To drag out a travellers' cliche, the local people here are amazingly hospitable. Not just in the they-smile-a-lot-and-let-you-take-photos sense, but in the sense that they are so often prepared to go to so much extra effort to make you feel welcome, often in their homes and their lives. A few quick examples to try to shatter the illusion that I'm talking shit:
- My hosts here in Taipei, Stacy and Kathy, have helped show me the real Taipei. Through a mutual friend in Melbourne, we were put in touch, and despite being no more than a name and an email address, they have looked after me incredibly well. From being welcomed at the airport, to a couple of nights on the town, to a spot on the couch to sleep, to a map, a rail pass, ideas, inspiration, stories. The sort of hospitality I'd struggle to find at home.
- A few nights back I sat on a stool at a bar near the university distict in southern Taipei. A Taiwanese man sat nearby, a little down on his luck. We start talking, and his story is slowly revealed. An argument with his partner at home, looking for a place to get away from it all, and someone to talk to. After sharing a few rounds of drinks, he insists that we order some traditional Taiwanese food to share, his shout as is so often the way here. We gobble that down, and just before calling it a night, he makes an offer: do you want to come for a ride with me and we'll head up to the lookout on the mountain that towers over Taipei. A few quick mental calculations later (what time is it, do I trust him, how much has he drunk, what vehicle are we in) and I agree to go. Thankfully. Speeding along the mountain road, with the tune of American Pie blaring out the speakers, it was good to be alive.
- Late Sunday afternoon, the sun is rapidly setting, the rain is starting to fall, and I'm waiting for a bus which will probably never arrive to take me from Toroko National Park to the nearest city, Hualien, an hour away. More out of desperation than confidence, I head to one of the shopkeepers just outside the park, asking meekly if they know when the next bus will be coming along. 'Haulien?', the lady responded, 'Ah, forget the bus, I'll give you a ride. I'm kind of heading that way.'
Now either I'm one of the most charming people on earth - not likely - or Taiwanese people are some of the friendliest - bingo!