Even with the positive effects of globalization, it’s still not possible to get what you want where you are. Sometimes you have to travel elsewhere to be able to choose what you want at a better price than you can get where you live.
In Taiwan, it’s possible to eat very well for less than what it costs to buy a cup of coffee in the USA.
For lunch, we three ordered 4 dishes from an authentic Szechuan restaurant: tofu, greens, clam soup, and 3 bowls of Szechuan wontons (chao shou). The meal came with unlimited self-service white rice and sweet black jelly drink (xian cao, or hsian tsao, or translated literally, fairy grass). The bill was US $12.00.
In the early afternoon, I got a haircut for US $3.50 — just the cut, no shampoo or blow dry.
Later I ordered a small bowl of wonton noodle soup for about US $1.50 from an outdoor, roadside stall (hawker). It was so filling that I barely had room for papaya, pineapple, salt-water goose leg, steamed bamboo leaf parcel, and other small dishes (xiao cai; hsiao tsai) afterwards.
Yet, at the same time, an iPhone 4S costs about US $663 outright. SIM unlocked. It’s better to get such gadgets in the USA. Accessories, such as iPad and iPhone covers, on the other hand, are quite inexpensive and varied. I bought a nice iPhone 5 cover for a mere US$10 at a convenience store in Taipei.
The 2.5 hour coach ride from Taipei to Taichung cost me US $6.00 —- quite hard to believe.
My nondescript hotel in Taichung has all the amenities I need for the week: wireless Internet, shower, TV (though I don’t need this), clean bed & daily change of sheets and towels, shower, toilet, two mirrors. I can get boiling hot water or cold water from a dispenser in the hallway. It’s a 5 minute walk from my father’s home. How much? Less than US$ 25 per night.
The walk to my father’s home meanders through a shopper’s paradise of colorful assortment of shoes, clothes for all seasons, and other material goods. Sales range from 10% to 90% off. Everything is primed for “shop till you drop.”
Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold for someone who is not here to shop but to maximize the experience of one precious week for another year or more before I see my father again.