Hello Taipei

29 March 2023

It’s nice to be back in Taipei. The last time I was here was the summer of 2019, right before the pandemic.

I slept like shit on the plane so I’ve been treating myself to nice coffee to maintain my energy levels. So far today, I’ve been to two coffee shops: Simple Kaffa and Peloso Coffee Raoster. I’ve never been to a sit-down cafe before but both of these shops are just that. The experience is more similar to a restaurant. Someone, either the host or a barista, greets you at the door and seats you. Then they take your order and bring you the coffee. That’s pretty different than the counter style, seat yourself experience I’m accustom to in the US.

Another difference is the attention that brewed coffee gets over espresso. American coffee culture is very much entrenched in cappuccinos and lattes. In Taipei, at Simple Kaffa, their primary offering was a V60 pour over. At Peloso, you could choose between a V60 pour-over, the Abid Clever, or Aeropress. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Aeropress coffee offered at a coffee shop. I like the focus on brewed coffee. I’ve come to notice that most cappuccinos all taste about the same and the best judge of a coffee shop is how good their drip or pour-over is.

Talking to wait staff and customer service is always a little fun. I play a game with myself where I try to see how long it takes them to realize I’m not Taiwanese. I think it comes pretty fast. Back at UC Irvine, I could tell the Chinese international students apart just by the way they dress and I’m sure I stick out a bit in Taiwan through my American fashion sense. Then I open my mouth and my American accent is a dead giveaway. It’s weird being ABC because people expect you to know Chinese. I don’t get the White foreigner card. I’m always making errors when speaking to customer service. Sometimes they talk too fast for me and I can’t make out what they’re saying or they use vocabulary I’m not familiar with. Usually I have an idea of how the interaction will take place. You know, like the simple exchange of:

“What do you want?"

"I want this one (這個)“

But then the conversation deviates from the standard dialogue and I’m caught off guard. This whole experience makes me more empathetic towards my immigrant parents and grandmother. I get embarrassed since I feel like I should be able to understand, but I can’t.

Being mostly illiterate kinda sucks. I try my hardest to read as much of each sign as I can but I usually only get the gist of it. I’m most disappointed that I’m not able to fully read the menus at the small diner restaurants where everything is plastered to the wall and has been there for the last 40 years. The only thing that’s changed is the prices at the bottom which have been covered many times with paper and tape to reflect the cost of inflation.

These small diner restaurants are everywhere. Taiwan (and probably most countries) is incredibly homogeneous. There’s like the big chubby Asian dude and the small glasses wearing Asian dude. All the girls wear one of three makeup styles: Japanese, Korean, or Western. And with homogeneity, comes a cap to the diversity of the city. I find the same types of restaurants every third block. The differences are there but they are not pronounced to my bleary eyed American mind that’s used to only having to tell the difference between Japanese and Mexican food and not the nuances between the cooking of this 阿媽 or that 阿媽. Speaking of which, I tried Mexican food in Taiwan once back in 2017. It was by far the worst Mexican food I’ve ever had.

I suppose you trade diversity for safety. I’m not sure why but it just feels safer in Taipei than anywhere I’ve been in the US. Perhaps when racism isn’t an issue then there’s just fewer things for people to fight over so there’s less conflict overall. And also you can’t easily own a gun. But hey, we got bomb ass tacos in the States.

Oh yeah, I also have no idea whose still in Taipei so if you’re here, hit me up! I desperately crave human attention.