I love to travel. So when I heard that there was an opportunity to travel to Taiwan for free, I jumped at the opportunity. It did not matter that I didn’t even know where Taiwan is located on the map; the thought of experiencing adventure in a mysterious island had me hooked.
Taiwan is a small island in East Asia. The national language is Chinese, though English speakers will still survive. The capital city, Taipei, is 9, 442kms away from Nairobi.
The National Youth Commission of Taiwan runs a competition, the Taiwan Youth Trekkers Competition, in which any person between the ages of 18 and 30 stands the chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip. All you need to do is design an itinerary stating which sites and attractions in Taiwan you would like to see. The best one wins.
This is how I ended up being the first Kenyan to win this competition thus far. In November 2012, I left for their shores to experience the itinerary I had designed, which focused on the culture of this island about which many Kenyans know almost nothing.
Wulai hot springs
The first thing that will strike you about this island is its food which, while mouth-watering, requires those of Kenyan palates to be open-minded. I don’t know whether it the Taiwanese preparation of it, but I loved their food.
I ate everything from charcoal grilled squid and sweet potato soup to sea weed, clam soup, dumplings, duck, pork, chicken, rice cooked in bamboo and wild boar – as well as a few other delicacies whose English names I did not learn. The only meal that I did not enjoy was stinky tofu, which is a staple here.
Another thing that will strike you is how considerate the society is of its vulnerable. In public transport, seats for vulnerable people are labelled ‘priority’ and placed at the front of the carriage.
The mountain town of Wulai is famous for its hot springs and waterfall, and inhabited by the native aborigine people. Wulai allows you to explore the tribes and ancient history of this fascinating island.
The Wulai Atayal Museum (named after the aborigine Atayal tribe that populates this area) offered me great insight on their traditions. You can get around this tiny little town on foot, and you must enjoy the hot springs.
Also a must-see is the high bridge which gives you an aerial view of the town. The wall carvings are quite a piece of art to enjoy. This town is rich in unusual, traditional dishes, and wild boar – which I enjoyed with rice – is one of them.
Back in the thoroughly modern town of Taipei, I got to see the Taipei 101, which is the tallest building in Taiwan – all 101 floors of it. Taipei is located on the banks of the Tamsui River, and thanks to its trading history, is a major transport hub.
There are rail and bus lines available, as well as two airports. The train stations are like mini towns, with malls sprouting all around them.
The warmth and love of the people will engulf you. I was the first African most of the people I met had ever seen. However, instead of eyeing me suspiciously, they were very receptive. They called me Piao Liang which means ‘beautiful’, in reference to my dark skin. I made many lifelong friendships.
You have to ride the high speed train which travels at 288km/hr. I used this to travel south to Ping Tung, which is their coastal area, and is quite hot. Here I visited the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Park, where I got to enjoy their music and dances.
Finally, I had the chance to make a presentation to The National Youth Commission, Taiwan Youth, several guests and other winners from across the world. It was a privilege to expose them to Kenya, which they knew nothing about, and it was an honour to be an ambassador for my country, even though I went as a civilian.