Taiwan’s New Year: Welcomed Like Royalty

GoNOMAD’s own Mariel Kennison traveled to Taiwan during one of the busiest, most exciting times of the year; the Chinese New Year. Read her account of her nine-day experience exploring this incredibly vibrant country!

The lantern festival in Miaoli, Taiwan. Photo by Mariel Kennison.

As much as I was excited for my trip to Taiwan, I was also pretty nervous. Not only was it my first time traveling to Asia, but I did not speak one word of Mandarin or any form of Chinese, for that matter. I had never been to a country where I couldn’t at least get by in the native language, making this trip in February 2011 my most gutsy and potentially, my biggest disaster.

All of my fears and doubts immediately dissolved when I set foot on the island, however. In no time at all I felt like I had lived there for years and was being treated like a true local. The people were so friendly and genuinely happy it was a complete shock, especially for an American like myself.

Now, I love America, but in very few large cities could you visit and be treated like royalty when you are so clearly a foreigner. Even the most elderly Taiwanese citizens were turned into giddy children when they saw us disembark our tour bus and whip out our cameras.

Their economy is flourishing but they do not receive many Western tourists; they were overjoyed to be witness to such an event. It was a truly amazing feeling to be welcomed this way into a country so far from home and though we were all exhausted most of the time, it was hard not to emulate the infectious happiness of everyone around us.

Despite there being 23 million people packed into an island country roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts, there seemed not to be a rude bone in anyone’s body. The fact that most everyone practices either Buddhism, Confucianism, or Taoism shows in the way they live their lives every day; no one shoved or pushed me out of the way, not even along the crowded streets of the incredibly popular night markets.

Even though not many people could speak English and I had only learned how to say hello and thank you from my tour guide, they were all willing to help me in any way they knew how. Their devotion to kindness, generosity, and spirituality was inspiring and remarkable, especially considering the brutal history the country endured for centuries. After being ruled by China and Japan for so long, I would not have blamed the Taiwanese for being resentful or angry people, but their innocent, fun-loving spirit has yet to be restrained.

Taiwan’s New Year: Welcomed Like Royalty