Coming into a new city for the first time is always one of the most exciting parts of a trip for me. Getting my first glimpse of the skyline from a distance, taking the exit off the freeway, twisting and turning thought the busy streets on the way to the hotel – it’s an exhilarating thing for a traveler to experience.
My first impressions of Taipei were interesting, mostly because the city never felt big to me during my entire ride in from the airport.
I could see the skyline off in the distance, but it was difficult to determine where the “downtown” area was just from looking at all the buildings.
The Taipei 101 tower seemed to the the tallest structure in the entire city, and it stood alone in one part of town separate from another cluster of large buildings off in the distance. This was certainly not the Taipei I was expecting.
I had envisioned Taipei to be a huge sprawling metropolis with the chaotic energy of Hong Kong. It wasn’t. On my day of arrival, the streets were empty and a majority of the shops were closed.
I naturally assumed the lack of activity was because it was Sunday, and the following day the city would come alive with everyone going to work and getting back to their normal daily routines.
It didn’t happen though. Monday morning came and went with no increase in activity, and it was then that it started feeling like something was wrong. Had the city been evacuated due to a deadly virus spreading like wildfire? Was there a threat of war? Did everyone get the hell out of town because they knew SANspotter was coming??
The jet lag must have been fierce, because I missed the most obvious answer: Chinese New Year. Yes indeed, this was the first time I’ve been in Asia during Chinese New Year, and I had no idea how major of a holiday it was. It’s three days long. It’s the biggest public event of the year. And it has the power to empty entire cities.
There were still pockets of activity around the touristy areas like the Taipei 101 shopping center and observatory, but whenever I strayed too far from this area the streets turned vacant and quiet. It was possible to walk down the middle of the street in some places, which is downright eerie in big Asian cites such as Taipei.
The bad thing about all this is that I began to accept it as “normal”. On my final day in the city, the holiday was coming to a close and everyone started coming out of their houses and poured into the streets.
Traffic was brutal. There was the smell of delicious food in the air. All the shops and cafes were open. It was like a completely different city, and I couldn’t help to feel a bit cheated since I didn’t have enough time to soak it all in. THIS was the Taipei I came for!
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was really lucky to have had the experience of seeing Taipei as calm and quiet as I did. It ended up being a very relaxing two and a half days, which was just what I needed to decompress from the stress of work back home.
If I had come into the chaotic Taipei I was expecting, I probably would have returned home feeling just as tense as I did when I left.
Someday I’ll go back to Taipei to experience things as they normally are, which is intriguing to me considering that it will probably be like getting to visit this place again for the first time…