Revisiting Taiwan

In terms of jetlag immunity and high layover tolerance, perhaps my travel bug owes a lot to near-annual Taiwan trips since the tender age of one and a half; my ears don’t even bother popping from the altitude anymore.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

That being said, I never really categorised my twice-removed homeland as another country to explore in its own right; it was always epitomised by Grandma’s noodle dish, Grandpa’s calligraphy brushstroke, catch-up sleepovers with my Taiwan-born cousins, midnight snacks from a 7/11 around the corner. I’d never picked up a travel guide, Googled the exchange rate, or known the names of historical landmarks and even cities. Grandma’s house was always just Grandma’s house—and anyway, Taiwan was more a collection of memories than physical locations; the faint smell in a certain stairwell can hurtle me straight back to a specific moment 10-odd years ago when my cousins and I raced down 3 flights as the onomatopoeic “ba-boo” man (the equivalent of a western ice cream truck) cycled by with his horn, but I wouldn’t even begin to know how to geotag it on Facebook.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Three years ago, I saw Taiwan almost as if for the first time; after having to “skip” the two summers prior, I’d never felt so confusingly homesick—not for my parents during countless overnight youth summer camps, not for my own bed after a month of sleeping amongst Amazonian critters, not for a closet full of clean clothes during my first longterm backpacking trip, not for the Florida sun after moving to England. I’d moved away from home, lived on my own for the first time, delved into fine arts, was devastated by and recovered from massive disappointments that forced me to grow up rapidly. My trip last week was similar in the sense that I’d become a different person with different interests; I moved even further away from home, studied in two of the world’s most bustling urban playgrounds, fell in love with design, and belatedly realised that one of my only regrets in life is not having spent more time to know my incredible grandparents.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

I think I’d always been a bit unfair, shutting Taiwan neatly away into a drawer along with other childhood relics—a bookmark collection, an old ring I dug up in the sandbox—when, as a rapidly modernising capital, Taipei is developing at a rate that perhaps exceeds my own. As a living and breathing thing existing within a span of twenty years, it’s subject to the same trends as any other city and its inhabitants. I was shocked, for example, to see a sign for wheat germ pineapple pastries and that stinky tofu was becoming more popular steamed than deep-fried. Time stood still in my drawer of relics; I had always assumed that even if I stopped eating white sandwich bread and cut down on saturated fats, Taiwan would be the place where I’d be happily forced to revert to old habits whenever I wanted a taste of childhood. On the street where my young cousins and I lovingly spent all our time between meals picking the ticks off of stray puppies’ ears, there now sits a shiny red Ferrari.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Of course there are constants, but my changing interests dictate my observations and activities. Last time I hopped from bakery to bakery; this time I spent hours and gigabytes interviewing my grandparents and filming nightmarket food stalls until, tripod less, my hands were unsteady and clothes saturated with the smell of grilled squid.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

And it’s fun this way, like playing catch-up with your oldest friend; the reality is you’re both absolutely different people, but nothing evolves that can erase or devalue those most impressionable early years spent together. No matter how much I grow and change, I’ll know that Taiwan—the way it was then, the way it is now, and the way it will be with every future visit—had and will continue to have a role in that.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

I’ll still have to nurse countless mosquito bites that linger long after I fly back home, I’ll still revel at the ever-expanding ramen cup noodle selection, I’ll still be able to enjoy intestines without risking total social damnation, and I’ll still remember to stock up on cute stationery supplies. I’ll still be waking up for fresh soy milk pressed from beans at the street stalls each morning, and I’ll still be cashing in on the cheap and convenient healthcare system that allows me to squeeze in a dental cleaning walk-in appointment a few hours before my flight. I’ll still bring 6 egg yolk red bean pastries back in my carry-on bag, and I’ll always have eaten half by the time I land. I’ll do all these things until they phase out of relevance—whether it’s because of my growing up or Taiwan’s. And for now, I’ll try a pineapple cake made with wheat germ.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

 

More Wandercrush travel essays:
Eating Thailand / Sailing Thailand / Eating Greece / A Day in Paris

 

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17 Responses to Revisiting Taiwan

  1. Irina, this post is honestly one of the most beautiful post I’ve read in quite a while. Your photography is beyond all words capturing all the little details of Taiwan you clearly care loads about! Your writing is also mesmerising, and I can sort of relate to you whenever I go back each year to Jakarta, and this post is making me miss it so much more because I had to ‘skip’ last december. But it’s just like you say, the place will always be there for us to come back to and reminisce as well as to discover new things.

    • wandercrush says:

      Ahhh thank you for such kind words, Irene! It means a lot to know that this post resonates with others in a similar sort of situation… and I can’t wait to hear about the next time you make up for missing a year of Jakarta :)

  2. Carl says:

    Géniales, les photos…Tout comme le blog, génial aussi !
    Carl, Fidèle lecteur

  3. paula says:

    So, so beautiful. Thank you, I feel richer.

  4. Tyler says:

    Such beautiful pictures! I’m really excited to be traveling to Taipei from Hong Kong (studying abroad there this summer) in two weeks. I think I’ll be using your childhood memories as part of my guidebook. <3 your blog and recipes.

    • wandercrush says:

      Thank you so much, Tyler! I really hope your experience in Taiwan will come to mean as much to your growth as it has for mine, however different our associations and experiences :) No matter what, max out on street food. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to eat my way through Hong Kong, too.

  5. Hey Irina, I absolutely LOVED this post. Your photos are completely gorgeous as always, but it was one of those rare posts that defied my rather ADD-esque internet-browsing tendencies. I loved reading your thoughts on place, memory, and change. Thanks for sharing. : )

    • wandercrush says:

      What a lovely and encouraging comment to read, Sarah! Thank you so much for managing to sift through and reflect upon this post. The content naturally means a lot to me, but it’s so heartening that this post also seems to have spoken to other readers like you.

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  7. Lori Mc says:

    Irina, this is fabulous. Made me long for time with my own grandparents and reminisce on those visits. Guess the next best thing would be to call my parents. Your pictures are beautiful! I am so proud of you! Thanks for sharing.

    • wandercrush says:

      Thank you so much, Ms. Lori. It means a lot to hear this from you :) I hope it did lead to a chat with your own parents, however brief or spontaneous!

  8. Cheng says:

    Hello there,

    I crossed your blog almost by accident when I noticed your recipe for zongzi.

    First of all, as a fellow Taiwan born but grew outside of it, I have to thank you for your words and pictures, it brings me back all the childhood memories of the place.

    Having went throught the same experience as you did in your life by moving away, when I was able to travel back to Taiwan out of my own means, I have been feeling strangely drawn back to it, every single year I long for the contry, the smell, the food, lights signs all those small details that makes it so unique for ppl like us who had/have grandparents back in there.

    From the bottom of my heart thank you for this post.

    • wandercrush says:

      Thanks for the wonderful sentiment, Cheng. I’m unspeakably happy and pleasantly surprised that this post speaks to others like me (and even others unlike us), so it’s absolutely MY pleasure to have conjured up a bit of your own childhood memories from Taiwan. I hope it never stops drawing you back.

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