Taiwan, I’ve done you wrong.

I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Taiwan.

When I think of the places I’d like to travel to in Asia, a National Geographic spread opens in my mind: the beaches of Thailand, the hills of Sri Lanka, the chaos of India, the rivers of Vietnam.
Yeah, I’ll admit it: I’m not particularly groundbreaking, here.

When it came time to plan for winter vacation, I knew I wanted to visit somewhere I wouldn’t normally get to on a typical Southeast Asia backpacking trip – somewhere I could check off my list, someplace interesting that would occupy me for the time being before I got to the places that I really wanted to go. I looked at a map, I poked around Kayak, and I impulsively cobbled together a few tickets to Taiwan and Hong Kong, with the mental note to catch a ferry to Macau at some point. I did have interest in all of these places, but none of them had particularly called out to me before. It was effectively as though I had spun a globe and jabbed my finger on it.

This is exactly why Taiwan knocked me on my ass.

I barely planned a thing; I had a couchsurfing host for the first few nights in Taipei, a guidebook I’d thieved off of a friend, and a vague scheme to, I don’t know, maybe find out more about the aboriginal cultures by visiting a museum or some villages or something. I was so lax about the trip that I didn’t start packing until midnight the night before, and just around 1 AM remembered that I should probably call my banks and find out my flight numbers.

It’s because I had no expectations. I had no expectations and no preconcieved notions, no idea of what the country would look like; I’d never seen pictures of the temples or countryside, I didn’t really know what to expect from the food, I had but a few survival Mandarin phrases crammed in my head. I came thinking that this was just something to do, a way to bide my time before I got to the places I really wanted to see.

So, Taiwan, I confess: I’ve done you wrong. And damn, did you get me back.

I didn’t expect everything you threw at me, every experience that left me feeling bowled over, everything that blindsided me.

I didn’t expect the fervour and energy of your temples, the sting of incense in our eyes, the swell of the pressing and powerful in the chanting of monks, the quiet and shaking calls of your pilgrims, the spill of tombs over hillsides.

I didn’t expect to see a jungle taking over a city, the waves of green tendrils hanging over balconies and doorways, the forests of flowers at all altars, the sight of banyans engulfing houses.

I didn’t expect the blinding neon of your nightmarkets, the absolutely unbelievable vegetarian food, the sudden whir and roar of a crowd of scooters barrelling through the city streets.

And most of all, I didn’t expect the people I met: all the open and unassuming smiles of those curious about a foreigner, the kindness with which people approached me, and above everything – above absolutely everything – the hospitality of those I stayed with. I didn’t expect to be invited to step into the path of live fireworks to celebrate the New Year, to spend days biking to the sea in perfect summer weather, to ride on the back of scooters, to sing at the top of our lungs in the car, to party until dawn and watch markets open in the rain on the ride home.

I didn’t expect anything from you, Taiwan, but you certainly didn’t take this as an excuse to not shock me to my core.

So, Taiwan, I’ll take this as a lesson: sometimes you don’t need to plan, to obsess, to dream, to get the most out of the world around you. Sometimes you don’t need to expect anything from a place to be awed, knocked over sideways, and witness the incredible beauty and electricity and intense, intense seduction of the foreign.
Sometimes you just need to spin a globe, and jab your finger down.

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22 Responses to Taiwan, I’ve done you wrong.

  1. Oneika the Traveller 27 March, 2011 at 00:10 #

    Gorgeous gorgeous photos! Where did you go in Taiwan, exactly? I went to Taipei last year, but only for a weekend. Same as you, I wasn’t particularly excited about going, and the only reasons I had purchased the tickets in the first place was because they were cheap and it was a nice, close, weekend getaway from Hong Kong. Unlike you, I wasn’t bowled over by the place, but I’m still glad that I went and saw (a very small part of) it with my own eyes!

    • na-o-mi 28 March, 2011 at 06:00 #

      I went to Taipei & surroundings, Taichung & Lugang, and Tainan. I totally missed every place that I kinda sorta thought I might try and see (Taroko Gorge, Lanyu Island, Sun Moon Lake……) but obviously the places I did get to still impressed me ;)

  2. Valerie 27 March, 2011 at 10:26 #

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Taiwan! A few years ago I was in the same position about Taiwan, but as I was planning my trip to China, I realized that stopping there would be an essential part of the journey. Then when I began to research places to visit, I became fascinated and couldn’t wait to go. Before visiting it was easy to fall back on the perception that it’s a smaller, cleaner, more democratic version of China, but now I realize that there’s so much more to its culture and history. One thought I couldn’t get over was the fact that it can’t be recognized by the UN, but that’s part of what makes that country so interesting. I also loved that it wasn’t overly touristed, like a lot of other Asian countries – it made my experience all the more organic.

    And I agree about the people – they’re so incredibly warm I don’t think I’ve ever felt so welcomed anywhere else.

    • na-o-mi 28 March, 2011 at 06:02 #

      Yeah, the culture and history are so, so unique and so fascinating….I do really wish I had been able to find out more about the aboriginal cultures when I was there, but not only did I totally miss out on all of the ‘traditional’ villages, but the Museum of Formosan Aborigines in Taipei was closed for the entire time that I was there!!
      Sometime to look forward to next time, I guess ;)

  3. Elizabeth 27 March, 2011 at 16:34 #

    Love your photos and blog, like always! This inspires me to branch out and embrace the unfamiliar and seemingly mundane along my own travels! The world is a brilliant, surprising place!

    seriously though, you have mad coding skills or what girl? my blog looks like 14 year old girls compared to yours! i am so behind in the times:)

    • na-o-mi 28 March, 2011 at 06:04 #

      Girl I have no coding skills. Everytime I make one change to this thing it’s like a 3 hour ordeal. The next time we get coffee I’ll tell you all the tricks I know ;)

  4. thepinaysolobackpacker 27 March, 2011 at 20:47 #

    awww! I am deeply moved by your post. yeah, sometimes we take for granted some places because of what we see or read online but when we actually get there, suddenly we fall in love with the place…and most of the time it’s not because of the great landscape or seascape but it’s about the culture and the character of the people. keep exploring! :)

  5. marie 29 March, 2011 at 08:15 #

    wow, it looks amazing! I love the pictures and your writing is really inspiring! I’m adding you on bloglovin’ so I can keep track, hehe:-)

  6. Kirstin 29 March, 2011 at 20:37 #

    I was wondering what you’ve been up to lately! I love these photos and the feeling of being proven completely wrong about a place (in a good way, of course).

  7. Ekua 30 March, 2011 at 21:42 #

    Great post. Sometimes the best trips are the ones you go into with no expectations!

  8. Beatrix 6 April, 2011 at 10:15 #

    seems amazing!

  9. Gabby / Gypsy*Diaries 7 April, 2011 at 06:32 #

    My best friend lived in Taiwan for a year and now I’m really sorry I haven’t visited her! :(((


    P.S: I’m giving away FIVE supercool Travel Photography guides.. I thought you might be interested! :D

  10. megan 13 April, 2011 at 01:12 #

    I loved this post! Those photos are amazing, especially those from the temple. The company I used to work for worked with a travel company in Taiwan, so I already had an inkling I might like to go there, but it definitely isn’t even a blip on the travel radars of most people, and it should be! It should be more than a blip especially if your experiences are anything to go by :)

  11. Anne 18 April, 2011 at 15:45 #

    Oh wow, these photos are amazing. I love your writing too.
    Most people I know who travel to Taiwan come back with photos that all look a bit take-it-or-leave-it (austere government buildings, cute kids in a park). You’ve really shown energy and personability in yours. It makes me want to visit sometime!

  12. Seri 20 April, 2011 at 04:51 #

    Wow these photos are lovely and you make Taiwan sounds so interesting now, like you it’s never a place I really thought of visiting but after reading this I’m definitely adding it to my list of places I want to visit in Asia (although soon I may as well just scrap the list and just say “all of Asia” because it’s growing so large XD)

  13. Lauren Quinn 28 April, 2011 at 02:32 #

    Alright. You’re like the tenth person I know who’s raved about Taiwan. It’s on the list. ;)

    • na-o-mi 28 April, 2011 at 19:41 #

      Girl, you would LOVE. IT. LOVE IT!!

  14. Hati 11 January, 2012 at 23:13 #

    dein post hat mich dazu motiviert taipei zu besuchen. war am wochenende da und es war großartig. viele liebe grüße aus hong kong!

  15. caroline 17 January, 2014 at 09:06 #

    Your description is so poetic, and the photos are brilliant! I’m very tempted to explore Taiwan where I wouldn’t have thought of it before. I ‘specially like the fact that it’s not overly touristy: a real plus+++!

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