Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ten Things I Love About Taiwan (and Five I Don't) part 2

I have now been living in Taipei for one year. For the most part, I love it here, but as with any place, there are a few things I don’t like so much. So I plan to post a series about the best and worst things for a foreigner living here.  Each day I’ll cover two things I love and one I don’t so I can keep things balanced. They are grouped based on themes, not based on how strongly I feel about them.

Things I like:

3. Beautiful Scenery
                I’ve always loved mountains, and Taiwan has more than its fair share of them, especially for such a small island. Over Chinese New Year last year, I went to Chia’yi, County in central Taiwan. I’ll never forget standing on top of the high mountains surrounded by tea bushes while what looked like a sea of clouds stretched out under my feet. Then there’s Hualien, a city surrounded by mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. A few weeks ago, I went swimming on a beach there where the mountains spread right up to the edge of the sea. Almost anywhere you go in Taiwan is incredibly beautiful, especially once you get away from Taipei.

4. Easily available hiking trails
                About a fifteen-minute walk from my house, a small street, about the width of a driveway, winds up a hill and is hidden by the trees. If you walk up this street, you soon come to a hiking trail that runs along the mountain side. It’s a fairly steep trek up the mountain, but when you get to the top the path intersects a beautiful trail that runs in both directions. To the right, it takes you toward Miramar, a famous mall that is known for its large ferris wheel. The path to the left winds toward the Grand Hotel, a large, beautiful building with classical Chinese-style architecture. If you continue past the hotel, it turns and you can go down near Shilin Night Market (which I’ll discuss in a later post). No matter which way you turn, you can get amazing views of Taipei City, most of which are dominated by the distinctive shape of the Taipei 101 building. I tend to think of Taipei 101as the Eiffel Tower of Taipei. If you look in the right direction, you can see it from almost anywhere in the city, and in many people’s minds it is a symbol of Taipei.
                But even if I didn’t live so close to this trail, I could still get to a hiking trail from most parts of Taipei. This is because Taipei is in a valley surrounded by mountains. While living here, I’ve learned that going hiking is one of the best things I can do for my mental health, both because it is exercise and because it lets me be out in nature. The wide variety of tree, flowers and butterflies I always see on the trail remind me of how unique and wonderful my experience here is.

Things I don’t:
2. Acid rain
                As much as I like hiking, I don’t do it if it’s raining outside. Taiwanese people seem a bit paranoid about rain, and they claim it’s because the rain here contains acid that will make your hair fall out. I don’t know if that is true, but I try to keep my head dry as much as possible. Why take unnecessary risks?
                Actually, the acid rain thing is part of a larger problem of pollution. The pollution in Taipei is nowhere near as bad as in certain other Asian cities I’ve lived in. But that’s not saying much – the other city had days where I could barely see buildings 30 feet in front of me because there were so many gray particles floating in the air. As I said, Taipei isn’t that bad. But on its worst days, that view of Taipei 101 I was talking about gets mostly blocked by smog. Some of my foreign friends have gotten nasty respiratory infections, which we think were caused by the pollution.  For what it’s worth, I’ve gathered that the pollution isn’t from Taiwan itself; it floats over from mainland China. But no matter where it comes from, it’s a downside to living here.

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