OMG I think it is a love at first sight type of thing. We've only been here a little over 24 hours and already, I have an extremely positive feeling about the place. It is way different from just about anywhere else we've been in Asia with the possible exception of Singapore. How to explain.
First I will say it seems to have an extremely relaxed vibe. Japan is cool because people are so polite that even if you are noticed as being different, no one will say anything about. AND everyone for the most part follows the rules. Here in Taipei, people also follow the rules but somehow it doesn't seem so draconian.
In a lot of ways Taipei seems more cosmopolitan (influences from all over the world) than any place we've been elsewhere in Asia (remembering we haven't been to Tokyo yet). This means many more eating options for us among other things.
English is way more wide spread. I commented that Japan had more English than I anticipated but in Taipei at least there is way, way more than that. AND there are lots of people who are curious about you and want to ask you where you're from. We've had all kinds of interesting interactions with people already.
On our first night here we walked to a part of town filled with restaurants. The first one we were looking at the menu which had some English in the window and a young woman and guy said to us, "this place is great. You have to try it." We went in, were seated right next to them. Then she comes over and starts to help us interpret the menu and our order with the staff. THEN she comes over with some samples of things she and her guy had ordered. Just so sweet and nice. We hadn't even been in the country for 7 hours yet.
This morning we bought a metro card that lets us put funds on it. Since we're here for a week, it is a great convenience and bargain (you get 20% of fares) rather than buying individual tickets each time you ride it. We then went to the central train station to buy our tickets to and from Hualien which we go to in a week. We did some walking around the area but everything of tourist interest was closed on Mondays.
Went back to the hotel, got some lunch (after wandering around for a long time trying to find a place we never found). After a short rest, we were on the metro again to meet up for a free walking tour (you pay a 'donation' that is up to you at the end). This was very, very good. We had two guides (one was in training) and they had a great knowledge of the local history particularly the last 150 years for which there was a crap load of stuff going on. One thing you learn is that Taiwan is NOT Chinese. It has been its own place for a long time and the Chinese and Japanese were both colonists. When the Chinese Nationalists lost to the Chinese Communists in 1949 and escaped to Taiwan, they basically oppressed the local people including some massacres of local elites who were not anxious to get on the Nationalist China wagon.
Our tour group was interesting in its own right. We had three ladies from Washington D.C. who have family from Taiwan, a U.S. Embassy employee from Beijing, a guy from the Philippines, a guy and another couple from Malaysia, two guys from Spain, a guy from Italy, and a local Taiwanese guy who wanted to learn more history about his own country. Our tour covered what had once been the old walled city built by the Qing Dynasty Chinese.
When we were done, we went back to the hotel rested and decided to go back to dinner the same place we went to the first night since we didn't have the energy to find something new. I have many, many pictures to go through and hope to have a photo post up tomorrow.