They are so welcoming. It’s in their blood to be helpful. Whenever I open a map in Taipei to figure out where I’ve wandered, someone always stops to help. Most people speak great English – and ironically, they all apologise to me that their English is 'not so good', when it’s clearly GREAT compared to my Chinese.
...and I’m also talking about the food
There is food everywhere.
I know every city has food but Taipei seems to have food proudly ON DISPLAY everywhere I turn.
Food stalls and food buffets.
Food at Shilin night market.
Food, glorious food, everywhere I go. I have shrimp dumplings for breakfast and drink sweetened soy milk. And I try peanut-flavoured ice at Shilin night market – it's weird but it works.
This is teppenyaki, one of my favourites, cooked by serious-looking chefs with Edward Scissorhand control of metal cooking implements.
Teppenyaki is spicy deliciousness cooked in front of your eyes on hot metal plates – I have omelette with scallions, crab cooked with chilli, rice and hot buttered cabbage. Yum yum yum.
...and there’s my writer friend Lisa too
I go to visit Lisa and her family in central Taiwan. This is Lisa and her Mum - they look like sisters.
I met Lisa whilst travelling in Laos in April. One of the joys of travelling is meeting up with people again in their country of origin. Lisa is a technical writer by day. And she has also translated children’s books from English into Chinese. These books were written by scientist Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy, no less, including George's Secret Key to the Universe.
Lisa and I talked about the translation of works of fiction as a creative writing process – Lisa has to hear the voices of her characters in English language first. And then she must find those characters' voices in Chinese. A fascinating job.
We drive to Lisa’s family home in the mountains.
Above the clouds, we are surrounded by beetle nut trees and blankets of grapevines.
Lisa’s family feed me lovely Taiwanese food – fish baked with ginger, asparagus, wood ear, rice, carrots and green vegetables. And for breakfast, the most delicious egg in pastry and fruit bread.
It’s a very playful and natural gathering. We play the international game of Paper, Scissors, Stone.
We look at the bugs on the window frame.
We search for frogs and fireflies.
We take pictures of a yellow butterfly in the house.
And we eat peaches from the tree in the morning.
And, next day I head to Taroko National Park...
For any aspiring writers, this place is an abundant source of creative inspiration....
I do my goldfish impression most of the day – saying ‘wow, wow, wow’ at the scenery, accompanied by an Aussie guy who laughs at me most of the way.
There are great names for the sights in Taroko National Park, straight from children’s adventure stories – such as Swallow Grotto, Taroko Gorge, the Tunnel of Nine Turns and Eternal Spring Sunshine.
And you’re warned about the danger of rocks falling on your head – which adds an adrenalin aspect to the day.
The road that was cut around Taroko's sheer mountains wows me the most with tunnels right through the limestone.
Built in the 1960s, sadly over 200 people lost their lives in the construction. They are remembered at a number of temples built into the mountainsides.
The last stop in my tour of the Taiwanese countryside is a pebbly beach...
It reminds me a bit of Brighton beach. Kids run across the stones.
Dogs eat ice cream cones.
And this is where I decide the Taiwanese people are so gorgeous that I could eat a whole one – so I choose one from the beach and dip his feet in soy sauce.
Back in Taipei, I go to the hot springs for a dip...
You soak yourself like a prune in water, the temperature is above forty degrees in the hottest pool. Then you immerse yourself in the cool plunge pool – to stop yourself from cooking.
Oh, and don't forget the bath hat if you want to fit in!