Welcome to Taipei!
The capital city of Taipei, Taiwan, is a unique mixture of old and new architecture making it the large, contemporary city it is today. This city is popularly known for its exciting foods, manifold attractions, and lively night-life. This guide will lead you from your Taipei hotel and around the wild city through the eyes of a local.
Worldwide locals know a secret: Taipei is a city of surprises and superstitions.
Taipei’s experience is best described by its food. It’s an explosion of a variety of flavors, unfolding on your tongue all at once. Taipei will always amaze you with something new. Traditional food is exciting because of the broad tastes and the metaphorical meanings that inspire its dishes. Visit during the Dongzhi (Winter Solstice) Festival, when locals make tangyuan. This historical Chinese dish, comprised of rice balls boiled in a sweet soup, symbolizes reunion and completeness.
If you are vegetarian, stay away from black tofu. Contrary to most tofu dishes, this one is soaked in blood. And pig blood curd, also known as blood tofu, is a popular street food. Another controversial item is stinky tofu; fermented for a couple of months in milk and shrimp, it certainly deserves its name.
Worldwide Local Tip: Try betel nuts! Chewing them gives you a cooling sensation and sense of euphoria. Even though it is not the healthiest or most lady-like/gentlemanly option, it definitely gives an insight into the culture. Growing in palm trees, betel nut are used similarly to tobacco or caffeine. The arecoline in the nuts causes alertness, increased stamina, and a sense of well-being. Trying this is one of the unique things to do in Taipei.
Religion in Taipei: Architecture and Culture
For another colorful, unexpected, experience visit the temples. Locals have an inspiring attitude towards religion here. Many temples show several gods coexisting together. Under one roof, you might see someone praying on their knees, someone else bowing, another person meditating. In regards to their religion, locals never provide a straightforward explanation. They might say something like, “I am Christian, however, when my daughter was getting married, I prayed to Hindu gods, because they seem to be more familiar with matters of love. When I had financial problems, I asked for help from Chinese gods, as they have a better grasp on the economy. As for your god, what superpowers does he have?”
The gods do not seem to mind sharing the space. They also provide answers to life’s dilemmas. You can ask your question by throwing two half moon shaped wooden pieces. If they fall on the same side, the response is no. If they land on opposites, the gods are in your favor.
For more elaborate inquires, there is another method of guessing the gods’ will. Shake a box, with numbered sticks in it, until one of them falls out. Each digit has a corresponding pre-written note, stored in a cabinet with dozens of tiny drawers. The clues are similar to what you’d find in fortune cookies. These heavenly letters are in Chinese, but you can ask a local monk for the translation.
Some temples resemble amusement parks, with huge vivid statues or entrances that lead through a dragon’s mouth.
Worldwide Local Tip: Do not let the modern look fool you. In Taipei, time stands still, and locals are often very superstitious. Despite having a highly educated population, with a world-class tech industry, many Taiwanese would prefer to stay out of a ghost’s way. They simply don’t see the point of messing around with supernatural powers. Some of the things or ideas they are superstitious of are umbrellas, the number four, whistling at night, and putting chopsticks upright in a rice bowl.
One legend that might make you fall in love with this land of wildest imagination is the superstition about accidentally marrying a ghost bride. All it takes--to be committed to marriage to a dead woman--is finding and picking up a red envelope from the street. When a girl dies before she can marry, her parents are supposed to drop a red envelope with money around the city. Then they wait for a man to find it, and that if he does--that’s it, they are married now!
Here, ghosts are not only brides, but they are also hotel guests. There is a local ritual to assure your peaceful sleep when staying in a hotel. Before entering for the first time, knock, and then go in and immediately flush the toilet. This should give ghosts enough time to leave.
Not all of the superstitions are as innocent. Pointing at the moon, with your index finger may get your ear cut off. Doing so is considered disrespectful to the moon goddess Chang’e, and she won’t hesitate to punish you mercilessly. It is said to have even more consequences in your next life, as once a person pierces their ears, they cannot be reincarnated as a man.
Worldwide Local Tip: Never refer to Taiwan as part of China. Taiwanese are very proud people and rightly so. They have an amazing, vibrant and independent culture.
Enjoy Your Visit!
When you feel like taking a break from the city, rent a motorbike and wander around! There are beautiful wild beaches, lush tropical forests, and ocean cliff roads to discover as you enjoy the lovely Taipei weather. Thanks to these attractions and more, Taiwan should be on every worldwide local’s bucket list.