Stephanie’s Taipei

Stephanie Hsu, who hails from New Jersey, relocated to Taipei on a “winter-break whim” and has never looked back. She now spends her days studying business at National Taiwan University and blogging about the place she calls home on her website, The Thousandth Girl. Here are a few of Stephanie’s favorite things about the city The Wall Street Journal‘s China bureau described as “Asia’s answer to Portland, Oregon.”

Taipei is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to Shida Night Market so they can eat and shop their jet lag away! After stuffing our faces with Taiwanese sausages, braised pork on rice, pan-fried buns, and fresh pineapple juice, I lead them around the market’s winding alleyways to peruse all manner of iPhone cases, weird clothing, pretty camera straps, and cheap stationery until the wee hours of the morning–or until they drop from exhaustion. Welcome to Taipei!

Chinese New Year holiday is the best time to visit my city because Taipei reaches a fever-pitch frenzy of eating, drinking, and celebrating in preparation for the new year. The next morning, the city is suddenly empty, as nearly everyone travels south to visit their ancestral homes!

You can see my city best from Elephant Mountain, a mere 15-minute walk from the city center. After scrambling up a set of winding stairs for a half hour and reaching a big rock, you’ll gasp when you see Taipei 101 rising out of the skyline right in front of you!

Locals know to skip Shilin Night Market and check out Raohe Night Market instead.

Eslite Spectrum is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. In addition to being a gorgeous bookstore, the newly constructed building acts as a showcase for Taiwanese products and design. Make sure to visit the floor with the row of Taiwanese tea shops lining the windows. I’ll bet you’ve never tasted a brew like Siidcha’s golden wheat green tea.

In the past, notable people like Chiang-Kai ShekJay Chou, and Chen Shu-chu, the world’s most generous vegetable seller, have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the National Museum of History because in addition to its prime location in Taipei’s charming “retro” district and a constantly rotating roster of interesting exhibits, the Taipei Botanical Gardens are in its backyard. There’s a breathtaking lotus pond in the back where you can view thousands of water lilies in bloom (in the right season, of course). If you become parched after your museum stroll, there’s a brown-sugar shaved ice joint nearby that’s been open for half a century nearby.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s to check out Youbike, our city bike rental system. For less than 30 cents an hour, you can reach any part of the city in a flash. Plus, how can you have a bad day when you’re wheeling about on a bright yellow-orange cruiser?

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is Da’an Forest Park. Wake up at 4:30 a.m. if you want to see hundreds of senior citizens doing their morning tai chi.

My city really knows how to celebrate carbs because one of our typical breakfast dishes is a stick of fried dough–sandwiched between another piece of baked dough. Go figure.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they get teary-eyed at the mere mention of “Din Tai Fung.”

For a fancy night out, I put on my fake eyelashes and head to WOOBar at the W Hotel for passionfruit mojitos and a view of the sparkling rooftop pool.

Just outside my city, you can visit Jiufen, the atmospheric mountain village that inspired Spirited Awaythe first anime film to win an Oscar.

My city is known for being the Portland of Asia,” but it’s really the Isle Formosa, meaning “the beautiful island.”

The best outdoor market in my city is Simple Market. It’s a charming little mix of artists and local farmers who set up in the shadow of Taipei 101 every Sunday. What you’ll find there: Ice cream, fresh veggies, henna tattoos, and good vibes.

My local green onion pancake stall is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and the spot for late-night eats is Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodle, open until 6:30 a.m. What’s better than a huge, steaming bowl of beef and noodles after a big night out?

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, learn how to read Chinese. Or make yourself a Taiwanese friend (it’s not hard at all).

My city’s biggest sports event is…sports? What sports?

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I grab some sauteed eggplant and oyster mushrooms over noodles or rice at my local bian-dang (lunchbox) store or step into my local 7-11 for a box of sesame noodles. Total cost? $50NT (around $1.50). Cha-ching! 

To escape the crowds, I head to the town of Jiaoxi to swim in a secret waterfall!

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Joseph Gordon-Levitt because it’s small, friendly, and absolutely adorable.

The dish that represents my city best is xiaolongbao, little “soup dumplings” (they may not look like much, but their taste will blow your mind), and pearl milk tea is my city’s signature drink.

Taipei 101 is my favorite building in town because it’s always communicating to the city through its flashing signs. The other day, it told residents 加油, which translates to “Add oil, keep on going!”

The most random thing about my city is that the garbage truck plays Beethoven (Fur Elise, to be precise) as it goes through the streets.

Cashbox KTV is the best place to see live music (if by live music you mean you and your friends belting out Britney on a karaoke machine), but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Chess Club. Trust me, it’s not as nerdy as it sounds.

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Waiting in line for two hours to eat honey toast could only happen in my city.

In the spring you should visit Yangmingshan to see all the gorgeous flowers on the mountain in full bloom.

In the summer you should take the train to the surf-worthy coastline and relaxed hippie vibe of Taitung or take the ferry to Green Island to do some snorkeling.

In the fall you should wander around Huashan Cultural & Creative Park, have a coffee at VVG Thinking, and check out all the exhibits on offer.

In the winter you should take the MRT to Beitou to soak in an all-natural hot spring and see thousands of lanterns being let loose at the Pingxi Lantern festival.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss visiting Dihua Street to experience the food-sampling madness during Chinese New Year. The street is liveliest during this time of year, as thousands of people flock to buy treats for their family and friends to enjoy during the holiday. As you walk down the street, you’ll literally be begged to sample all kinds of dried fruits and candy–just don’t make yourself sick!

The best book about my city is Taipei People 台北人, by Pai Hsien-Yung.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Green Island Serenade,” an old pop tune that describes a man’s lovesickness for his lover, while also managing to convey the beauty of Taiwan and the wistful feeling anyone who leaves her will undoubtedly experience.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it’s the perfect mix of relaxed island vibes and urban hustle-and-bustle. It’s the best-kept secret in Asia.

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