I left for Taiwan with one top-heavy rolling suitcase and a floppy duffel bag filled with a jean jacket and a pair of shoes I didn’t end up wearing. I returned ten days later with the aforementioned bags stuffed to the gills and a giant Doreamon tote bag that was so heavy I could not lift it comfortably by myself.
I’d love to say that I tried to avoid spending money before my trip in order to prepare for the consumer frenzy that awaited in Taipei, a city that, like Shanghai and Tokyo, is full of opportunities to spend money. Though I certainly did not need anymore clothing, I made a vow to myself to only wear soft pants for the duration of my trip; I figured that I’d be eating near constantly and really wanted to lean into that aesthetic. ASOS had a free two-day shipping deal in the mushy week between Christmas and New Year’s, so I ordered these floppy pants, this jumpsuit, a pair of leggings, and another pair of floppy pants, ensuring that I would not wear jeans or anything that left a mark in the soft meat of my tender stomach-flesh.
The purpose of my trip was not to shop, but also, it was; I was there to visit my grandmother and a clutch of aunts, uncles, and cousins who hadn’t seen me or my sisters since we were little. In between the quiet bouts of jet lag-fueled bickering, we had a nice time. I also bought something almost every place we stopped.
Upon arrival, we had hours to kill before checking into our Airbnb. I promised myself that I would not smoke a single cigarette on this trip but the 20 minutes we spent wrangling 12 pieces of luggage into the care of a storage place near the bus station convinced me otherwise. I stopped into a FamilyMart—a Japanese convenience store chain full of everything you would ever need—and bought cigarettes, a tiny and adorable tin of Herbacin hand cream and this Nivea tinted lip balm. I also bought some Nivea body lotion at a Watson’s, a beauty supply store as ubiquitous as Duane Reade. The lotion came with a free lip balm and cost maybe $5. My mother took the lip balm and the lotion survived the long journey in my luggage without splooging over everything I own.
Most of my purchases were made in a fugue state of exhaustion and rampant, frothy-mouthed consumerism, spurred by my inability to convert NTD prices to American dollars. In Ximending, a shopping district that was like Times Square, with street food vendors instead of shifty, off-brand Elmos, I bought this Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence Rose SPF50+/PA+++ and these L-ascorbic acid sheet masks that claim to “whiten” but are really just full of vitamin C!!! I also picked up these eyebrow shavers at a dollar store at the night market in Lihua and a Miss Hana color changing lipstick that tastes really horrible but looks great.
For some reason, I went to Uniqlo not once, but twice; there’s nothing particularly special about Uniqlo in Taipei except that there are many clothing options available for tiny, thin people. As I am essentially a blue whale in Taiwan—confirmed by my grandmother who looked at my bod and then wryly told me to stop drinking so much beer—I was able to find these velour pants and these lounge pants in my size; both were on sale, but not for less than I would’ve paid in good old New York City.
Any self-control I thought I had, I lost at the Shilin Night Market—arguably the most touristy of the many that I visited, but the one with the best knockoffs and the best shopping. Somehow I went to Shilin three times and I bought shit every SINGLE time. These purchases include: a cell phone case in the shape of a strawberry my aunt told me I paid too much for; a knockoff of this Gucci sweatshirt; another sweatshirt that says, inexplicably, SUNNY DISPOSITION in the New Balance font; two pairs of patterned socks; a knockoff Ripndip cell phone case; and a pair of very good earrings that look vaguely like the Rocky Horror Picture Show lips. I also purchased a little jade Buddha pendant at the Lungshan Temple; I’m also very proud of myself because I managed to purchase said Buddha pendant using my very rusty Mandarin.
My biggest purchase was a jade necklace from a jewelry store near my grandmother’s house, which I finally chose after frantically scanning my checking account to see if I could afford it, then running to the FamilyMart down the street to take out more cash and purchase a tiny Yakult, which I stress-chugged before handing over my money. It’s beautiful and perfect and I love it. No regrets!
Other purchases that were not beauty- or clothing-related included various gifts for friends; a giant bag of snacks for the Jezebel office; house slippers; a tote bag covered in cartoon Formosan black bears; a notebook; some good pens; and a little slice of Taiwanese Hinoki wood purchased from a street vendor in the beautiful mountain town of Jiufen an hour and change outside of Taipei. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with it, but it smells nice, so I’ve shoved it in my underwear drawer and am hoping for the best. Oh, and I bought some fermented tofu and some sort of shallot condiment in the Shengkeng Old Street. I regret not spending most of my money on the shallot condiment, though I’m sure I would’ve been flagged by customs. It is the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.
I don’t need to buy anything ever again and I feel great about that decision. It was worth it! Bury me with my belongings, like Egyptian royalty.