I’m Matthew, a rising senior at Yale University studying African American Studies (major), Global Health Studies (certificate), and Advanced Mandarin on the pre-med track. Hailing from the small town of Bridgeport, Alabama, I’ve wanted to set foot in Taiwan ever since I began my language studies. As a low-income student, I hope my blog illuminates both the beauty of Taiwan and the utility of far-fetched dreams.
Skyline of Xinyi District atop Elephant Mountain
Amidst the disarray of settling into Taiwan, I found respite this past week exploring the northern and southern portions of Taipei. Nestled south of the city, just a 30-minute walk from my apartment, Elephant Mountain (象山) has offered me a glimpse of the expansiveness and growth of Taipei. The view atop Elephant Mountain particularly highlights the district where I live, Xinyi (信義) — Taipei’s current cultural, economic, and governmental hub. During the hike up, I found myself considering the city’s growing political and economic influence, concretized by the multiple recently-erected or in-progress skyscrapers visible from the mountain’s peak.
A couple of days after my trek up Elephant Mountain, I ventured to the northwest of the city to Taipei’s former sociopolitical hub: Dadaocheng (大稻埕). Dadaocheng’s prowess proliferated during the 19th century at the height of tea exportation. Although Xinyi has since overshadowed the district, the small shops and cafes along Dadaocheng’s Dihua Street (迪化街) jumped out at me with their smells and sounds. I popped into every store that sparked my interest — like the tea shop where I learned about Taiwanese teas and the ice cream shop where the clerk let me hold their dog — before strolling along the Tamsui River (淡水河).
A friendly dog at a shop in Dadaocheng
What I’ve come to love about Taipei so far is how the meta (the big, theoretical, or philosophical) is so nicely complimented by the smallness of individual moments. Atop Elephant Mountain, I took time to notice the complex networks of business and community forming in real-time across a burgeoning city. Then I took time to breathe—to enjoy the serenity of a quiet place with new friends. In Dadaocheng, I stepped back into critical moments of Taiwan’s history as I read about Dadaocheng’s zenith during the Japanese occupation while also stepping forward into tiny moments in which I noticed an unfamiliar smell or recently-learned vocabulary term.
Sunset from Dadaocheng’s pier
It is through considering these opposing aspects that I make sense of why I travel. Growing up in such a small town, my sense of self as a global citizen stems from mindful travel and meaningful engagement with international communities. Becoming more proximate to historical, social, and cultural moments in world history, moments we continue to produce for the next generation’s consideration, helps me remember the smallness of my life and the enormity of my current adventure.
Wherever you are in life, I hope you can also nourish the sense of perspective and presence I’ve tried to impart. From a bus on its way back to Taipei, I write this.