I've written about my time in Taiwan earlier on the blog*, but it really does represent one of the best experiences I've had traveling in a foreign country. Over the years, I've developed a recipe--largely centered around avoiding tourist traps and making sure you follow the locals--for my own successful travel. My time in Taiwan had all the right ingredients.
I actually found myself in Taiwan for work reasons, so I was automatically positioned to experience it in a way that many others wouldn't. I was the only American (practically the only English speaker) on each leg of my trip, determined to throw myself into the culture in hopes of really living it and avoiding, in any way, being thought an Ugly American. From the moment I stepped off the plane and my first host offered me a betel nut** to visiting with local fishing families who had been devastated by cancer from dioxin-laden water, I was consistently blown away by how much of themselves people were willing to share. I went places your Fodor's wouldn't send you and didn't have to worry about standing in line at tourist attractions, surrounded by everyone but locals.
My resolve to avoid acting like a typical American was pushed to the limits as I popped open the white styrofoam container that held lunch that first day. Resting on a bed of rice, staring up at me with its milky eye, was fish. This was no salmon filet but rather a whole fish, replete with coral scales, fins, and that damn eye. Day after day mysterious fish, gelatinous molds, and tiny plates of insects would appear before me. While I can't claim to have gone at them rapatiously, I did make sure to try everything. I developed quite the close relationship with rice during this trip. By the time I arrived in Tainan, I hit my stride and really enjoyed taro and stinky tofu from roadside shops***, chicken (finally...without the claws and beak!), and pearl cream tea (well before it was called bubble tea and sold all over the US...yeah, I went there).
I was blessed enough to have gracious hosts eager to show me the best and worst of their island. I spent my last day exploring more of Taiwan's natural beauty in the Meishan-Yakou Recreation Area. If you check out my original post, you'll see photos of the earthquake damage we traversed from earlier that same week.
I'm firm believer that travel should change you, not necessarily in an all-encompassing, Eat Pray Love kind of way but perhaps small changes blossoming in you. I like to think Taiwan allowed me to shine a little brighter and fight a little harder once I got home.
*Holy crap...2004?! Hard to believe I've been writing here that long. Thankfully someone invented Twitter because many of my early posts are akin to a twitter rant.
**Taking an unknown substance in a foreign country probably wasn't the smartest move in the book, but it's all about the experience, right?
***Shout out to Foodie and the Beatz.