You are not guaranteed to have an interesting time when you visit Taipei. Your plane will arrive on time, a pleasant-looking, English-speaking guard will help you use the bus ticket vending machine, and the bus you will hop on to will have extremely comfortable seats where you will view Taoyuan’s gloomy cityscape. You will feel like pressing play on your iPod’s baby-making playlist because the weather demands it. Whitney Houston’s ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ might seem like a divine idea but Alicia Keys’s ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ will be a more inspired choice.
It will be cold but not oppressively so. You will be surrounded by attractive couples snuggling up to each other because there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.
It will be an uneventful hour-long ride from the airport to the main city, but you can make it more interesting when you get off at Taipei Main Station where you will wait for a cab, which is a great place to start a scene. In the waiting area you will notice that some people will have the same idea of spicing up their Taipei stay. A Caucasian male could turn up out of nowhere and steal your cab, and then get upset when the cab inches forward because the cabbie realizes he’s blocking traffic. There is just the slightest possibility that said male will be doing this not out of a sense of entitlement, but due to an encounter that no one but himself knows about, unless he decides to let everyone know what an awful time he had just had involving a flight attendant and an accidentally spilled coffee. For two minutes, you will be fascinated by his outrage, but you will see the next cab ready to take you and you will forget about this upset male.
You can make your first cab ride special neglecting to look up or remember the address of your hotel and behaving like a clueless tourist who opens himself up to victimization. If this happens, spend some time later in bed to thank Jesus and Jesus’s Daddy the Taiwanese are not the scamming kind. Taiwanese cab drivers have smartphones and they will look up your hotel’s address and might not show any sign of annoyance. They expect this sort of behavior and they have the decency to not let your carelessness affect their aura of professionalism.
While the cab driver checks her phone for your hotel’s location, you shall not utter a word because doing so will be fruitless as she does not speak English and anything you say will just be noise, an unwanted series of blubbering sounds that will drown out the Taiwanese pop on the radio that sounds so much more pleasant than your gibberish. You will spend the next 15 minutes marveling at your capacity for touristy neglect. It might not make for a great conversation fodder but, sometimes, a forgotten-hotel-address story is all you can ever have. You should not have nothing.
At a busy time as New Year’s Eve, all hotels and motels will put up a “No Vacancy” sign and will be unwilling to take latecomers. This is yet another opportunity to create some excitement. Four-star hotels will always be willing to make room for you, but why choose comfort when you can book an equally expensive hotel with a spectacular view of corrugated tin roofs?
Your idea of Taiwanese food will consist of noodles and good chicken but these will be hard to find when you get to a district like Zongshan where you will realize that there are more Japanese, Korean, McDonalds and KFCs lined up in the streets than noodle houses and colorful and probably filthy, flavorful, filling street food. You could settle for a random restaurant that serves a youthful clientele and proffers self-serve beer and rice stations. Choose a restaurant that, in place of a proper menu, offers “expert meal suggestions”, which you might have to brace yourself for weirdness, but could end up raving about the rest of the night. This could turn out to be the best-tasting meal you will ever have for the duration of your stay, but you will want some sort of self-torment, with the encouragement of willing companions, by not going to the same place and trying other food.
Due to a sense of adventure, you will find yourself sipping ‘Honey Black Tea’ that will taste like sewage. When you describe this beverage as ‘equal to sewer water in taste’, it will not only be because you’re obnoxious. Your companions might not know that your intentions are pure by warning them about this sewage-tasting tea.
You will wise up and choose a pizza place for your next meal and this place will wipe your sewage-sipping tasting tears away with their excellent-tasting peach iced tea (with real, live peaches) freshly picked from the rooftop peachyard.
Bars will be open until late and the bartender will serve you the warmth of a scotch and a conversation. You will feel like abusing this warmth because it will get cold very fast. There will be trips to memorial halls, night markets and Chinese temples, but you might want to experience, more than anything, the 24-hour bookstore. In Eslite Bookstore, you will see a bunch of college guys sleeping and who doesn’t like the sight of that?
It will take all of your willpower not to snuggle up next to the sleeping dudes who wisely pick the Architecture & Design section as their dozing area. The feeling this bookstore incites in a person is similar to the feeling incited by viral TV commercials where a young person grows up to be a doctor because when he was 9, a stranger gave his sick father soup because the boy and his father are dirt poor. I’m not sure how that relates to the boys sleeping in the bookstore but both scenarios are warm and inviting. All I know is, that is how a bookstore should be.