One year ago today, I was walking among crowds of people on the other side of the world. It was a hot and humid day in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. My face felt like it was about to melt off, yet I was still excited and bubbling with energy. I’d just completed my first year at UC Berkeley, and I was in my family’s familiar home country. It was also the first time I had the opportunity to travel with one of my best friends.
While I’ve been fortunate enough to visit my family in Taiwan several times throughout my life, I’d never wandered the city as a tourist with a friend — so this trip was an entirely new experience. Armed with Google Maps and our ever-hungry stomachs, we were determined to explore as much of the city as possible, including both local favorites and the city’s hot spot attractions.
My friend and I arrived in Taipei after a grueling 13-hour flight to meet my grandparents. They were happily waiting at the airport to take us back to their home for the duration of our trip. After a full night of rest, and luckily no mosquito bites yet, we were off the following morning.
One of our very first stops was the famous Din Tai Fung, a restaurant known for their xiao long bao, miniature soup-filled dumplings. Located in one of Taipei’s many department stores, Din Tai Fung is a popular tourist destination and thei a must-eat! From the classic pork filling to even sweet sesame or taro, there’s plenty of variations of xiao long bao to try. The restaurant also has many other tasty Taiwanese dishes, including beef noodle soup, spicy wontons and shrimp fried rice. Just be sure to get there early — it’s a popular restaurant for both tourists and locals, and the wait can be long.
Happily full of xiao long bao, my friend and I headed to the metro station. Our next stop was Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a national monument built in honor of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, a former president of Taiwan. The Memorial Hall is located at the end of a sprawling plaza and surrounded by a well-kept park. With beautifully white walls, deep blue roofs and two sets of stairs leading up to the temple-like structure, the monument was indeed a grand sight to see. We came on a weekday, so the site wasn’t particularly crowded and there also happened to be a Tiananmen Square display set up when we visited.
As the afternoon shadows fell upon us, we headed to Ximending for our last major stop of the day. Ximending is an iconic neighborhood and shopping district. Here, one can find department stores and shops that sell anything from music albums to clothing to delicacies, as well as restaurants, street art and live performances, all surrounded by several historic buildings. As a popular destination for tourists and young folk, Ximending is constantly bustling, especially at night. Here, my friend and I explored the Red House Theater, browsed dozens of shops, hunted for wall murals and indulged on fried chicken and boba — the ultimate pairing and a classic Taiwanese snack.
By the end of the day, we were sore-footed, exhausted and stuffed with food. As we made our way home, my friend and I made one final stop, a place my grandma has taken my family to many times over the years. Unlike the popular locations we’d visited before, the storefront was plain, unordinary and slightly hidden. Little did passersby know that this spot was home, in my completely unbiased opinion, to the most magnificent dessert of all time — shaved ice and tofu pudding. Craving something cold, refreshing and deliciously sweet, we both dug in at the massive bowls of dessert placed before us. It was the perfect end to an action-packed day of food and exploring.
Beautiful, bustling and breathtaking, Taiwan is a country home to a rich culture, fantastic food and marvelous people. As I finish my second year at UC Berkeley, I’m left reminiscing about my trip back to Taiwan last summer. Now more than ever, I miss the days spent freely exploring the city with friends and enjoying time with family. Although the pandemic has left many of us with canceled travel plans and nostalgic about past trips, it also serves as a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon these memories, appreciate the good times and remember that there are plenty more ahead. After all, what’s the sunshine without a little rain?