I’m currently working on a book right now, which I’m struggling at finishing and the deadline of publishing within the year seems dim. My problem isn’t writer’s block. In theory, this should be easy-peasy–it is… More
“But I like my freckles!!!!!!”
I was in an argument with an old Singaporean man in a bus stop by Arab Street, Singapore. I could hardly understand what he’s saying with his thick accent, but he was pointing vehemently at my freckles, repeating the words ‘cream’ and ‘Chinatown’.
“You won’t get married with those—” he started again, pointing at my face. “I will not marry you if I’m still a young man—”
“Well I won’t marry you either,” I said, ending in a chuckle to indicate that all was said in good-humored nature.
I have a soft spot for seniors, being close to my own grandfather. I seem to instantaneously gain patience when with them; like the time has stopped conveniently for me and them. I normally get on conversations with them in buses and bus stops. They would look at me in a way that makes me feel like I’m their long-lost prodigal granddaughter and now I feel obliged to sit with them; or else they’ll chase me with a cane.
So I sat with him in the bus stop.
I couldn’t understand half of what he said–apparently he thinks I’m also Chinese. So when he laughs, I laugh. When he smiles, I smile. When he says something in a somber look, I nod obediently and say ‘yes, yes’. When he points at my face, I try to contain my laugh.
Yes, I promise to get rid of the freckles, old man. Old, Asian people always seem to have a problem with my freckles and tan skin. In Taipei, I remember being chased by the grandmother in the Airbnb because I forgot to bring an umbrella.
“It’s not raining,” I said, giving it back to her. It was 33 degrees with clear blue skies. She insisted, and I begrudgingly put it in my bag.
I later on realized that the umbrella wasn’t for rain, but for sun. Most of the Taiwanese put up their black umbrellas on the streets to cover themselves from the sunlight.
“I have four sons. No daughter. No daughter!” the old man in the bus stop shared, in a decibel that suggests that his hearing is also declining.
Good for you, I thought, realizing his lack of tact was because he didn’t have to deal with a teenaged daughter–of course. At 27, I’m already at a point in my life where I’m content with what I look like–freckles, battle scars and all. But the fourteen-year-old version of me felt punished for looking different: I felt that I was too tall, that my nose was too long, that my legs were too lanky, that my face was freckly. Freak. It feels absolutely horrible to be a 14-year-old teenaged girl.
Then there came a point where you realize that there are trade-offs: either live your life as a porcelain doll or have us much fun as you want under the sun.
For me it wasn’t a very difficult decision to make.
Now, every physical flaw tells a story: a battle scar proudly earned; an identity that makes you, you.
“Where are your sons now?” I said in the same decibel as the old man’s. He raises his shoulders to indicate ‘I don’t know’.
I remember why I sat with him in the first place: it’s that same look of wanting just warmth and company. No expectations of returns, or value-add, or what we’re bringing to the table. Seniors have that easy energy and sense of contentment; having already lived their life–already past the young age of ambition; already past trying to impress people you don’t like in the first place.
The old man is content with sharing the present with another human. Even if we didn’t understand each other half the time. Even if he didn’t like the sight of my freckles.
It reminded me of the old and charming people I encounter on my travels on the road.
It reminded me of the old man I met in McSorley’s, Brooklyn .When I approached him, he cheekily said ‘Lady, where have you been all my life?’ He later told me that he’s a mean creature of habit: he’s been buying beers in the pub everyday for 40 years every four in the afternoon.
It reminded me of the Taiwanese couple who owned a small cafeteria near my Airbnb who were excited to meet someone they can practice their English with. On my end, one of the first Chinese phrases I learned were ‘I’m already full’, out of necessity; else the couple would not stop refilling my plates.
And it reminded me of my grandpa with his Japanese occupation stories that I already memorized on the dot, but the stories still made me smile with wonder every single time.
Being third wheel sucks.
I sometimes feel like a pet or an adopted child in dates with my couple friends. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just there to a., make me jealous; b. make me feel good about my single life, or c. to add spice to their dinner table.
This particular date, we were sat at the restaurant’s outdoor smoking area because her boyfriend forgot to make reservations. My girlfriend would normally freak, but she was extra nice this instance because she knew there was a looming fight going on.
To be extra safe, my friend even brought me to their date as a shield of support for their expected argument. This was about this afternoon’s Sephora shopping spree.
My friend had spent the whole afternoon in Sephora to achieve the ‘no makeup look’. Her poor, ignorant boyfriend, asked why she needed to buy makeup products worth 400 USD to achieve a ‘no makeup look’.
The whole conversation was very funny until it reached the thirty minute mark. Sigh. There are times when I really wish I was in a real, long-term relationship. And then, my friends kindly remind me why it is great to be single–I don’t deal with problems like these.
My friend sharply called my name. “Rachel?!?!” she was trying to get some emotional backing and support.
“Huh? Sorry, what was that?” I responded. To be honest, I wasn’t listening–for the last thirty minutes I have already been eavesdropping the next table to our left, who judging by the awkward small talk the duo was still on their first date. So far, things have been doing well for that table. The guy shared that he’s a doctor. The girl shared that she knew a doctor. Looks like the stars have aligned for them.
But since my friend has called my attention, I would never know how the first date on the next table panned out. Ah, third wheel duties first.
And the art of being third wheel is not, ever, to take sides.
Your role is to make them shine as a couple. To remind them how cute they are together. You are not supposed to give them the idea that it’s sooo much better being single; even if it is. You need them to feel badly for you that you’re single and alone.
“You guys are so cute when you argue. You’re like an old married couple, at least you’re still not arguing about getting too many botox injections…” I said, trying to keep the mood light.
Ahh, it is certainly not my A-game as third wheeler tonight, but I tried. I knew there is some truth in my joke there. I sincerely think that my friend and her boyfriend would eventually get past this argument, get married, live happily ever after, and when their older, argue about botox expenditures.
When you’re genuinely interested in people–couples are just as (if not more than) interesting. How couples interact together–their energy, their chemistry, how they look at each other, how they talk about each other when the other is out of earshot–it’s an entirely new ball game.
This is mostly why I don’t mind being third–or fifth–or seventh wheel.In the first few minutes, you can already discern whether this couple is hit or miss; ‘ooohhh’ or ‘ughhh’; ‘honeymoon phase’ or ‘like-an-old-married-couple’ kind. The first thing I notice is their default attitude toward their other: the warmth, the energy, the tone of resentment, the look of dauntless admiration, the desperation of keeping things together… How similar or how the same do they treat their mate compared to a new stranger?
It’s interesting how people can become so blind in love: how people whine about how ‘he/she doesn’t love me enough’, even when the other drives 12 km a day just to see them. Or how we don’t notice light-as-day red flags; or how we willingly make excuses for the other’s shortcomings.
“Look,” the boyfriend said. He has starting to panic because tears were welling up in her eyes. “My point is, you’re so beautiful with or without makeup.”
Inasmuch as I hated these petty arguments and check-ins that couples have to deal with, I admit it feels kinda nice to have shared that fuzzy feeling. Certainly beats secondhand smoking in the restaurant’s outdoor smoking area.
I squinted my eyes towards the distance in the hopes of seeing an impending wave when I heard singing from afar. I looked east of me and found two local boys 100m away, bobbing up and down their respective boards.
“Slow day, huh?” I shouted.
I was with my surfing guide, and we’ve been on our boards, bobbing up and down the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea?) for a good thirty minutes in the hopes of catching a wave. I can feel the local boys on the same state of ennui.
The local boys paddled nearer my location and introduced themselves: one was called Miguel and the other called himself Janus. Shortly after we started exchanging stories.
One of the boys shared that he just got a German girlfriend, a backpacker he met in surf school. The other boy just won his first local surf competition.
I told them I am currently in school and I was just five weeks into my MBA. I told them things I wouldn’t otherwise tell my family, or friends, or cohort-mates: that the normally cocky Rachel is having doubts of my aptitude, and whether or not I could survive business school.
Before I could go on in my litany of my frustrations, an impending wave approached us and the two boys caught it on time, while I was washed ashore.
“I’m done for the day,” I told my surfing guide.
I suggested we go have beer by the beach. The guys we met in the middle of the sea passed by, so we hollered them to join us–and they did. Soon after beer bottles were clinked, I didn’t lose time in continuing my tirade, taking advantage of my newfound friends’ curiosity.
“I feel like an oddball,” I shared. “I’m an island girl, and this whole corporate culture is completely alien to me. In the islands, there is no concept of time. My social circle is made up of artists, surfers and bohemians. Moving to Makati and going to business school–I don’t know about this,” I expressed my doubts openly.
“I wish things are easier. I wish I can just live by the beach and chase waves. I have no energy to rule the world.” I thought aloud, although I knew in my heart I lied. I was too bohemian for the city life, but too neurotic for the island life. Being too comfortable bored me to tears.
At 26, I had what felt like a quarter-life crisis. I felt stuck, like I’m not supposed to be part of this story. And so, I decided to go to business school (because that’s why everyone does their MBA, right?). After some eight weeks of GMAT self-study and a let’s-see-how-we-do attitude, I was suddenly whisked away from the island life to the corporate jungle of Makati.
Traded my surfboard for the keys to the boardroom
My arrogance thought I could just ‘wing it’, like I always do–I was wrong. I was completely stumped in business school. Everything was completely new to me. I was completely stumped, and would enviously look as my classmates breeze through Finance, Accounting and Business. The readings seem to me like they were written in Arabic.
I wanted some Rosetta stone to land on my lap and become magically fluent in this new, technical language. I was on the verge of giving up because my sheets just. won’t. balance.
The solo surf trips to the beach were what saved me from the point of neurosis. When the four walls of the case room started to shrink and close in, I treated chronic cabin fevers with a one-way bus ticket to San Juan, La Union so I can just stare at the endless horizon. Always worked for me.
The surfers were obviously completely clueless about everything I’ve been saying up to that point. One of them, Miguel, finally offered advice. “Hey, don’t worry. Everyone starts off as a beginner.” the other countered, “Even pro surfers look like awkward idiots when they first got on the board.”
And just like that, we forgot about everything else.
That was the October of 2016; and I have since then graduated and got my MBA degree. Their words definitely saved me from my dark and doubtful place.
My new friends’ words were all I needed to come fighting back into the ring. I remember coming home relieved and ready to make mistakes. I was ready to stand on goofy; ready to be wiped out from my board.
The boys were right. Starting off a little behind everyone else can be discouraging. Most of us, after all, grew up where success, or being the best, is celebrated. We get brownie points from our parents when we excel, and school institutions reward the top students in academic excellence.
The problem with this mentality is that it can create an illogical fear for failure. The biggest victims are the overachievers. In high school, I equated my self-worth to my academic achievement–seeing my name on top of the list validated my being. Because of their anxiety in failing, overachievers tend to stick to their expertise and what they know best. This short-sightedness hinders their ability to broaden their skill set. They have scripted responses such as ‘I can’t dance’, ‘I’m bad at languages’, or ‘I have no sense of balance’ whenever they encounter something new. It’s always easier to say ‘that’s impossible’ rather than ‘that’s hard.’
I started to changing my mindset from being this anxious failure-phobic to learning for the sake of fun. Changing this mentality opened a whole new world for me: I learned to laugh at myself when my butt hit the floor, but I learned to dance. I learned to surf. I learned to speak another language. I learned to balance statements. I learned to do things I never imagined I could do before. Failure is part of life, so just enjoy the ride, and enjoy the learning process!
My learning curve may have been longer than my MBA classmates. I might have studied harder and slept fewer hours, but my learning experience in business school was, I believe, more satisfying because of that.
In the end, it’s really not about getting the degree, it was all about the journey to getting to where I am now; and wondering how Miguel and Janus are doing now.
I finished my phone conversation with a silly grin on my face when I caught Nico* looking at me without disguising his curiosity.
“What language was that?” he asked.
The conversation was with my girlfriend from back home. We were sat having sandwiches outside the Fisher Fine Arts library in UPenn, where my friend and I normally studied.
“Visayan.” I said. “Why?”
“It didn’t sound like the same language you speak with Ryan.” he said, referring to another Filipino classmate of ours.
“But this language Cebuano–it must be your first language, yes?”
I confirmed, and he shot a grin back in triumph.
He said he knew because everyone always sound angrier in their own language. He said I certainly sounded angry, but knew I wasn’t, because I was laughing after every sentence.
“Unless, you laugh in anger in your culture,” he mused.
I thought about what he said for a while. He made a pretty good point. We are always nicer and more respectful in another language, saying everything in a more gentle, question manner, unsure of ourselves; like we become children conversing to adults once again.
Come to think of it, I do tend to take up different personalities in the different languages I speak. I feel more professional in English, more gentle in Tagalog and Hiligaynon, and I’m a foul-mouthed, warfreak, drunken sailor in Cebuano.
Being Filipino, I grew up to hearing different tongues–sometimes simultaneously–that it was the only kind of world I knew of. In my hometown, we spoke both Visayan, and our Muslim brothers Maranao; my father’s side spoke Hiligaynon, and my mother’s side Tagalog. You know my grandfather’s temper is on the upside when you hear cussing in Spanish, English is taught in our schools from prep to college, and French…simplyfrom dating a few of them.
Sounds impressive, but not really. This is not unusual in a typical Filipino household. The country, after all, has 7,000+ islands, 300+ dialects, with frequent movement and diaspora; long colonial Spanish history, and then raised by Hollywood and 80’s love ballads. With this hodge-podge history, it is already given for every Filipino-born to be multilingual (or bilingual at the least).
We don’t really think about the multilingual aptitude much. But when you go abroad and realize that most people speak only one language.
Some weren’t granted the opportunity or exposure to other foreign tongues and cultures. Some by choice and refuse to learn any other language. And some are just simply crippled by the convenience of being born spoilt into a culture that didn’t have the necessity (I’m looking at you, America).
Foreign peers compliment me at how ‘good my English is’, like I’m not supposed to get my v’s and f’s right. And then revel at how easily I can switch from one language to another. It’s kinda nice to show off once in a while, pretending it’s some sort of superpower.
The truth is, you don’t really need to be fluent in the languages–you just need to know enough. You only need to know ‘hi, nice to meet you’, ‘beer’ and ‘cheers’ in a dozen languages for them to look at you like black sorcery. Kanpai!
Nico, being European, was also multilingual.
And so I played around with the topic and shot back a question: “Nico, what language do you think?”
His blue eyes danced, like he had been expecting the discourse. “The German language is made perfectly for a thinking mind, I believe. The vocabulary is just so exact and concise, there’s little room for error.”
I shot back the question to myself. What language do I think? What language do I feel?
On formal and professional scenarios, English seemed the default. It was my rationalizing language. But in the social and emotional aspects, Cebuano is my preference.
Especially when it came to bodily feelings, I feel I could better explain myself in my dialect. How can you translate gigil? Kilig? Binhod? Panuhot? Pasmo? Alimungawan? How do you translate them to English in one word, without giving people the context or comparison? The nuances of languages tell us how the people and culture are characteristically; and on this–it seems like Cebuanos are very attuned to their bodies and feelings.
Nothing is more satisfying than swearing in Cebuano. I would write some of my favorites down, but they might not make it out on print. Sometimes, the F-word just don’t cut it, you know? There’s just more meat in our dialect, it’s just so wrong , dirty and crude.Especially the B-words…
Ah, nothing beats the B-words.
Now that I think of it, when I need to make more rational and moral decisions, I should probably not process my thought processes in Cebuano.
I could not take my eyes off the Ruscha.
Displayed in MoMA New York, I spent a good hour just staring at it; studying every detail of it– the static, the noise, the lull, the blandness; trying to find logical reason beyond my instant fondness of it.
It was like love at first sight.
My undergraduate is Fine Arts, and I still find solace in appreciating beauty. Art still comforts the soul and rouses the blood. And yet, for the longest time I was not able to find my medium of preference until years later, after graduation: not in the comfort of my brushes, but in letters.
Writing to me felt intuitive. Autopilot. Natural. Like breathing. Or flirting.
As I progressed to publishing a wider audience, I found myself in conflict about how I feel about it. Writing as a profession… didn’t make much sense to me. I derive too much pleasure from it. To get paid to meander–I don’t know, it sounds a bit too selfish.
I started writing for myself first, for therapy. I find that the ink is most potent when tinged with revenge or internal conflict; as I manufacture thousands of words in one sitting, with pain being the creative lubricant.
I recently heard in a podcast that da Vinci’s writings showed signs of psychological conflicts and how he had erratic mood swings. The presenter later noted that if Leonardo was born today, modern Western health care would diagnose him with bipolar disorder. Leo’s shrink would most likely put him on Adderall or some medication to neutralize his moods.
But if you think about it—bold artists and thinkers Frida, Beethoven, Munch and van Gogh would have their own diagnosed mental illnesses too, if they were born in today’s generation.
I don’t know what that implies; if human society should be thankful for modern medicine in providing wonder-drugs that make us more focused, more productive, more effective, more efficient… But at the same time, I also feel a little sad about the general acceptance of muting what makes humans essentially ‘human’.
I’m not subscribed to any prescription to neutralize emotions; and unfortunately, my emotions are messy, unruly—and like their owner, get intermittent cabin fever when they sit and fester inside for a long time.
And so I paint. I write. I dance. I create. I let myself have feels. Let the feels go on overdrive. Go in a trance, create, and hopefully, return safely back to the world of normalcy.
Art is a spiritual commune. It is no coincidence why human history’s first priests, the shamans, were also the first artists—they were dancers, singers and performers. The shamans sang chants, drew cave paintings and perform elaborate dances; coming into a trance-like state–to communicate to the gods for the hopes of a successful hunt or the absence of storms.
To participate in art is like coming to prayer: a commune between the human and the cosmos. Just like the prehistoric shaman performing chants and sacred dances in the bonfire; art still has that primitive effect on us: the pianist’s hands, the poet’s words, or, in my case, the silent impressions of the monochromatic Ruscha, The End, 1991.
Coming from Brooklyn and two subway exchanges later, I arrived at South Bronx. It was my first time.
I identified from the sea of faces the young man I was supposed to meet: an African-American man with dreadlocks. I approached him and introduced myself. He said his name was Bless.
We walked together for ten more minutes with some small talk, before we finally stopped in a spot below the bridge by a colorful graffiti mural. I looked around, and observed some skateboarders practicing their tricks looking at us. They left after they satisfied their curiosity, only to be replaced by bikers driving around with loud Harleys and leather jackets.
I shrugged, but I was also sweating, my eyes darted left to right, trying my best (and failing) to act like I was from the ‘hood.
Bless opened his bag, to take out some biscuits, water and bluetooth speakers.
“So… this is my first time dancing hip-hop.” I admitted.
“That’s alright,” Bless shrugged as he offered me some of the biscuits. “Do you do other dances?”
Five years ago, I would’ve responded with ‘I don’t know how to dance’ / ‘I have two left feet’, / ‘I ain’t got no rhythm.’
Funny how things change. “Yes. Pole. And latin dances. Salsa, bachata, samba. Some belly dancing.”
“Perfect. Because we will do a lot of isolations.” Bless said.
I didn’t really take up any form of dancing until late 2013; just 5 years ago, when I started to do solo travel. Hmm, It’s funny how I learned a lot of survival skills since I started to do solo travel–swimming, surfing, skating, and even improv (e.g. art of B.S.).
Apart from drinking, the two other important social lubricants in are smoking and dancing.
I don’t smoke, but I do like moving bodies.
The value of dancing is more apparent once you are in a foreign land that speaks a different language. When you are lost in translation, you just let the eyes–and the bodies–do the talking.
¿Te gusta bailar?
Dance is a language on its own–speaking with movement, and at the same time listening to the other person. It’s all about identifying the signals: the slight push of a hand to signal you to step back; a gentle nudge at the shoulder to signal you to turn; a slight motion to the direction you are heading towards…
In that sense, dancing makes you more intuitive in understanding people and their body language. What a one-second gaze vs. a three-second gaze means; when a nudge is friendly or when it is something more; and microsecond gestures that may help distinguish actual disinterest from just playing hard to get…
It’s learning to become more sensitive to changes: because a slight change in vocal tone, in frequency or in energy–these micro-changes always signal a change of direction; or attraction; or behavior.
Bless is really talented, and is actually part of It’s Showtime NYC! a New York movement that promotes street culture and provide professional development opportunities for the street & subway dancers and youth in the city. They teach and perform hip-hop for a social cause-– 100% of the proceeds goes to Dancing in the Streets INC.
Bless proceeded to teach me the basics of hip-hop–waving, locking and popping. It was challenging for someone so new to hip-hop, but we had an awesome afternoon filled with goofing off and some laughters.
When we ended, it was already late afternoon and starting to get dark.
“It’s not very safe around here,” Bless said, hence he insisted to walk me back to the station. He shared that he has known too many friends who already ‘got shot and stuff’. He then told me that dance probably saved his life away from the gangs and the streets.
I asked Bless what he does apart from dancing. “That’s all I ever do. Even when I’m not dancing, I’m thinking about it.” Bless responded. He listens to the music all the time, he practices his move when commuting to and fro, his whole life revolves around his craft. “In fact, I think I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life.”
And although my new friend didn’t have much in common at first, we ultimately got more close, bonded by the same zest for dance and music.
“His/My wife is Filipina.”
My good friend Micheline Rama posted this on her Facebook page and immediately caught my interest. Mich continued in the FB post:
“I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard this phrase. It’s generally innocuous, a bit of small talk. The few times it’s been tinged with malice were usually in cabs or bars.
“My uncle’s wife is a Filipina.” (sneer) “She takes good care of him.” (wink)–but that’s rare…”
Not as rare as you believe, girlfriend. I thought whilst reading. I recalled a similar experience just a few days back, when an Irishman at a bar thought it’d funny to ask me to marry him because he heard ‘Filipinas make good wives’.
The women in my circle are smart, Filipino women, modern warriors of the world, Chevening and Fulbright scholars with masters and PhDs…
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Writers are selfish creatures and master manipulators of the mind.
When you first meet them, they will hook you with their intense curiosity. Do not mistake interest for friendship. Or romantic interest.
They’ve been known to keep people and relationships in their lives longer than they should — just because they make interesting character understudies for their next book.
They will shower you with attention, and soak information like a sponge — what you do, what you wear, what you say, and the inner workings of your mind — your drive, motivations, your dreams, your soul. Why do you do what you do? What ticks you off? What makes you feel alive?
Oysters open completely during a full moon, and when a crab sees one it throws a stone or seaweed so it cannot close again and becomes the crab’s ready meal. Just like the oyster, be careful with the words you express when in company of a writer — they will hold on to every word you said and quote you on that, at that.
They will then decide to be brutally honest, or to be deceiving — or both. They will read between the lines, and if nonexistent and purely innocent, invent the words between the lines.
They will look at you with inquisitive eyes, boring into your soul, trying to figure out your place in the plot. Heck, they may even try to predict your future actions, or create and recreate plots and denouements.
They’ve got you all figured out in their heads. And if they’re wrong — isn’t that what the fiction genre is for?
You might find, in the middle of the date, the author paramour lost and elsewhere — sometimes lost in reverie; and sometimes, lost in the next table’s conversations. They are notorious eavesdroppers who take mental notes of interesting lines and plot lines.
They will study the neighbors in question: they will take note of the man’s sweaty palms, and the texture of the woman’s hair and when it’s been last washed, the gaze, the body language — and conclude whether it is the first, or the fifty-first date.
They will usually end up having their meals cold.
They will exaggerate for dramatic flair; and exclude unimportant details because they are boring. They will paint the day with descriptions — and can skillfully describe a cheeseburger like they would describe sex, and in turn describe sex like it is the last meal of their life.
And yet, oddly and selfishly, writers do not reciprocate.
They refuse to give back as much as they take in—fiercely private in protecting themselves, to keep control of their identities, to protect their stories. It is as if they cannot stomach being at the mercy of another storyteller’s liberties.
No other finds comfort in ambiguity than a writer–we live for the what-could-be’s and could-have-been’s…
The notion that there is no conclusion is very beautiful; it gives us hope that we can always rewrite a better ending in the future.
That’s how we feel a sense of control in our lives, how we make sense of the world, by tricking ourselves that we are in charge of the stories.
I’ve got a new published column in Sunstar that comes out every month. Please check out my blog to keep updated with personal and collected stories and information on Filipino culture, heritage and identity with Filipino, elsewhere. Find my first blog post here! via Filipino, elsewhere
For Filipinos, Taiwan isn’t something we typically think of as a ‘tourist destination’. When it comes to traveling abroad, we dream of going to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore or Thailand–we often forget about visiting Taipei, Taiwan, which is only 1,000 km from the Philippines.
This is why Taipei is so beautiful in its own way–an underrated and unassuming city that has a lot to offer. Cebu Pacific now offers direct flights from Manila and Cebu to Taipei thrice a week, which will get you to the capital of Taiwan in two hours.
Before booking that ticket, read my post on what to expect in Taipei, Taiwan.
Here’s what you can do in Taiwan for a short 4-day stay.
Day 1: Chiang Kai Shek, Taipei 101, Presidential Building, National Palace Museum
Cram all the usual touristy stuff on day 1. Most of them are within easy access via transportation (train, bus, walk). Taipei transportation is very easy, reliable and accessible so you can visit all the main sites within the day.
The Presidential Building is one of the most remarkable buildings in Taipei, houses the most important man in the country, of course: the president of the Republic of China.
The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial is a national monument built in honor of the former president of Taipei. The square is wide, beautiful and historical–plenty of panoramic photography-worthy shots.
Taipei 101 is a magnificent architectural wonder magnificently located in Taipei’s skyline. Taipei 101 used to be the world’s tallest building until the title was usurped by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2010.
Finally, the National Palace Museum is a magnificent museum that houses 700,000 ancient Chinese art and artifacts dating back 8,000 years ago from the neolotihic stone age. The art pieces were transported from the Forbidden City to Taiwan under the leadership of Chiang Kai Shek in 1945.
Day 2: Go on a food trip!
Foodies will love Taiwan; because they have a great love affair with their food. You can’t talk about Taiwanese culture without mentioning their street food cuisine. Food should be the main highlight of your trip so go all out and don’t think about dieting! Some of the famous Taiwanese food include: pearl milk tea, stinky tofu, oyster omelette, steamed dumplings, crispy chicken cutlets… everything. Most times, I don’t really know what type of animal or animal part I ordered–they surely don’t waste any animal part, and I’m too chicken to ask. #ignoranceisbliss
Michelin-star restaurant Din Tai Fung originated here, so make sure to try their world-famous xiao long bao while in Taiwan. You can go themed cafe or restaurant hopping. They have restaurants dedicated to Hello Kitty, the toilet, hospital, and more.
Day 3: Jiufen and Shifen
If you are looking for a more cultural and historical experience that Taiwan can offer, there are two beautiful towns near Taipei that you can visit. Located at Pingxi District, you can easily access these picturesque towns via train.
Jiufen is best known as the inspiration of Hayao Miyazaki’s famous hyperrealist animated film Spirited Away. Shifen is most known for their sky lantern festival. You can write down your own hopes and wishes in a sky lantern and watch it fly and reach to the heavens (but not really–apparently the village people hire a dedicated workforce to retrieve the fallen lanterns in the next mountain).
If you want to know more about Jiufen and Shifen, read about it in a separate dedicated blog post here.
Day 4: Exciting Taipei Nightlife: Night markets and nightclubs
Saving the best for last: Taipei nightlife. Of course, if you have energy for day and night you are welcome to savor the nightlife every night! There’s tons of things to do at night: karaoke, night markets, clubbing… the city’s nightlife is exciting and vibrant after dark. Like most Asian major cities, this city runs 24 hours, so there’s always something to do in the wee hours of the morning.
Taiwan is most famous for their night markets–there are more than 50 of them across the country. In these markets they have all sorts of food and merchandise.
Karaoke (KTV) is also a big hit in the city. KTVs have private rooms where you can order food and drinks and sing to your heart’s content.
If you’re into clubbing, you’re in for a treat: the Taiwanese party hard. Like insane. I can recount a few times where I had to hold hair of poor female strangers in the toilet because they had too much alcohol.
The most famous and biggest nightclub in the city is LUXY, bringing in renowned and billboard-topping DJs from around the world. 1001 Nights is an eclectic mix of latin, hiphop, reggaeton and international music (and I love getting shisha here). Chess is great for hip-hop lovers, Room18 for a fancy lounge scene and LAVA for a more casual night. For salsa lovers, I love the friendly vibe of Salud! Salsa Party.
Finally for some post-party replenishment needs, there is always a 7-11 a block or two away to cater to your hunger and hydration.2 4-hour convenience stores are an indispensable way of life in Taiwan. In fact, the country has the highest mini mart density in the world. They sure love their convenience, and you will too. If you’re hungry post-party, you’re sure to get your fill, there’s bound to be a restaurant or shop open for you.