It’s been said that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” (that’s Mark Twain, friends!).
I have found this to be true time and time again in my travels.
It only takes a step or two off the plane to see that many of our deeply entrenched cultural stereotypes are completely false, to the point where I don’t even know where they came from in the first place.
- “French people are rude” (I’ve yet to meet one who wasn’t classy, gracious, and suspiciously good-looking)
- “The English are stuffy” (um, go to a bar in London. Any bar.)
- “New Yorkers are mean” (like the cab driver who stopped in the middle of a traffic-choked intersection because I had dropped my glove?! And didn’t drive off until I had picked it up? Mean like that?)
It goes both ways, too. I take care to be less fat, dumb, monolingual and ignorant whenever I tell someone I’m American, but our reputation tends to precede us, making it difficult to pierce through people’s preconceived notions.
“Rachel Maddow!” I sputter in protest whenever someone accuses us of being dumb. “Any celebrity!” I sputter when someone points out our rampant obesity.
But I digress. The point is that most cultures in the world don’t live up to their reputations – for better or worse.
Except the Taiwanese.
The steamy embrace of the sultry Taipei night envelops me as I emerge from the icy airport. It’s been an intense couple of days, with first-timer-in-Asia shock slapping me upside the head the second I land in Shanghai.
I’m standing near a friendly young couple who chats with me a bit in English and asks me where I’m headed.
I show them a piece of paper with my hostel’s name, and they smile and nod. Maybe they’re just being polite, but I assume the nodding means that my hostel does indeed exist, and that it is hand’s down the best hostel in all of Taipei. I feel relieved.
A bus pulls up. I automatically assume it must be mine, what with me standing right there and everything, and begin to lug my cumbersome suitcases towards the luggage compartment.
The couple moves like a crab, their bodies a single unit scuttling toward me. They shake their heads vigorously and block my way. This is not my bus.
They repeat this crab-dance for the next 4 buses that pull up, and I’m beginning to worry that maybe they didn’t understand where I’m going after all.
Just when I’m starting to feel hopelessly lost again, a fifth bus pulls up, and they gesture to me to get on.
I would’ve absolutely gotten on the wrong bus and been shuttled into the belly of a massive, sprawling foreign city had it not been for this couple.
As if that isn’t enough, they continue an abbreviated version of the crab dance on the bus itself, not letting me get off until they get off (thank God we happened to have the same stop!)
They then proceed to escort me 3 very counterintuitive blocks to my hostel, which is tucked away in some random alley south of the train station (how would I have found it without them? I am completely unprepared!).
The guy actually carries one of my suitcases while his tiny girlfriend offers moral support – she doesn’t seem in the slightest bit miffed that I have completely disrupted their evening with my foreignness.
When it is discovered that my hostel is on the third story of this back alley building, the gentleman crab carries my suitcases up the stairs for me.
It’s all I can do not to embrace him in gratitude, and since it’s late and I’ve traveled so far and I realize I would be (literally) lost without him, I’m unable to fight the urge and wrap him in a giant bear hug.
He blushes fiercely, terribly embarrassed, and I know in that moment not to do something like that again to someone I’ve just met (and certainly not in public!).
Swimming in Gratitude
The entirety of my brief time in Taipei was filled with occurrences equal to “the crab couple incident” in terms of generosity and kindness.
I’ll never forget…
- the girl who approached me in the train station because I looked hopelessly lost, and made sure I got on the right train
- the man who helped me lift my enormous suitcases onto said train and then proceeded to hold them up so they wouldn’t fall during the entire ride to Chang hua
- the grandmother who sat down next to me in a busy mall food court and promptly divided her entire lunch in half to share with me (and then, when I tried to reciprocate, refused the offer with a kind smile)
I was swimming in gratitude for 72 hours straight as I slowly realized people weren’t putting on airs, or trying to get something from me, or playing out some sort of citywide “be nice to the tourists” campaign.
They really are that nice.
Kindness and generosity have been woven into the fabric of who they are as a people, making Taiwan hands-down one of the friendliest countries in the world.
I’ll never forget the crab couple, those slickly-dressed angels who seem to have been sent down from heaven just so I’d be a little less afraid. They ushered me into a sweltering city of warmth and made sure I wasn’t swallowed whole in the heat of newness.
Thank you, Taiwan, for your authenticity, your refreshing kindness, your unparalleled understanding of what it means to be human.
And to the crab couple, wherever you are, may your lives be filled with exponential kindnesses that dwarf those you showed me on that sultry August night.
SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now.
1. The French are not rude.
2. Brits are not stuffy.
3. Americans are not (that) dumb.
4. New Yorkers are not mean.
5. Yes - Taiwan really and truly is one of the friendliest countries in the world.
Want to dig deeper? Go for it!