Two Months in Taiwan

It’s been two months since I arrived in Taipei, and I’m sitting here in a coffee shop drinking some of the best coffee I’ve had in years thinking about how glad I am that I made this move.

I have never been to Asia before. I’ve been as far east as the UAE and Oman, but never really to Asia proper. I chose Taiwan for several reasons. I knew I wanted to move to Asia, and knew I couldn’t handle the cost of living in Japan, or the amount of people in China, so I started looking at other areas. There was South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan that started looking like real options. I was leaning toward Vietnam honestly, I mean, look at the beaches! But the more I looked into Taiwan and read the accounts of English teachers here, the more I started thinking of it as a real option. Taiwan seemed smaller and less crowded than many other cities. I read that the people were friendly and that unlike some other countries around here, they are very open to foreigners. I saw photos and videos of the forested mountains and many hiking trails, that are so easily accessible from the city, and although Taiwan isn’t known for it’s beaches the way that some other countries are, I noted that there were many places to catch some sun and get in some snorkeling. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that Taiwan was the right place. So, when I found a teaching job with a nice salary in Taipei after only a few weeks of applying to different places, I figured why not? I booked the ticket and here I am.

Like I said, it’s only been a few months, and I’m hardly an authority on the city yet, but I can share some initial observations.

First of all, I can say that the blogs were right when they said that the people here are friendly. Taiwanese people are so friendly and helpful, and not once, since coming here, have I felt uncomfortable or unwelcome. The people here will stop what they’re doing to give directions, even if you haven’t asked, and they’re more than happy to start up a conversation in the metro. Many people here speak English, and in stores, cafes, hospitals or government offices there is no shortage of people willing and able to help you with whatever you need.

I find the city itself vibrant and colorful. During the day you can see how green the city is, with trees lining the streets, flowers hanging from the buildings and parks scattered throughout the city. At night though the city somehow feels even more colorful; the streets are lined with a kaleidoscope of color that you can only see once the sun goes down. The street signs, lit up buildings, and the different colors of the buses driving by, all come together to make the city come alive at night. Not only is the city visually stimulating, but the different sounds and smells bring it alive. When I walk past the many street vendors and restaurants open to the street, I always have an urge to stop and order something right then (except if they’re selling their famous stinky tofu).

This is another thing that I’ve learned since coming here; Taiwanese people are real foodies. They love food here, and there are places around the island that are renowned throughout for their own special recipes and twists on traditional foods. Not only is the local food amazing, but there is an endless array of foreign cuisine available, and I’ve noticed a lot of vegetarian and vegan restaurants as well, for those inclined. The options here for food are endless, no matter what you’re into. As well, they love coffee here, which came as somewhat of a surprise to me, as I had thought I would be moving to a place full of tea drinkers. There are also unlimited options for tea here, but their coffee has surprised me as being much better than in Europe. Of course, in Europe espresso is easy to find and often very good, but a good drip coffee is harder to find, and they do it really well here. Not only are food and coffee good here, but there are some local breweries that I’ve found are quite good. Drinking isn’t a huge part of the culture over here, and as a result is slightly more expensive relative to Europe, but there is certainly no shortages of bars or clubs.

Taipei is also a great place to live for ease of transportation; there are always buses, and the metro (MRT) which can get you around the city efficiently. Not only is it easy to get around the city, but the intercity trains and buses are available to get you around the island. Aside from public transport being quick and easy, taxi and uber fares are reasonable and cars are readily available. I’ve noted that a lot of people here ride scooters, evidenced by the many parking areas packed full of them, and this seems like another economical option for transport for the single person (not that people don’t pack entire families onto them as well).

In addition to these other positive factors, Taipei is also a very clean and organized city. The streets, bus stops and MRT stations are spotless all the time. Public bathrooms are clean, and you never see garbage in parks or outside of buildings. They are also serious about recycling, with a whole complex process for the different kinds of recycling. Strangely enough, the only inconvenient thing I have found in Taipei is the lack of garbage bins on the streets, which means that people have to save their garbage for the bins in the MRT stations, or bring it to their home or workplace. Funny enough, that is exactly what Taiwanese people do; in other cities I’m sure people would just litter, as opposed to putting the garbage  in thier purse until they get home, but not Taiwanese people! So while this is a minor inconvenience, it is also a testament to the environmentally conscious mindset and the respect of the people of Taipei for their city. Not only are the streets clean and organized, I have yet to find a more organized immigration process. I’ve done the legal immigration thing in Istanbul, Budapest and know many friends who have done it in other places, and in comparison it has been a breeze here. There is an easy to follow process, people who speak English who are willing to help, and no confusing run around. It seems to me that the process is not only relatively simple, but everything is done on time in an organized manner. Even the hospital where I did my health check was a welcome surprise. I’m used to dreading going to foreign hospitals, and in this one I didn’t wait longer than ten minutes, the people at the information desk helped me fill out my paperwork, and I got a consultation, eye check, blood pressure check, x-ray and blood tests done in under an hour. Overall, I commend the efficiency of Taiwan, and this certainly makes it easier to live here as a foreigner.  

I’ve also had the chance to get out of Taipei, to the north, where we went snorkeling at a Long Dong Bay. At Long Dong, after some serious climbing over boulders that left my legs exhausted, we made it to a beautiful place to snorkle and cliff dive. The water was clear and the day was beautiful and I was instantly grateful for having moved to such a wonderful country. From there, we visited the mountain town of Jiufen, which was packed full of narrow winding streets and alleys and steep staircases, lined with teahouses and street food and quaint souvenir shops. Atop the city sat a few temples, one of which we visited to learn more about the history of the town, which was originally established as a gold mining town in the early twentieth century during the Japanese era, as well as of course the buddhist practices here. I thoroughly enjoyed not only Jiufen, and Long Dong, but also the chance to see some of the scenery on the drive around this area. We ended the day with a sunset view from Elephant Rock, which is just a big rocky outcropping that happens to look a bit like an elephant. All in all, it was an exhausting,enlightening and rewarding day out with new friends.  

In the two months since coming here I’ve made many new friends, found that I enjoy my job, sorted out my immigration, seen a bit of Taiwan outside of Taipei and eaten lots of dumplings. I may not have been here long, but I am glad that I’ve made this move. It was a complete unknown, moving here, but I couldn’t be happier for having done it. There are so many reasons already to love this city, and I haven’t yet seen nearly enough. I can’t wait to explore more of Taipei and get out to see more of Taiwan. As always, I have no plans and have no idea how long I’ll be here, but I can honestly say that this is a good start to whatever is coming.