After a week in yet another new city, it’s wrap-up time again to see how it compared to other places as part of my ‘Can I live here?’ experiment as I travel. (I’ve already done wrap-up posts on Beijing, Shanghai and Yangshuo so check those out too 😉 ).
So, city number four, here we go: Can I live in Taipei?
Oh wonderful Taipei, where do we start? From the get-go I felt pretty at home in Taipei. You know that feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time and you feel like you’ve somehow met them before? That was me with Taipei. Perhaps it was the familiar combination of mountains, water and cityscape which reminded me of homey Hong Kong.
Let’s see how Taipei fared in my ‘points and categories’ comparison. As I’ve said before, I’ve only employed a ‘rating out of 5’ system so I have an easy way to rank and compare each city! I’m not wanting to judge anyone else’s homeland harshly!
Compared to China, Taipei was definitely more ‘western’. First thing I noticed was that no one stared at me for being caucasian/white! Hurrah! (It was nice to take the subway without feeling like there were several pairs of eyes on you). Also, people were very much into proper queueing etiquette. Everyone was finally on my British-wavelength! The traffic and driving was definitely much more orderly than in China and people would always obey traffic light signals.
And there’s no internet censorship in Taiwan! A breathe of fresh air after almost a month in China. And another Chinese bug-bear of mine was gone – spitting! The Taiwanese definitely seem less ‘Chinese’ in their mannerisms. I wouldn’t say Taiwan was necessarily more western (although Taiwanese etiquette is definitely more in line with Western cultural norms) but perhaps Taiwan is just more polite? I’ve had confirmation of sorts about this from a Taiwanese friend! As in Japan is a very polite society but you certainly wouldn’t say Japan had a western culture.
In general, I just loved the atmosphere of Taipei. I was very much like a laid-back version of Hong Kong – less people and a slighter slower pace of life!
I would say the general level of spoken English amongst locals was better than that of Shanghai but more noticeably, I felt locals were more willing to help in translating things for me or getting me English help, even if they themselves couldn’t speak English. A special shout-out goes to the man in the first laptop repair centre I went to who translated out loud for me their terms and conditions written in Chinese! And the second centre I went to the first man I spoke to wasn’t confident in speaking English so he helped me get the attention of his colleague who was more fluent 🙂 And when I went to a local coffee shop to catch up on some emails and read a book, there was a friendly elderly gentleman sat next to me. When he got up to leave, he apologised to me if him and his friend were talking too loud. I said of course they weren’t! He then asked me some friendly questions about why I was in Taipei and what I thought of it. He even gave me the biscuit that came with his coffee! So sweet!
Taipei has a brilliant and cheap public transport system. The main method of travel is the MRT (subway) which is extremely efficient and clean. I got a ‘top-up’ travel card which you just load money on to and tap in and out of stations. You can also buy single-journey tickets.
Buses are also relatively easy to take as well. If you can look up in advance the number of the bus route or the name or the route then you can fairly easily spot the bus you need to take because all the signs and bus destination banners are written in English as well as Chinese (unlike in Shanghai). To pay for bus travel you can use the same electronic card you use for the MRT. Easy 🙂
I didn’t take a taxi in Taipei but given the calmness of the roads and efficiency of the MRT, I assume these are easy and cheap to take as well. The fact they look like internationally renowned yellow New York taxis can’t be a coincidence! (Taipei is not well-known internationally compared to other capital cities so it can’t hurt to borrow another city’s ‘signature look’…).
My only transport-niggle in Taipei is that it’s not amazingly easy to get to the airport from the city. You could take a taxi but most people take a public shuttle-bus into the city. Although this is cheap and efficient, it can be confusing for a first-timer. Luckily, the lady I was renting my studio from had sent me instructions on how to take the bus. However, judging by most locals in Taipei, I’m sure if you asked for help someone would be more than happy to point you the right way in English.
Things to do/nightlife 4/5
Compared to Shanghai, I would say Taipei had more obvious things to do – check out my top 10 list. It also has a variety – you could come to eat, to shop, to learn about history, to see beautiful scenery or to do all the above. Although I didn’t try it out myself, Taipei is meant to have a great bar and club scene. Similar to Shanghai, one of the things I loved about Taipei was just exploring the back streets and seeing what each district has to offer! There’s also a decent offering of temples too like the fabulous Longsheng Temple.
Compared to China, Taipei has fabulous air quality. The weather itself was also beautifully sunny and it only rained torrentially on one day. I was extremely luckily seeing as I had visited in peak typhoon season! As you’d expect, it could get quite hot but I don’t remember it being nearly as tortuous as the heat-wave I’d experienced in Shanghai. So perfect weather all round! Taipei in general is a very clean city compared to the likes of Beijing/Shanghai. That makes exploring the interesting back streets that much more delightful.
Unlike Shanghai, Taipei doesn’t have much of a skyline (Taipei 101 being the only skyscraper in the city) but the streets are pretty lovely, especially at night with all the neon lights which I adore and remind me of homey Hong Kong. Depending which parts of Taipei you go to, some are ‘shiner’ than others but that’s no bad thing – the less shiny parts are simply historically charming rather than drab-looking.
Before I’d even been there a day I got the sense I would like Taipei as much as Shanghai, and possibly more so. I wasn’t wrong! I couldn’t tell you why exactly but I just felt very at home in Taipei. Perhaps it was familiar things that reminded me of Hong Kong (like the leafy mountains looking down upon the city and the cultural mix of East/West) or just the amount of friendly locals I met that swayed it for me. So would I choose to live in Taipei? Absolutely. But would I choose it over Hong Kong? I’m not sure. Taipei was wonderful but I think it lacked just that little bit of a spark I’ve always found in Hong Kong. They call it the ‘lion rock’ spirit! Whatever happens, I will definitely be making more trips to Taipei to explore further and I cannot wait to one day visit the rest of Taiwan too. I have the possibly-crazy idea to explore all of Taiwan by travelling around the whole island in one long trip… Watch this space!
Have you been to Taipei before or perhaps you live there? What do you think of the city? Tell me in the comments below!