After graduating university last summer we took the plunge and moved to Taiwan together to teach English. We had no specific ideas of what we wanted to do with our lives yet but only knew we wanted to travel. Now we’ve been here a year and have learned a lot about Taiwan, traveling and ourselves. Here are a few;
1. Where is Taiwan?
Maybe you’re a very geographically informed person but even we had to do some research before we came here, as Taiwan is not a well-known travel destination for British people. Taiwan is a very small island near the East coast of China with a population of 24 million people. Its known as the Republic Of China (R.O.C) but has been independent since the 50s after the civil war. Without getting into the politics, it’s a large debate wether Taiwan is still classed as Chinese land but the people here feel very much their own nationality and we see it that way too. It’s a bit like calling the Welsh “English”… don’t go there.
2. The real meaning of “humidity”
Seriously, you don’t know the word until you’ve spent a significant amount of time in a ‘sub-tropical’ climate, especially during the wet and summer seasons. At times unbearable with the strong sun beating down on you while sweat is dripping down your face, back, chest and legs… not comfortable. It’s disgusting for one thing and extremely unpleasant when you’re trying to be productive. Temperatures can reach 40 degrees + 80% humidity making it feel even hotter!
3. Public awareness distinction
While Taipei is a very safe, clean and efficient place to get around, we have encountered many situations where Taiwanese civilians seem oblivious to what we thought were universal public rules. To name a few; people fart, spit and burp in public whenever they please, in ear-shot and nose-shot without a batter of an eyelid. People stop on the left side of the escalators frequently and look back at you behind them without thinking to continue moving up, isn’t this the fast lane? Scooters always drive on the pavement and expect you to move out of their way so they can take their short cut. And we’ve seen a lot of Taiwanese people who seem to lack common sense about their surroundings e.g. How to stand in a line, let you pass or get off a train accordingly.
I’m sorry if the above seems like we’re complaining about Taiwanese people, we’re generalising about a few, because we have also learned how friendly, kind and accommodating they are to foreigners.
4. How to balance a full-time job and traveling
While we haven’t traveled nearly as much as we would like to, we try to do and see as much as we can while working full schedules. Our teaching jobs are quite demanding, we don’t get much time to take holidays and when we do we have to find cover for our classes which is hard to do, so time off is limited. However, people often tell us “you two are always getting around” because we make the most of our weekends even if it’s just hiking or wandering around Taipei finding new coffee shops.
5. Explore your doorstep
Relating to that above, we have learned that traveling doesn’t have to mean going to different countries, but is also experiencing new places that may be nearby. Taiwan is a beautiful country filled with mountains and coastlines that are easily accessible. While we’re here we want to see as much as it as possible and still haven’t been to a lot of places. Even though we want to see other Asian countries, it’s just as important to us to see the country we live in.
6. Questionable Asian style
Asian style is known to be on-point, which mostly it is. Taiwan has a lot of Japanese and Korean style influence so if we could summarise it in a few words they would be; cute, cool, comfortable. However, we witness on a daily basis some not-so trendy (in our opinion) choices. From couples wearing matching trainers, head-to-toe UV protection, grown women wearing ‘Hello Kitty’ logos, back-to-front jackets, and teens wearing bizarre styles. Although, saying that, Taiwan style is very versatile and relaxed so you can pretty much wear anything you like and it’s socially acceptable. However, being westerners we already get stared at so we try not to draw any extra attention to ourselves by wearing promiscuous clothing.
7. Everyone hates the sun!
We love the sun and getting a tan but in Taiwan those things are completely avoided like the plague. While British beauty is focused on bronzed skin and showing yourself off to UV rays, people here do everything they can to hide from the sun and stay as white as possible. It’s completely understandable, considering how detrimental the sun is for our skin health and risk of cancer. White skin is a beauty statement here and it’s extremely difficult to find decent skin products that don’t have ‘whitening’, ‘brightening’ and ‘bleaching’ agents in them. The complete opposite to the bronzers and fake tan craze in the West. We feel like aliens walking around with sun kissed legs and shoulders while everyone else is using umbrellas to shield themselves.
8. Dogs and cats are royalty
Th amount of cute dogs here is adorable! If you think pets are treated well in the UK, you haven’t seen anything like Taiwan. Dogs are treated like babies. They’re pushed around in special doggy pushchairs, carried in doggy backpacks and front-harness’ and even wear nappies. Pet shops are kitted out with more accessories than you can imagine. Cats are carried around in cat backpacks with windows. People take their parrots, rabbits and hamsters anywhere they fancy too.
9. Retail diversity and characteristic shops
Taiwan has such a vast range of independent and individual retail business’. There are so many cool clothing shops that are clearly run by independent owners. The same goes for eateries and coffee shops. Shopping is easy and different within each district of the city and each street you turn down. We have come across so many little units that we have loved. Some are hidden away down small streets and alleys, we love seeing what we can find.
10. Each other
This year has been our first year living together. Moving away from all of our family and friends to live together has been a challenge that we have overcome with a lifetime of memories to show for it. Without sounding too “triple cheese topping”, one of the most important things we have learned is how strong our relationship is. We couldn’t have made it this far without one another.
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Hollie & Patrick