Costco Adventures in Taiwan

If you haven’t heard, Taipei is my favorite city in the world. This isn’t only because there are three Costcos there. But I’d be lying if I said Costco wasn’t part of it, or that the thought of entering Costco for the first time since leaving home didn’t make me excited for a whole month beforehand. (Truly XD)

 

 

Since Taiwan was the first and only country we had encountered with a Costco, visiting Costco gained number one importance on our list of things to do in the capital.

 

 

After a year and a half of traveling, I missed this big warehouse full of amazing food more than anything else from home. Wow, that sounds bad. Makes me sound like a big fatty, but let me explain. We used to do a majority of our food shopping at Costco in the US, and seeing as food plays a large part in the daily ins and outs of life, it was the convenience, low prices, (compared with food prices worldwide) and familiarity that I missed. My mom and I would go through open street markets in Southeast Asia to do our shopping, since grocery stores didn’t really exist there, and feel a bit lost. We didn’t have a pantry; we didn’t have a kitchen. So what could we buy? Probably not those live chickens or the pugnant leeks.

 

 

In Taipei though, we would be able to indulge in salsa and corn chips, get fresh rolls and a rotisserie chicken and dine on Costco pizza. Even if we couldn’t find any hostel kitchens to cook in, we would still know what to buy.

 

 

Before flying to Taiwan, I let my anticipation grow by watching Youtube videos that ex-pats had taken as they did their shopping around Costco in Taipei. The videos were usually made for family members of these ex-pats who wanted to see what an Asian Costco was like.

 

 

When we finally made our first trip out to Costco, shortly after arriving in Taiwan, our dreams were crushed. Don’t worry, the store was there, it looked just like home, we got a membership card and started to shop around. Everything started out normal, except we didn’t buy anything. We bounced from familiar item to familiar item.

 

 

The price of everything was at least 3X more than in the US! (It didn’t help that we had just come from the Philippines either.) Everything was so expensive in fact, that we started looking in other people’s carts to see what anyone could possibly be buying. My mom even asked a guy, whom she assumed was an expat, how he shopped there. The guy turned out to be a really sweet expat from Turkey. He admitted to the prices being pretty steep, but he had a regular list of things to pick up that couldn’t be found in other stores.

 

 

We stopped by the boxes of chocolate covered raisins. Each box cost USD$24. We just gaped, and walked on.

 

 

Costco had one redeeming quality that kept us coming back however. The Costco pizza was the same standard US$10 as home! The menu even offered clam chowder, which wasn’t available at home, to boot! If the groceries were expensive, at least the Costco cafe affordably provided the comfort food we craved.

 

 

Not much else ever happened at Costco, besides seeing a kid’s parents cut up his pizza so he could eat it with chopsticks, and the time two foreign-exchange University students from the US forgot their Costco card (typical guys, am I right?), asked us if they could come in with us, and ended up sharing a Costco pizza and stories.

 

 

My own adventure story hasn’t much to do with Costco at all, save for getting there. It started like this…

 

 

I took an afternoon out to go to a park. My mom and Grace weren’t feeling well, so I left not wanting to make noise in the hotel as they slept. I had seen pictures of this particular park in a blog and had thought it was pretty and unique. The park’s MRT stop was a long ride out into a suburban area of the city. I loved the park exactly for its far-outedness; it gave a local feel to it. There were, almost exclusively, only Taiwanese families. A father pulled a kite across the huge green lawn for his little daughter, friends chilled on steps and played guitar, a family brought their kitty to play outside with them.

 

 

 

I made my way following signs that ushered me to the photogenic moon bridge I had seen online. I snapped some photos and sat down to think and people watch, then walked over the bridge myself.

 

 

By the time I finished a long, circular walk around the park and lake, the sun had gone down and I was getting hungry. I bought my MRT ticket back to the stop where our hotel was and stepped in the train. Since I was all the way out at the end of the MRT line, the train was empty, and instead of taking off, it just sat there a while, waiting to fill up a bit.

 

 

 

A few elderly ladies walked into the train, sat down, waited a couple minutes, got utterly confused as to why the train wasn’t going, got out of the train, exchanged comments in Chinese, looked at me still sitting in it and got back in again.

 

 

By now the train announced it would be shutting its doors in two minutes. I had been looking at the map on my phone, at where I was and where I was going.

 

 

The doors closed.

 

 

Only a few stops later, the MRT arrived at a station that sounded familiar. Hey! That’s a stop where a Costco is! I realized. I only had a few seconds to make my decision. I was afraid to jump out at a station that was still far from the city center when it was already night and afraid to somehow find my way around to Costco.

 

 

But the night was young, I was hungry, and we had no food back at the hotel. Besides, if you know how something will work out, then it isn’t really an adventure anyway.

 

 

So, unnaturally, I got out. At the MRT info desk, one guy changed my MRT ticket for this earlier stop and handed back the excess money. When I asked, another guy, who thankfully spoke English, explained which exit to take and which buses went past Costco. You can always count on the friendliness of the Taiwanese for help.

 

 

Feeling a little more confident in my way, I waited at the bus stop. And waited. Buses came and went. I was standing at the correct number board, but the buses I needed didn’t show up. I had found Costco on my phone’s map, a mere 3.5 miles away. It was already past 8:30 and I wasn’t sure if the buses I needed had stopped running, although it was unlikely.

 

 

What’s 3.5 miles? I thought. I didn’t have Grace with me, so the walk wouldn’t last long. I needed the exercise anyway.

 

 

I started on a sidewalk that lined the highway. About ten minutes later, the bus I needed drove past. Figures. After half a mile, I could see that the sidewalk ahead me ended. Crap, I thought. I can’t walk on the highway.

 

 

Approaching the end, I saw a motorbike make a whizzing turn to the right, in front of where the sidewalk ended. Once I reached the end, the highway stretched on ahead, but full of only cars, a strange sight for a city abounding with motorbikes. To the right, there was a sort of separate highway, paralleling the first. The highway to the right had a lane for motorbikes and a lane for bicycles. Taiwan is so smart! This was much safer, to divide bikes from cars. And it meant I could safely walk in the bicycle lane, without fear of being run over.

 

 

From time to time, a motorbike would roar past in the other lane, but mostly I had the quiet night to myself. And finding myself alone for one of the first times ever since being abroad, I decided to sing. No one around would suffer. I sung all over the city and through this tunnel, to Costco for pizza I went! (Hope you got the song reference?) It was a strange experience, but a fun one. This adventure was certainly fulfilling (get it), spontaneous, caused by a pretty silly, but very human pursuit, and even left me with plenty of pizza to bring back to my mom and Grace. 🙂

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