Part 2: Taiwan
I can’t tell you how much excitement and energy I get just thinking about visiting somewhere new. Often my mind drifts off into far unknown and foreign places, thinking about what could be waiting there to experience.
Taiwan had never been on top of my list, until I accidentally met the beautiful Ku from Taichung. She had a colourful little booth at a very average Hong Kong trade show 2 years ago, and since then we’ve met every 6 months in Hong Kong and recently China to collaborate on new ideas. Then it was time to make the journey to visit her in Taichung.
To say it was a long journey is an understatement. I flew out of Brisbane at midnight on Friday, and two planes, one shuttle bus, and a speed train to Taichung later, I arrived on Saturday afternoon. Taipei is a buzzing metropolis, with tall buildings, noise, and a crush of people eagerly going about their business. However, the minute I hopped on the train to go to Taichung there were vast areas of green landscape, an incredible picturesque countryside barely beyond the city.
I stepped off the train in Taichung to walk around the most beautiful, peaceful, and creative markets. They felt like I was walking around with a hint of classical music playing in the background - quiet, but alive with activity at the same time. The willow trees, the dark wood of the tea houses, unobtrusiveness of the people provided a welcome serenity after my long journey. One thing particularly shone through - they were proud of the work they were selling at the markets.
We spent Saturday afternoon strolling through the generous marketplace. These beautiful wares are everywhere in Taichung - antiques, handcrafts, and more can be found in shops built into restored homes, down alleyways, pottery stores, tea houses, and clothing stores. Their owners worked in everywhere from art houses to coffee houses, showcasing their art. The magical energy which came out of each of these little places was so unique - everyone had a passion which came through beautifully. Restorations and recycling are very popular here, creating whilst being very conscious of nature.
Finishing off the day with couch talks, brainstorming, and planning, some relaxation was desperately needed. An evening foot massage and special red bean soup - a taste I’ll never forget - ensured a sound sleep.
Stepping out of my hotel the next morning to get a coffee, the day was humming with possibility. The streets were wide and open as I perused the cafes and watched the fruit and vegetable markets open up. The quiet buzz from the day before returned - calm, but busy. We had the most amazing time wandering through the streets that day drinking bubble tea, exploring, talking, and sharing ideas, being inspired by the Taiwanese beauty and charm. Taichung is a place that I’ll return to, looking to uncover more of the gems.
Going back to Taipei was a shock after the peace of Taichung, immediately presenting a unique challenge - how do you navigate the underground in an unfamiliar city, let alone with 4 bags? Taking the Metro was stepping out of my comfort zone - if it hadn’t been for Keyur’s insistence, I wouldn’t have done on my own it on my first trip! I couldn’t read the language to save my life, but he navigated me through this daunting labyrinth to find our way to the hotel.
If he hadn't pushed me, I would have definitely gotten lost. However, this was the start of a new tradition … trying to use the metro in most countries I visit! I now catch the metro in India, China, Taiwan, London, Athens….. Just like exploring local cafes in the morning and markets during the day, it’s a fantastic way to quickly get a sense of the rhythm of the city, watching the locals and understanding more about their way of life. I love experiencing the normal ways of life in a place, for a short time feeling like a part of a place. Also, it’s the fastest way to get around!
After making it to the hotel totally unscathed, we were off to explore what would become the best place to hang out - Huashan 1914 The Creative Park. Once a run-down old winery, it has been converted into a vibrant hub that is home to lots of different stores, also playing host to a variety of exhibitions, installations, theatre productions, and performances. It was incredible. I couldn’t stop soaking in as much as I could, walking around four times to ensure I went into each shop, pottery store, painting exhibition, clothing boutique, bookstore, and theatre, taking every diverse form of expression. It was a very open space - not crowded or noisy - but on a hot and humid day, being able to duck in and out of these air-conditioned creative spaces gave relief.
Reaching the tree photography exhibition, I once again considered my journey. In a large concrete building, photos of trees had been enlarged into giant posters that hung from the ceiling. All the cracks in the walls were showing. Each photograph had a story about the tree, the photographer relating it all to life - resilience, history, beauty. In Taiwan, just like the rest of my travels, they were found in the most unexpected places