November 2011 was a significant time in my life. It was a month of many firsts. I had just started a new job (and a high-paying one at that – at least according to local standards) a few months earlier and to celebrate, I booked a really cheap ticket in advance to a destination that had always intrigued me – Taipei, Taiwan.
It was a time of many firsts: booking a ticket online, discovering that a round trip international plane ticket could be as cheap as USD 60, tediously preparing requirements in order to get a visa, realizing the senselessness of borders and needing a visa to go to a country that’s two hours away (and the fact that I share the same ethnicity with its inhabitants), booking a hotel/motel room for my first night online via Agoda, couchsurfing for the rest of the nights, flying solo, traveling solo and meeting some awesome new foreign friends. Wow, I didn’t realize all those firsts until now as I’m writing this.
Arriving at Taipei Taoyuan Airport, at the time I didn’t know that there were buses that went to the city at 1 AM so I took a cab to the hotel I booked along Chung Shan Road that was near the airport. It costed less than USD 20. I was very satisfied with that price and subsequently, the cost of living in Taipei. The following morning, I explored the nearby vicinity and ended up at a quaint street and eventually inside a large store selling various clothing. That’s where I found this gem.
I’d like to think that I’m very detail-oriented and have a keen eye for clothes and excellent taste. I took the shirt into the fitting room, tried it on and took a few selfies (back then the word didn’t exist yet but I’ve been doing it since 2006) and inevitably made the purchase for roughly USD 10, if I remember correctly. Although I think it could have been cheaper had I not been recognized as a non-local, it was a fantastic bargain and I still wear it to this day. Talk about quality. After a while inside an internet cafe trying to reach my couchsurfing host, I made my way to Taipei via train where I made small talk with two Overseas Filipina (factory) Workers. I learned about their job and life in Taiwan. We parted ways at Taipei Main Station, which I found marvelous. I had never seen anything like it prior to that moment. I eventually made contact and was fetched by my couchsurfing host who was very hospitable and remains a good friend to this day.
I believed I always had a connection to this country. For one, I could speak both Mandarin Chinese and the local Taiwanese aka Fujian/Hokkien/Min dialect, albeit with a different, Filipino-Chinese accent. I felt I could fit in to the city and to Taiwanese society in general, especially after my friend described me as a Taiwanese who looked like he was educated in the United States. Still a Taiwanese though. The people were helpful and friendly and being a frugal shopper (notice the oxymoron) I loved how the prices were no different that in Manila. Some of my favorite items, having their origin in Taiwan, were even cheaper such as milk tea and chicken chops.
This trip was a real eye-opener and it really changed my perspective on my life’s direction. I also realized I didn’t have to stay in one place and I longed to live and work overseas. This trip triggered my wanderlust to explore other Asian cities in the following years and I would go on to visiting Taipei again two consecutive times year after year, with the fourth time next month. I simply adore the city.