Sometimes you don’t need a reason to go anywhere, and even if you did, wanting to learn more about your destination is reason enough, right? That’s why Taiwan is the perfect place to visit if you’re itching to get away from home, provided your home isn’t Taiwan. In the Republic of China aka ROC aka Taiwan, travelers have the opportunity to become acquainted with a host of customs they wouldn’t find anywhere else. Here are a few examples, and with any luck, some of these traditions just might make their way out west, too.
Pig’s Blood Popsicles and Fried Bread Sandwiches
One of the best ways to understand another culture is by its cuisine, and Taiwan’s is pretty amazing. Street-food vendors serve up things like pig’s blood cake on popsicle sticks with sticky rice and peanut powder, and fried-bread sandwiches with a filling made from more fried bread. There’s really no end to the variety of ways the Taiwanese serve food, either. Yes, places like the Louisiana State Fair dish out deep-fried Kool-Aid, but it never seems as though these types of creative culinary concoctions ever really make it off the fairgrounds. If only American street-food stands were as creative and risk-taking as Taiwan’s, we might have much less of a weight problem. At the very least, we’d never get bored.
Dining With Stuffed Animals
While we’re on the topic of food: in Taiwan, there doesn’t seem to be any stigma associated with dining solo. At the giant whale-shaped Dream Mall in Kaohsiung City, it’s OK to be a party of one at Magical Open Kitchen, because there are plenty of stuffed animals around to substitute real human beings. If only we could all eat in public with nothing but giant fantasy creatures to keep us company.
Fashionable Face Masks
Most people in Taiwan think it’s acceptable to wear face masks in public — not because they’re germaphobes, but because they’re actually sick. The mask is like a warning sign telling others to stay away, otherwise they could catch whatever it is the person’s got going beneath the mask. Actually, it seems a lot more effective than just relying on a phlegmy cough and runny nose as an excuse not to shake someone’s hand. How about letting people know they shouldn’t come near you at all? It doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your sense of style, either; the Taiwanese make super-cute masks in all kinds of materials and patterns, like pink vinyl and polka-dots for the ladies and grey flannel and pinstripes for the gents.
$1 Hot Springs
The Beitou Valley in northern Taipei smells like rotten eggs because all the volcanic activity produces a steady supply of sulphur in the water, which results in a series of completely natural mineral baths. But what sets these hot springs apart from those in the U.S. is the fact that if you live in Taiwan, you can take advantage of the public baths for something like $1 per visit. We don’t have $1 hot springs in the U.S. Do we?
Adorable Building Mascots
In Taiwan, a lot of buildings and/or businesses have their own mascots, like the Damper Baby at Taipei 101 — the world’s second-tallest building with a giant damper on top that keeps it from tipping over or something. Apart from sports teams, a few fast-food restaurants, and universities, mascots aren’t as important in America as they are in Southeast Asia. It’s not that difficult for a business to come up with a cute little figure that encapsulates the overall spirit of its brand — like a chipmunk in a bathrobe with a thermometer representing a major pharmacy or whatnot — so there’s no reason for why this concept hasn’t made its way across the Pacific, other than the idea that American businesses are just too cheap and/or lazy to invest in mascots. It’s really too bad, because the public has no way of visually connecting with a company they’re patronizing, which actually costs the business consumers’ brand loyalty — a much bigger price to pay than coming up with a simple mascot in the first place.
A New Way to Sort Airmail
Not only is Taipei 101 Earth’s penultimate skyscraper, it also has the world’s fastest elevator. And in addition to the so-called “damper,” the building’s highest level features a specialty mailbox that invites the public to sort airmail by relationship status. So, does the postal system stamp the letters according to which slot you choose? Either way, let’s hope this makes its way out west, too.
Stamp Stations Everywhere
Speaking of stamps, many Taiwanese destinations have ink-and-rubber-stamp stations, thereby encouraging visitors to decorate a piece of paper in order to prove they were actually there. It’s sort of like checking in on Foursquare and/or Facebook, only you’re the only one who knows about it — you and the piece of paper. Still, it’s nice to physically engage with different sites on this kind of a tactile level, and a lot more worthwhile (and indelible) than occasionally tapping into some kind of GPS-based geolocater like we do Stateside.
Amazing Adaptive Reuse
In Taipei, there are a fair amount of repurposed buildings, like a former tobacco factory that’s now the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park — a space for numerous galleries, studios, and exhibition halls. The Taiwanese see the value of adaptive reuse by working with older structures instead of just tearing them down. While this is a concept that’s slowly coming around to the States, it seems as though the Taiwanese have never questioned the practice to begin with.
Way to Congratulate
At the Hwa Hsia Institute of Technology’s Department of Interior Design, next to the 3D senior-class displays, friends and family paid tribute to the students by leaving stuff next to their final projects. So instead of a halfhearted “congratulations,” artists and designers get tangible tokens of someone’s pride in their achievements. It’s kind of like altars on Día de los Muertos, only the people aren’t dead, and the gifts aren’t wasted.
Strangers Want You in Their Pictures
Occasionally, a stranger asks you to take a picture — not of them, but with them. It seems much more polite than arbitrarily inquiring random passersby if they’d be so kind as to take a picture of you, like they need to forget all about their plans in order to stop and do you a favor to press the shutter release button on your camera. Since you’re never going to see these unfamiliar people again, you may as well also take a picture with them, and turn your momentary chance encounter into an opportunity for a souvenir.
Guys Carry Their Girlfriends’ Handbags
Here’s another observation about strangers in Taiwan: a lot of guys carry their girlfriends’ handbags. It’s like a Taiwanese courtship ritual in which the males are willing to sacrifice their so-called masculinity to hold lady-bags as a measure of respect for the females and ease their girlfriends’ burden. The US does have plenty of dads with diaper bags and front-facing baby harnesses, though, and to be fair, the whole dude-holding-a-purse custom is not something that happens with older i.e., married Taiwanese couples, either.
And finally, in case you like to watch squirming newborns breastfeeding, people will know where to find you.