I remember visiting Taipei more than a decade ago and being repulsed by her asthma-inducing air and sidewalks strewn with dog crap and splatters of betel nut juice. Granted, I was in Taiwan during it’s hottest and most humid months, where everything was coated in a varying thickness of sweat and grime. Things have changed drastically. The streets have less fecal matter and betel nut juice (this, however, depends on which part of town you are in). The mass rapid transit is expansive, modern, and clean. Taipei 101 pierces the skyline like gleaming beacon of Taiwan’s first-world status.
Although a pungent odor of sewage still wafts up your nose whenever you cross paths with a storm drain, Taipei has morphed into a attractive and livable city. The sub-tropical environment has blessed the island nation with a plethora of fruits and vegetables, all of which are showcased in Taipei’s delicious food scene. Taipei’s nightlife may not be as crazy as that of Bangkok, but it is vibrant in its own right, with beehive-like night markets taking the center stage rather than bars and clubs. Taipei is also one of the most open Asian cities for the LGBT community, which is a humungo plus for me.
While my cultural and ethnic heritage is deeply rooted in Taiwan, I cannot say that I am Taiwanese. By virtue of my language abilities, my Taiwanese friends have told me that they can barely tell that I was born in the states. There are others who comment that I have a distinct air of a waiguoren (foreigner) about me, and that it’s painfully obvious that I was not born and raised in Taiwan. The Taiwanese love to categorize and label, and most of the time I don’t fit any category, often confusing the people I meet. Although I am ABT (American Born Taiwanese), I’m also not like other ABTs. Although I look Taiwanese, my mannerisms are a dead giveaway that I’m not.
Despite this identity confusion, I have developed quite a love for this country. Hearing people speak Taiwanese places me within a bubble of familiarity. The food is nostalgia revisited, a dream that has been salivated over while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer and backpacking through New Zealand on a diet of 2-minute noodles. My family here, my parents were born here, my roots are here. And I’m happy to be back.