Friday, April 8, 2011

Signs, Snakes, and 7-Elevens

Taiwan was not what I had expected. I was expecting it to be stimulation overload mixed with heaps of culture shock. And though it was different than Japan, I think I had more culture shock going to Korea, or even Hawaii, than I did in Taipei. 

This seemed strange to me at the time. Why did I feel so at ease in Taipei? So after finishing my trip and looking through my photos, I came up with 3 possible reasons as to why this was.

1) Writing:

I know I said Korea felt like Japan, and I know Korean is gramatically similar to Japanese. And even though the Korean alphabet reminded me of katakana, it didn't look like Japanese. Chinese, however... it is Japanese (or rather, Japanese kanji comes from Chinese characters). This by itself made Taipei feel like Japan. I can't understand everything (I'd say it's well less than half). Yet there is comfort in being able to read the same signs I do in Japan. Even knowing where to find an exit, 出口, makes traveling in a foreign country a lot less intimidating.

This proved to be particularly helpful in restaurants. Granted we couldn't read what was said (though sometimes our guess in Japanese was similar minus the intonations). However, when we saw something on a menu, we could break it down. “Hmmm... 牛肉 something... 油 with something... something else... and 麺. That sounds good. Let's get this oily beef noodles dish.” 

This leads into the next topic...

Sometimes being able to read it made it worse...

2) Weird food:

I wouldn't say I go out of my way to eat weird stuff. However, if the opportunity presents itself, it is a good cultural experience. In Taipei, these opportunities were plentiful. In order of weirdness factor from least to most, I ate chicken feet (semi-normal), stinky tofu (no joke, it was really stinky), ostrich yakitori, various snake parts in liquid form, and a bug jello-like concoction. 

I can't seem to keep away from snake...

So Taipei has its weird food. But what about Japan? Many cultures find the idea of raw fish repulsive. That may not be strange for you (or me), but I've also had both chicken and beef prepared as sashimi. And basashi... well, not many other cultures eat horse meat cooked, much less raw. I still think the best/craziest culinary experience for me is when I had squid so fresh, the tentacles were still writhing about and sticking to the roof of my mouth as I ate it.

In other words, Japan has its weird moments too. So although the food culture is vastly different in Taiwan (night markets are awesome), the weirdness factor of its dishes didn't faze me... well, at least no more than Japan.

3) Convenience:

Taipei reminded me of Japan in terms of convenience. First of all, much like Japan, the public transportation is excellent. We never waited longer than 4 minutes for a train and most of the time, we would board well within a minute. We even went to Beitou, the once difficult to reach, northernmost district, now just an easy MRT ride away.

I can't talk about convenience without at least mentioning convenience stores. Japan has a コンビニ every block. This may be a slight exaggeration (very slight), but you never have to walk very far to get a drink, grab a snack, or find an ATM. 

As for Taipei...

Yes this is a picture of a 7-Eleven from inside another 7-Eleven.

Seems the same to me...


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