Taiwan (at least Taoyuan and Taipei) has a very different character from any city I've visited in Japan (though Osaka comes closest). Like Japan, people here are very nice. Unlike Japan, the accent and general brusk nature of conversation makes it often sound like people are annoyed at you when they are talking to you. This was especially true at the Tourist Information Center. That said, people here generally speak a very high level of English, which was invaluable to me to navigate my way around. Only one very old woman (who helped me out at the Shilin train station when I got off the train too early and ended up at the wrong one) and all of the cabbies (I've found that in both Japan and here, cabbies just don't speak English), everyone else has had a minimum of conversational English, which was amazing.
Here are some random thoughts I had when I got a bit lost (wrong train station) heading to the National Palace Museum in Taipei:
Seems there are 2 shilin stations. I misread the map, but not tragically. Now I can say I've been lost in taiwan! Most of communication is nonverbal, thank god. Unfortunately, all of my gestures these days are Japanese. So I am overly courteous and keep accidentally using Japanese when I want a word I don't know in Chinese, even tho English is the better choice here. 3:27pm.
On the bright side, I'm feeling good about my ability to navigate this and the overall English level is higher here than in Japan. Except with cabbies. Old ladies manning the bus timetable have a few words of English. Cabbies have none. At least the female cabby who drove me to the station though didn't have bugs in her cab! 3:35pm
Of course now because i screwed up I'm on a local train. I may or may not be making it to this museum. Sigh. On the bright side, I'm really experiencing life on taiwanese public transport. 3:41pm
And I did see one other Westerner looking guy heading to another city. 3:42pm
The lady who makes the train announcements keeps talking of Taipei as though she is promising an upcoming train but I think she is leading me on. Like an incomprehensible siren over scratchy speakers, she says shenme shenme Taipei. And like a lovesick fool, I want to believe. 3:44pm
I miss Japan, where the train was always on time unless someone threw themselves in front of it. 3:46pm
Yay!!! The train has arrived!!! 3:47pm
On the bright side, I got a much better seat for taking pictures the second time around. Taiwan has many similarities to Japan. Outside most windows you can see people drying clothes but most decks have bars over them, something you just don't see in Japan. 3:53pm
The woman in front of me, a thin, possibly early 60's in age woman with black hair with distinct strands of white hair that is curlier than the black, is praying on beads. She's running them between her thumbpad and curled index finger, counting one by one with her eyes closed. Maybe Buddhist? I'd love to take a picture of her but I don't know how to do it without being rude. She's wearing glasses and from the side her face is shaped a little like a kidney bean. 3:59pm
I gained an hour when I came to Taipei and lost it again on the train. 4:01pm
After that, I met some wonderful new friends. First Gerald and J.L., who not only helped me find the National Palace Museum, but also told me what to look at when I got there. The Jade exhibits were INCREDIBLE.
Then I went back to Shilin station (in Taipei) and enjoyed delicious Taiwanese Hot Pot (Shabu Shabu in Japanese) and met two more great new friends (Ivan and Carol...these are their English names) who not only bought me dinner but also showed me to the Shilin Night Market, which is the most famous night market in Taiwan. And gave me the ins and outs of the two most popular Bubble tea places in that area, one which specializes in Northern Taiwan Bubble Tea, and the other which specializes in Southern Taiwan Bubble Tea. I tried the Northern Taiwan Style and was very happy! (and I treated them, which was the least I could do since they bought me dinner). My hotel wireless is too slow to upload my pics or video, so you'll have to wait until Philly to see their faces :)
Now to the plane!
PS: They put sugar in Mugi-cha here. It seemed sacrilegious.