"Love at First Sight" and "Lost in Translation" is how I usually describe the experience living in Taiwan as a foreign teacher. The love of traveling and teaching is what inspires me to take the opportunity to teach abroad. Upon arrival at the Taoyuan International Airport and seeing a glimpse of the island, Taiwan offers many interesting features that are very hard to ignore. These are a combination of modern and ancient culture, friendliness and hospitality of the local residences, and the diverse original Taiwanese food available everywhere. My first impression was that I feel like I found a home away from home.
The beautiful combination of modern and ancient cultural display surrounding the country are unbelievable. Coming to Taiwan, I am reluctant and do not really know what to expect. As a teacher, my goal is always to focus on the success of my students' learning. With this in mind and to help me educate them better, I made it a mission to understand the community where they live in. During my free time, I explore around and visit some of the most unforgettable places. First, I visited Taipei. In the city, I stopped by the famous Taipei 101. Stepping in one of the world's tallest buildings was surreal. The iconic tower's gorgeous architecture is so mesmerizing. The mixture of modern design that is embedded with cultural texture is symbolic. Inside, it has the fastest elevator that goes 90 plus stories in just 35 seconds. On top of the building, located at one of the most popular tourist attraction, the observation deck allows you to see the wonderful landscape of Taipei City. Second, in the heart of the city, I enjoyed wandering around the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. It is a great place to gain understanding and appreciation of the history of Taiwan. While sightseeing, having a wild imagination at times, I felt like I was watching an old movie. Witnessing the extraordinarily attraction, brings the sense of living back in time. Most significantly, the ambiance of the Hall inhabit the message of freedom with its very calm and peaceful arrangement. It is truly inspirational. Lastly, although many places are certainly worth mentioning during my exciting adventure such as National Palace Museum, Fo Guang Shan National Museum, Ruins of Fort Zeelandia, and Maokong Zoo to name a few, it is the number of temples everywhere that really caught my attention. The intricate details engraved on each walls and the vibrant ornaments displayed inside and outside of the temple are admirable. It shows how people in the community are accustomed to paying respect to their gods, spiritual ancestors, and religion. The traditional practice of burning incense and spirit money, and giving food offerings while worshiping are seen practice throughout the establishments.
The unlimited amusements of Taiwan certainly helps comfort my aching heart being away from home. However, what really contain my emotions is the diverse selection of delicious original food prepared by the locals on a daily basis. My students suggest Shilin Night Market to try and enjoy famous delicacy such as fried stinky tofu, scallion pancake, pig’s blood cake, soup dumpling, steam bun, pidan tofu, and so much more that makes my mouth salivate while writing about it. These street food are made from family recipe passed from generation to generation. Night markets in Taiwan are usually available in many areas. It is a tradition that happens every night where friends and families gather to unwind after a long day of work. So, I gave it a try. On my first day at the market, I couldn’t describe how I was feeling. I was like a child in the candy store with my eyes wide open. Food stands are everywhere selling their specialty menus. The good thing about it is the night market vendors were serving small portions. By the end of the night, my stomach almost exploded filled with almost everything you can find in the market. The market is like heaven on earth; everyone is happy and has a wonderful time.
Furthermore, the food is not complete without bubble tea as a refreshment. Bubble milk tea is definitely my favorite and it's a great compliment to any food. This drink consist of black tea, black sugar, non-dairy creamer, and chewy tapioca pearls. The texture of the boba and the blend consistency makes me addicted on this beverage. Some of my to-go stores are 85°c, Coco Tea, Tiger Sugar, 50 Lan, Xing Fu Tang, and Ching Shin Fu Chuan Tea Station.
Noticeably, most bubble tea shops have their own specialties. For brand recognition, each store has unique decorative style. The similarities are on their menus; it is easy to understand and have an English translations as well. For convenience, ordering is organized with areas to order and pick up stations for lines to flow smoothly during pick hours. As a costumer, you are able to see the staff making drink which is really fun and entertaining.
The bubble tea store that I really love is 50 Lan. The shop gives outstanding customer service and holds great story as it's been open since 1994. Originally, owner Momma Ma owned a shop selling Taiwanese fried chicken. Due to its popularity, customers started to ask her to sell drinks along with the meals. After her son finished serving in the military, they opened the first street vendor style beverage booth. It is designed by the son, handmade and manually constructed by dad, and hand-stitched green and white striped canvas top cover by the daughter. It cost just about NTD$10,000. Then, with a sleeve of cups, a bucket of fructose, fresh fruits, 1 kg of black and green tea, they started to sell drinks. Business went very well but they didn't have a name, so it was hard for their customers to remember. One day, the son saw a Japanese surname called "50 Lan". The original thought was merely simple to remember. However, it has become their official store name until now.
Back then, since it was complicated to prepare fresh fruit juice and tea beverage, 50 Lan gradually started to focus on more tea beverage. In addition, street vendor style facility was too small to function. After one year of operation, it expanded its business and changed to a storefront. Since then, 50 Lan has franchised and opened more than 500 stores in Taiwan. The secret of their success comes from maintaining the high quality of perfectly portioned milk tea and working closely with franchisees who hold the same interests and goals.
Xing Fu Tang is also on my top list of to-go tea places. Although Xing Fu Tang just opened in recent years, it has become one-of-a-kind cultural experience and something other tea shop cannot offer. The story of happiness, Xing Fu, started from childhood memory from grandparents to grandchildren. The tea shop is well known for its signature "stir-fried" brown sugar boba which is cooked in the traditional way. To dedicating the memory of grandmother's traditional method, Xing Fu Tang continues to pass forward its taste of happiness for each customer. Each boba is coated with brown sugar comparing to regular sugar glazed boba. With its unique drink mixing process, server quickly scoops boba then forms "tiger stripes" from liquefied brown sugar in each cup. Locals also call this method "the happiness pattern" inside of the cup. After adding a rich creamy milk, sprinkle of brown sugar powder is then added on the top and torched for a caramelized finished. I love the caramelized layer that gives a crisp taste bits of brown sugar throughout the drink. It taste fresh and truly a joyful experience from start to finish slurping it.
In such a short time, I am pleased with all the things that I observed and experienced. Taiwan is certainly a dream destination for travelers and food lovers. Moreover, local people are just naturally friendly and hospitable. Most of the time, they are very accommodating. When asking for help, even though they cannot speak English, they will try their best to offer some kind of assistance. Most people that I meet are wonderful host. They will go out of their way to make sure that I am enjoying myself and feel safe at all times. They make an effort to engage and show kind gestures welcoming you as guest with arms wide open.
I am glad to have accepted the opportunity to come and teach in Taiwan. It has been a truly "Love at First Sight" experience witnessing the natural beauty of the country. A must-try dishes that local residence served with pride and ownership makes Taiwan worth exploring. Again, at this moment, still “Lost in Translation” trying to find the right words to describe how grateful I am to get acquainted with many kind, friendly, and hospitable people in the community. Honestly, only time will tell, permanently living away from home is maybe worth considering.