don’t have money. If planning a dinner in a more than 10 people WhatsApp group chat living in the same city as these people is hard enough, I don’t even want to think about planning a trip. If you wait until all the starts and circumstances align, you’ll be your whole life waiting.

Isn’t it scary?

Society has programmed us a path since we’re very little and many times we just follow it without thinking twice. Most people live waiting for their day off and when it does come, they just lay in bed because they are tired of their 8 hour shifts. They don’t have time to enjoy a walk in the park or a day trip to a close by village. What I am scared of is to see myself bitter at the end of my life in a job that doesn’t fulfil me and surrounded by people as bitter as I am. 

I think we all have a comfort zone. At the beginning it is scary to get out of there, of course. But the minute you get out, that comfort zone extends to wherever you are now. Once you do something, next time, you know what to expect and you do it with more confidence. I moved out of home since I was 18, I did my Erasmus in France at 20 and then moved to London at 22… So I guess that helped.

Don’t you get bored?

My favourite pastime are reading or writing or listening to music. I don’t need that many people for this. On the other hand, There is this stigma in society of people who are alone (being an activity or travelling), they are lonely. With me as company? Nah. I like the person I have become and I am quite the company: intelligent, fun and a good person… What else can you ask for? I have amazing friends and family who loves me and supports me. I also have incredible dreams that I want to fulfil, though.

Also, believe it or not, you meet more people travelling on your own. The minute you have to ask for directions, or ask for food in a restaurant or ask for touristic places or activities… You have a choice: you starve or you talk to the waiter. If you don’t do it, no one will.

How do you do it? I just couldn’t…

You really don’t have to. I see life as a solo trip (accompanied at times). There are people who will be in your life always but others that go by. We can learn from everyone and they all can help us at certain times. But it is YOUR trip. A lot of times, “thanks” to social media, we see people with lives that, for us, look amazing. We then feel jealous because our life is not as glamorous. It happens to me with wedding pictures… and I don’t even want to get married!

I like to travel solo an I want to, but it doesn’t mean you have to. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It just means that we are going to have a different path. And that is okay. If we all thought the same, just how boring would that be? (:

Newbie in Vietnam?

So… I booked a flight to Ho Chi Minh from Taiwan because it was cheaper to go through Vietnam and then back to Spain than it was to fly from Taiwan to Spain. However, it was not a backpacking adventure in South East Asia, it was a stop by destination for me. Bear in mind that I was carrying a carry-on suitcase with wheels and a small back-pack for my laptop and few more things. My clothes were for city-life in Taiwan and the weather was similar(ish). Spoiler alert: I was NOT ready or prepared.

If you are planning to visit Vietnam, here’s a list of things I wish I knew before I set foot in Vietnam:

  • Money: VND (Vietnamese New Dollar). ATMs charge a high commission, so I would suggest to take out what you are going to spend in one go so that you are not charged twice. In some hostels and touristic places you can pay by card, but cash is the most common practice (local markets, restaurants, museums).
  • Traffic: There are motorbikes EVERYWHERE. Beeping, screaming, speeding, stopping, people sleeping on them on one side of the road… There are traffic lights, which cars generally respect, but not motorbikes. So, I personally waited to cross the street until a local Vietnamese person was standing next to me. I did not feel safe to cross by myself until after 5 times. You need to start walking really sure of yourself, don’t make eye contact with anyone, and never go back. I was told this by another traveller and it kindda worked.
  • Pavement: Vietnam was literally at war 50 years ago, so even though it is open now, you will see broken pavement and buildings often. On top of this, there is no walkable pavement. Well, yes, but full with people selling fruits, vegetables, food trucks, motorbikes, badly parked cars… My little stop by Vietnam just went to level 10000000000…
  • Luggage vs Backpack: Vietnam is a city made for backpackers. Between the traffic and the streets, wheeled luggage was the WRONG choice. Unless you are going to a resort where you don’t leave the place, be smarter than I was and take a backpack.
  • Shopping: Clothes are really cheap in Vietnam and there are plenty of stands and markets where you can buy stuff. However, you have to bargain with them. When they see a foreigner, they immediately assume that you will have a lot of money, so they will ask for a very high price. I didn’t buy anything, so I don’t know how low you can go, but it is a matter of trying.
  • Weather: Depends on where you go, you will need more or less warm clothes. Ho Chi Minh was 30ºC and Hanoi was 20ºC in March, 2019.
  • Exploring: I wouldn’t recommend the cities, but the country side is breath taking. I went to Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Halong Bay. The highlight of my trip was Halong Bay. If you have the chance, I heard amazing things about Sappa.
  • Culture: I read several articles on Vietnamese culture and etiquette and it helped understanding where they came from in all sorts of situations. For instance, I learned that they take very seriously when they host someone, so in hostels and hotels they will treat you really well. If you have an issue, they will smile and nod, even if they don’t agree, which can be frustrating if you are angry. But they generally aren’t confrontational and find it embarrassing to have an argument in public. I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to list all the cultural differences, so feel free to ask Google.

Hanoi & Halong Bay

I leave my luggage packed, I have breakfast and ask for a taxi to the airport. I find it hard to believe that I will be able to do the trip back to the airport in time, so I don’t risk it. After a short flight to Hanoi, the second biggest city in Vietnam at the north of the country, I arrive to the hostel in bus. This time the GPS on my phone is working, thank God and all the dragons in Taiwan. In reception, I ask about different day trips that you can do from Hanoi and I pay for one of them.

Since there is a day in the middle, I try to explore the city, as much as traffic lets me and I discover a lake with activities going on as well as local markets and a Chinese temple, which I did not visit. I walked to a park and went for a coffee. Vietnamese coffee is quite popular and famous. I don’t think it’s because of the coffee itself, but for the way it is prepared. The most usual ways were iced black coffee (with sugar added) and iced coffee with condensed milk. Condensed milk was first used because during the war period there was no fresh milk. Following the same principle of using condensed milk instead of fresh milk, there is the “egg coffee”. At the beginning, it tasted too much like egg and it was not that popular, but the recipe has been improving and it became a thing in the 80s. I personally think it is like an espresso with a thick cream on top.

After the exploration day in Hanoi, a bus picked me up to go to Halong Bay, which is an area in the coast considered World Heritage by UNESCO. The hostel made it really easy to cancel a night so that I could do the tour of two days-one night.

After a 4 hour ride, we get to a port, where we take a small boat that will take us to a bigger boat where we would be staying the night. We leave our things in the room and we get lunch. After that we get an hour break and they took us to see some caves and a beach. The caves are inside the big mountains that come out from the sea. The guide told us two of the theories. Legend has it, a dragon landed on that area and that is why there are so many mountains. According to Vietnamese (and Chinese) mythology, dragons don’t spit fire, but energy. With that energy, stalactites and stalagmites were formed. Now, from a more scientific point of view: tectonic plates and a little extra info; I heard other guides saying that some scientific think that there might be some fossils of monkeys or trees in the caves.

When we got back, we had another hour and a half break and then dinner. With a full belly, we went up to the upper deck of the boat that had a terrace where we sitter and talked: three Spaniards, an American girl, a Turkish guy, two Swiss and two Germans. Most of them were backpackers travelling South-East Asia. Each had started before or after and from one side or the other. Some were starting and some were finishing. It was a really awesome night getting to know like-minded but all sorts of different people.

Honestly, the tour was a bit expensive, but waking up to that freaking paradise was kind of priceless. Looking back, I would have liked to do some research on the company because the guide told us very few details, in my opinion and they took us to very crowded touristy places. After breakfast they took us to the Pearl Museum, which I thought was interesting, but I wouldn’t have gone, should I had had the choice. Specially because at the end, they led us to a pearl shop in case we wanted to buy something for our family and friends. We went kayaking for an hour after that. I was paired with an old German man, so we went really slowly and relaxed taking in the breathtaking scenery.

Back in the boat, we took our things and waited in the terrace for lunch and the small boat to get back to Hanoi.

Ho Chi Minh

I land in the airport of former Saigon surrounded by Vietnamese people who put their feet up in the plane’s seats. Instant cultural shock, just after leaving Taiwan. After more than an hour waiting to go through passport control, I go out and see a few bus stops. In the airport’s website it said that two of them, were the ones that locals used, so there I went. A girl picked the money and the driver helped people with their luggage. The more we were into the city, the more horns we could hear and the more motorbikes we could see surrounding the bus. There were so many that the girl would take her arm out and shout at the motorbikes to tell them the bus was about to stop. Slowly, they would go by and the bus would be able to eventually stop to let people in and out.

I already knew I was not going to have internet on my phone in Vietnam, but I didn’t expect the GPS on Google Maps to not work at that time. I found myself at my bus stop, with the phone and google maps on my hand but no idea where to go. I asked in a ramdon shop and they told me to go through a street with people buying and selling with their bikes, motorbikes, trolleys, clothes in the floor… fruits, veggies, clothes, Vietnamese hats, etc. All of these in the actual street where people are supposed to walk. Also, I was carrying a cabin luggage, with wheels. Yay.

I arrive to my hostel and after a shower, I go to have a quick dinner and go to sleep. Tomorrow will be another day and I won’t have to take the luggage with me.

I have breakfast at the hostel and ask what to see in Ho Chi Minh city. I get out of the hostel and find myself in such a heat and humidity that neither my black leggins neither I predicted. I start walking and I have the same feeling as the day before. I’m anxious and uncomfortable. In my head, I was like: I do not know the language, the culture, the city… What am I doing here alone? How on earth did I think this was an okay idea? Not good, just okay? How? Okay, I’m here now, I’m just going to wing it and enjoy and discover new things.

I go to the most famous local market, where most tourists buy all their souvenirs. I also think it is the best place to see how locals interact with each other. I realise that they are not as smily as they are in Taiwan. If they do smile, it’s cause you are doing a transaction with them. There is a part with food and another with clothes and ramdon stuff. Since my luggage is full already, I just look around and repeat as if it was a mantra “no, thank you”.

I keep walking and arrive to the War Museum, where they showcase the point of view from the Vietnamese people. I don’t know anything about this topic, so I am surprised and sad to learn the amount of people that died, both Americans and Vietnamese, that the reason why the war started was for the fear of the US of Vietnam becoming a communist country, that a gas called “Orange Agent” was used and caused several generational illnesses; also the way they tortured people and more details.

The next day I don’t feel like going out and being uncomfortable with the city’s traffic, but I meet two girls at the hostel and we go for lunch and to see the Notre Dame Cathedral of Ho Chi Minh city, which was underconstruction, but we just went for a walk and I got to talk to two awesome girls.

Newbie in Taiwan?

  1. Money: New Taiwanese Dollars is the current currency. What I did was to take out cash (enough for a month) from an ATM at the airport with my Revolut card. I find it very useful when travelling, specially in Europe. It is a banking app based in the UK that allows you to have accounts for 24 currencies (at the moment) AND exchange money between these accounts without any fees. It does not have NTD, but it allows you to extract certain amount of money without any fee. If you are interested, you can check it out clicking here.
  2. Easy Card: This magnetic card will save you time and money when travelling in Taiwan. It costs 100 NTD and you can top it up with any amount you think necessary. It is for the MTR (underground/subway) but also for buses and trains. The best thing about it is that in some places (7/11 and specific restaurants), it is accepted as a form of payment, so you can basically use it as a credit card for certain places.
  3. SIM card: I went through a lot of emotions trying to get a SIM card to get internet on my phone. In the airport there are places where they will sell you a SIM for 1000 NTD per month (unlimited internet and x amount of SMS and minute calls). This is not a normal price, it’s the price for foreigners. Taiwanese people pay, generally, about 400 NTD per month, as I learned later on. When I asked, there was not even an option for lower internet allowance or a way that it could be cheaper. I was asked for my passport and I signed a document, all in Chinese, which I did not understand (but I needed the SIM card and internet on my phone).
  4. Internet: There is a public Wi-Fi network called iTaiwan, in which you register (free) and you get free Wi-Fi in Wi-Fi hotspots. In my experience, it works quite well in city centres (except Tainan) and in train stations.
  5. Accommodation: during my two months here, I stayed mainly in one Airbnb and in hostels. How did I find these hostels? Through booking.com. I look for:
    1. Price
    2. Location
    3. Beds: Are there curtains? How many people in one room? Are there lockers and how safe do they look? Does the mattress look comfortable?
    4. Breakfast: Is it included?
    5. Opinions: The last but most important thing.
    6. Depending on your travel plans: Is it a party hostel? Are there activities? Is there a cool common area to socialise/work on your computer should you need to? If you do need to work, how is the internet?
  6. Food: I would highly recommend to go where the locals go. More often than not, this means low-cost furniture and all Chinese menu. If it smells good, ask what it is. Sometimes they have an English menu and sometimes they will take show you what they are cooking. In my opinion, it is the best way to interact with the locals and to try new food. It is also cheaper. Win, win if you ask me!
  7. Cultural differences: Even if you don’t speak the language, smile and be patient. Taiwanese people are kind and willing to help. If there is miscommunication, know that they are trying their best to make you feel at home.

PS: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on some of the links, I’ll receive a small commission.

Aboriginal Culture in Taiwan

This is a topic I find fascinating, so I thought I would share what I know and what I’ve discovered. I’ve done some research online and but I also hace been to museums and asked people.

 Years before any other civilisation went to Taiwan, there were Austronesian tribes already living there. They had their own linguistic and genetic from Polynesian groups and people from the Philippines.

Throughout Taiwan’s complicated history, the many different aboriginal tribes and groups have been slowly homogenised. To different degrees, they have been assimilated with Chinese culture and other colonial countries (most notably Holland, Portugal, France and Spain).

Right now, 14 tribes are recognised and they still live in the mountains in small groups. Taiwan’s ethnic minorities speak languages that belong to the Indonesian group of the Malay-Polynesian language family. The differences between the languages from the different groups and subgroups is quite big. This means that the groups generally can’t communicate with each other using their own languages.

From friends, I have learned that tribes generally speak their own language, no English or even Chinese. They will learn Taiwanese if they have a stand in a night market or have a job within Taiwan’s contemporary society. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult for them to integrate. All Formosan languages are slowly being replaced by the culturally dominant Mandarin. In recent decades the government started an aboriginal re-appreciation program that included the reintroduction of Formosan mother tongue education in Taiwanese schools. However, the results of this initiative have been disappointing. 

The Amis language is the most widely spoken aboriginal language. The government estimates put the number of Amis people at a little over 200.000. However, the number of people who speak Amis as their first language is lower than 10.000. Amis has appeared in some mainstream popular music. Other significant indigenous languages includes Atayal, Paiwan, and Bunun. In addition to the recognised languages, there are around 10 to 12 groups of Taiwanese Plains Indigenous Peoples with their respective languages. Some indigenous people and languages are recognised by local governments. These include Siraya, Makatao and Taivoan.

Aboriginal people face many economic and social barriers in comparison to the ethnic group from Han Chinese people. For many years, the government have either ignore or force aborigines to change their way of living. These past 50 years, however, the government is increasingly taking them into account and integrating them into Taiwan’s society. They still have a lower education quality and there is a language and cultural barrier. 

These past few years, there has been an increase in the touristic attraction that have aboriginal culture as a centre. For instance. Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, Orchid Island, Museum of Prehistory in Taitung or Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines in Taipei. However, there are also people who think of aboriginal people as “poster children” for doing politics. Right now, it’s “mainstream” and it’s cool to be aboriginal. Nevertheless, there are double standards in Taiwan’s society for someone who was born in a tribe versus someone who was not.

In recent years, since the democratisation of Taiwan, aboriginal groups have been reviving their traditional cultures and sharing their distinct musical style and talent with the world. Aboriginals have also found success in athletics, with many participating in both Summer and Winter Olympics, as well as local sports franchises. In an effort to achieve higher political self-determination and increase economic development in local communities, tourism and ecotourism have become major industries in aboriginal communities. 

The religious beliefs of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are complicated and include elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity. Several kinds of religions have developed among the different Taiwan’s ethnic minorities groups. Deities worshipped by Taiwan’s ethnic minorities vary from place to place and group to group, but include a heaven deity, universe-creating deity, nature deity, Sili deity and some other spirits and ghosts.

Sacrifices include agriculture sacrifices (cultivation sacrifice, sowing sacrifice, weeding sacrifice, harvest sacrifice), hunting sacrifices, fishing sacrifices, and sacrifices and offerings to ancestors. Shamanism and folk religion are still strong in some places. Methods of fortunetelling, soothsaying and divining include bird-fortunetelling, dream-fortunetelling, water-fortunetelling, and rice-fortunetelling.

The aboriginal people also create literature and legends which are something similar to Tolkien’s books. I found a list and there are more online, but they are all heart warming and beautiful, and I don’t want to have to choose, so in your own time, feel free to give them a read here.

Links:
https://guidetotaipei.com/article/who-are-the-taiwanese-aboriginals
http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20110930-tribal-culture-survives-in-taiwan
https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/first-nations-taiwan-special-report-taiwans-indigenous
https://www.taichung.guide/taiwanese-aborigines/
http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Taiwan/sub5_1b/entry-3820.html
https://english.moc.gov.tw/information_207_76924.html
http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2012/10/31/2003546511
https://www.taiwandc.org/folk.htm


Special thanks to all my Taiwanese friends and all the people I have had conversations about this topic. Thank you for sharing your point of view with me and educating me in your culture.

Cultural Shock – Taiwanese Edition

As a Spaniard going to Asia for the first time, you are bound to encounter not only a different scenery or food, but also another culture. Even though I had studied Chinese at university and knew stuff about Taiwanese culture, I had quite a few moments where I felt really alien to the rest of the people surrounding me. These are things that I personally found weird or different to my own culture. It does not mean that I think it is wrong, just not the same as where I come from, so i thought I would share it here.

  • Respect for people

If you catch someone’s eye accidentally, they generally don’t shy away or look at you defiantly. Instead, Taiwanese people give you a slight nod with their head and usually also a little smile and a “hello”. When I go buy something at the supermarket or give money to people in the street market, they take it with two hands and give me another nod. It might have to do with the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, but whatever the reason I find it endearing. It reminds me of the fact that we are all humans at the end of the day and that we should treat each other with respect.

  • Spitting

It is commonly known that Chinese people spit in the street and it is a normal thing for them. I have seen people doing it in Spain or Europe, but it is frowned upon. People here, though… They prepare the spit, with the radio tuning noise, for a good minute. And then they spit. Apparently it is because they believe having something in your throat area is unhealthy, so it has to go out. It does not matter whether you are in the street, next to a store, in the toilet, washing your teeth. If you gotta do it, you do it.

  • Care in everything they do
Taiwanese coffee

I have been witness on several occasions on how much care and attention they put into making food or beverages. This might also have to do with the Japanese occupation, but again, it is endearing and I love seeing Taiwanese people being immerse in their craft. It is mesmerising. Particularly I have seen it in coffee shops.

  • Hygiene in restaurants/food establishments

On my first night in Taiwan, I went to a night market. Now, coming from living in London and working in restaurants the past 2 years, I know the standards and the safety and health laws by heart. I was surprised to see motorbikes next to food stands or the state of the water they used to boil dumplings. The Taiwanese night market I went to, in particular, had a “new” underground market where the floor was apparently (I say apparently because I did not put my shoe in there) flooded with liquids from the food cooked in the stands.

  • Temples

There are a trillion temples in Taiwan. Young people only go on the marked days and for tradition, but I find them really beautiful and peaceful. Some are for people of all sorts of different religions. The most practiced religions are Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Catholicism. I love to get into a random temple in the corner of a road and ask for the dragon or phoenix or whatever little figure they have in there for good luck for me and my loved ones. If you are interested in spiritual stuff, you can check out what I’ve written about this topic here.

  • Garbage truck

In Taiwan, there are not a lot of rubbish bins. Instead, there is a garbage truck. This vehicle blasts a specific melody and Taiwanese people go out their establishments and throw their garbage into the truck. There is a different truck and melody for recycled garbage.

  • Chinese signs

This is an obvious one, but one thing is imagining it and another to actually live it for yourself. Having to catch a train and having no idea what the signs say or which platform to go. This being said, they usually have the English version in big cities for a 2 second timeframe. So after those 2 seconds I was fine. Also, in restaurants, I’m like “eenie minie miny mo”, or I have to socialise. Another option is to look around to people’s plates and ask for another one not knowing what it is or the price.

  • The toilet

Now, there are the “normal” ones (European sitting WC) and the ones that are close to the floor (Turkish style). That was a given, sure. But what struck me was the fact that usually there is a sign explaining not to put your feet up the seat in the toilet. As well as that, they have another sing saying not to throw the toilet paper to the small rubbish. Now this makes more sense if you think that in the other toilets there is no paper, only a hose. Is it more sanitary? Maybe, but definitely different to the toilets I am used to.

  • Nature everywhere

I knew Taiwan had a lot of nature but I didn’t realise how much. Even in Taipei, 15 minute bus/tube away, you can find yourself in nature after a short hike. When you take the train and start exploring the whole island you see green and sea everywhere. It was a pleasant surprise coming from Madrid or London, where there are parks, sure, but for a hike you need to go to Scotland or something (maybe I haven’t actively looked for hikes as well, will give you that).

  • Food

Hunger is won’t be a thing in Taiwan. Every few steps, no matter where you are there is going to be a stand with food. If not, there will be a 7/11, or a bubble tea place, or a night market. Since coming here, I eat less but more often. Best of all, it is really cheap.

Taiwanese Night Market
  • 7/11

It is amazing how convenient this place is. In Taiwanese 7/11s, you can literally do anything here. Buy noodles and have them there, buy food, have it heated in the microwave and eat it there or take it to go, you can buy (questionable) coffee, you can buy first necessities, drinks… You will be reading like… well, like a supermarket, right? WRONG! You can also do your laundry, buy train tickets, pay your taxes, take money out of the ATM and a long etc.


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