Taiwan FAQ

This isn’t Chinese food served in a cute little to-go box with a fortune cookie. You’ve never eaten food like this before in the States.

There’s pollution. A lot of it.

There are stray dogs and cats. A lot of them.

Those beautiful, lush, mountainous landscapes and stunning beach scenes you see on Wikitravel are on the east coast. You won’t live there. You’ll live on the west coast. Things look different here.

Treat your coworkers with respect. As a foreigner, no matter what you’re doing, you’re getting paid more than citizens just for being foreign. They know it, too.

It’s humid and hot, or it’s humid and cold. It’s probably raining.

You don’t need a girlfriend or a boyfriend; you need friends. Reign in those hormones.

You are going to meet some of the most incredible people on the planet, foreigners and locals alike. Don’t take advantage of them. Word travels fast on a small island like Taiwan.

Eat it. Try it at least once. And if it’s been made especially for you, try to eat most of it.

You think eating chicken foot soup is weird, the Taiwanese think eating deep fried Twinkies is weird.

Doctor visits, medicine, medical procedures: all super cheap. Extremely cheap with government-sponsored insurance. That said, use Google to find out if that pill is ibuprofen or a horse tranquilizer.

Your best bet is a phone call. If they’re under thirty, your best bet is a text or a Facebook post.

Your first trip to a grocery store is going to blow your mind. It’s going to be busy, extremely noisy (especially if it’s RT Mart), and you’re going to have to identify most products by appearance, not the label.

That said, thank God for easy-to-recognize labels.

That said, beware the knock-off labels. If it’s a green circle that says Stabucks, it’s your risk to take.

Smile. You’re a weirdo in a small, homogenous culture. Of course they’re staring.

They know more English than you think. Don’t be rude.

They aren’t as fluent in English as you think. Don’t be rude.

You need cash. Debit and credit cards are very rarely used.

Yes, that was a cockroach. Now finish your dinner.

Ladies: always have tissues or a small pack of toilet paper in your purse.

Ladies: your tampon options are limited. As in, bring some from home.

Mosquitoes are vicious, fast, and hungry. And they’re huge. Go after them with wet hands so it’s harder for them to escape.

The crazy thing about teaching English abroad: sometimes you actually have to teach. Like, work.

Hold your breath when you go by a sewer grate in the summer.

Never scoot to the right of buses or large trucks unless they’re stopped.

Always expect every driver on the road to suddenly change everything they’re doing and try to kill you. Even the parked cars. Especially the scooters. If you’re within five lanes of a bus, watch it like a cat watches a laser pointer.

Pedestrians have death wishes. So do (non-competitive) bicyclists.

Unless you’re in a big city, there are very few sidewalks. If there is a sidewalk, scooters have probably parked on it.

That’s not blood on the street, it’s betel nut juice.

If you get in a scooter accident and don’t have your international motorcycle license or Taiwan scooter license, don’t admit anything. Keep quiet and get help from someone who has your best interests in mind. Be prepared to fight against false accusations.

Birthday cakes are nothing like they are at home.

Most apartments don’t have kitchens. If they do, there’s no oven, no microwave. Houses will have kitchens, but no oven or microwave. There are no dishwashers.

Dryers are a rarity.

Don’t drink the tap water. Drink filtered or bottled water. It’s not India bad, but you might get an upset stomach.

The people who drive the most are the worst drivers: blue trucks, buses, taxis, delivery scooters.

They don’t have flat sheets in Taiwan.

There’s KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, McDonald’s (everywhere), Starbucks, Burger King, Subway, TGI Friday’s, and a handful of other chains you’ll recognize.

However, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants with plastic chairs and disposable silverware and chopsticks will serve you some of the best food on the planet.

However, those same hole-in-the-wall restaurants also serve some foods that make my stomach turn. I’m looking at you, sea cucumber.

Drivers can parallel park here like it’s nothing. They could fit a Hummer into a port-a-potty if they wanted to.

Taiwan is a microcosm of the negative aspects of society for foreigners: you’re going to be faced with corruption, injustices, cheating, lying, bullying, and cruelty, and it’s going to be hard to escape it.

But when you find the good, and it’s everywhere, you’ll see just how great the human race can be.

4 comments

  1. Sounds just like the Philippines – we’re going there in Aug / Sept. Want to come visit? Love the tip about using wet hands to catch the mosquitos!

    1. Oooh… depending on how some things shape up here… I might take you up on that offer.

      That mosquito tip was from my friend Nicola – genius, right? Of course, you have to actually get it between your hands, something I’m apparently terrible at. 🙂

  2. That is a mighty fine and respectable list Mandy.
    some additions of my own 🙂

    When driving, I find that the rule of the road is to pay extreme attention to what is in front of you. There is no need to look behind if everyone is simply trying to not hit what is in front of them. (I learned this riding my bicycle. I got terribly confused looks from the scooter drivers every time I passed a scooter. They couldn’t hear me coming.)

    Honking a horn in The States is usually equated with, “GET OUT OF THE WAY YOU IDIOT!” In Taiwan, honking your horn while driving can save your life. It is most often used to say “Here I come! You better not pull out in front of me!” A gentle toot can prevent the possible collision with that idiot wanting to make a U-turn without looking.

    “Smile. You’re a weirdo in a small, homogenous culture. Of course they’re staring.”
    -This took me a month to figure out. Smile, wave enthusiastically, and say, “NiHao!”
    The menacing stare turns into an overjoyed smile. Make sure you wave as fast as you can.

    Don’t be afraid to be weird. In fact, practice it. All foreigners are weird. Have fun.
    However, don’t take it too far and don’t be disrespectful. Just make someone smile. You’ll have a big grin on your face too.

    Leave the city at least twice a month. Explore the beaches, the mountains, the rivers, and forests. The contrast between city and untamed natural beauty is amazing.

    Get lost in the mountains on your motorbike: like, really lost. Just remember, “city’s name + “NaLi.” Someone WILL help you.

    Have good friends.

    1. “A gentle toot…” Holy 16-year-old-mindset, Batman, I laughed so hard at that it echoed down the hall.

      “Make sure you wave as fast as you can.” And stick your neck out a little more and plaster that huge smile on your face. TADA! Everyone giggles!

      “Leave the city at least twice a month.” Hallelujah amen. Get out of this place.

      I’m sad I didn’t fall in love with Taiwan the way you have, Brendan, but it’s definitely been good to me, and these additions are brilliant. As always, it was a pleasure reading your comment!

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