Help me make Taiwan home
August 18, 2015 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I am soon (as in at this moment) moving to Taiwan, from Canada. I would love any suggestions folks have about travel, advice for new arrivals, old memories of visits, last minute travel recommendations and more.

Thanks in advance for any tips, recommendations, considerations and suggestions on all aspects of living in or around Taipei. Any internet related considerations? Are there questions I may ask folks I meet so as to elicit good conversation? Any topics I should hold off on? I have been working on some basic vocabulary building, I am doubtful my listening will be up to standard, though I love learning languages and will hopefully continue to improve.

Are there any cultural issues that I should consider relating to using an "energy ball" (a little ball with sounds and LEDs intended to teach and to show conductivity [it has two metal bits that conduct and we make a circle, and discuss how signals can travel or be impeded]). For example getting folks to see how it won't conduct past certain things; I have used it as a science teaching aid, but also as a symbol of how we all rely on others in our class to not break the learning connection (learning spaces seeming to share traits with pathways of electrical conductivity), and as a hammer to help convey that disturbing the learning of one classmate can disrupt an entire chain of positive learning environment (fair but firm because goofing hurts others often far more than the one being goofy). But it requires folks to touch hands, or arms. This worked very well with modifications in several Canadian contexts, and (I felt) made classroom dynamics more favourable to learning. Would be great to be able to find a way make the activity work.

Also appreciated are generalized last minute travel/packing suggestions
posted by infinite intimation to Travel & Transportation around Taipei, Taiwan (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've always described Taipei as a mix of China/Japan/US to people in terms of culture and society - they've had western influences for far longer than China has, so it's usually not too hard for foreigners to visit or fit in.

I don't see any problems with your energy ball. Chances are the ball was made in Taiwan or at least with parts from Taiwan. Science and engineering is also well loved and welcome.

The society is very open in general. Taxi drivers will talk all day long about politics, but you should probably stay out of the debate - KMT/Green party politics are fierce and something you should probably stay out of, though people may express their thoughts on current leadership. Internet coverage shouldn't be a problem - the city is very technologically advanced and high speed internet/cell phone coverage is everywhere., and many young people have at least some basic level of english and are happy to assist. You may want to read general cultural websites for general etiquette and cultural taboos for Chinese people, but people in Taipei tend to be fairly cosmopolitan and friendly with foreigners and a lot can be forgiven. Metro maps and general directions are also all available in English as well, so it won't be hard to find your way around the metro system.

If you're going as a teacher you'll likely to be invited to people's homes - if you are, consider bringing small gifts from Canada to give as presents as gift-giving culture is strong - again, a lot can be forgiven for foreigners, but it's customary to bring fruit or small desserts if you're going to someone's home. Coming from Canada, you might want to consider bringing a number of little bottles of maple syrup or maple candy or other Canada-esque type things to give as presents.

You can get almost anything you need. Lots of stores have western style layouts so shopping will not be unfamiliar. There's also no shortage of western goods or local equivalents thereof.
posted by Karaage at 10:09 AM on August 18, 2015

I am Taiwanese and I think it may be difficult for you to really get around if you don't speak and read Chinese- or Taiwanese, so I really recommend you try to learn as much as possible, this is not a country you can live in and just scrape by with basics. That said, if you are obviously foreign looking, people will probably be willing to help? I live in America and even I goggle when I go back and see non-Chinese people in the MTR station.

I don't see any issues with your teaching questions.

Don't bring thick towels, which are prevalent in North America. Taiwan is too humid and they'll grow mold. You'll see people use very thin towels that dry quickly. Vitamins and such are also very expensive so you may want to bring a bunch with you.

Otherwise I hope you enjoy teaching in my homeland :)
posted by raw sugar at 1:30 PM on August 18, 2015

You might be interested in this blog post - 30-Something Things You Might Want to Know About Taipei Before Moving There. (I'm not affiliated and haven't been to Taiwan, but found the post interesting nonetheless.)
posted by insectosaurus at 2:26 PM on August 18, 2015

I loved Taipei. My niece and her husband moved there to teach English nine years ago. They now have two children and are not moving back anytime soon.

I found it easy to get around. Everyone was very helpful, even when we had no shared language. I would use the bus or train going out and take a taxi home.. I just gave the driver the address and area I was in ( it was written on paper). It was so cheap compared to US taxi service.

I was approached daily by people wanting to talk English. It got a little tiresome at times when I just wanted to people watch, but for the most part it was fun.

I loved the people I met. Always polite and helpful, laughing at my silly attempts to speak the language. I learned to say hello and thank you and that was enough as a visitor. I am feeling a little envious of you. I would love to go back.

What to pack - cotton or light clothing, Keens, an umbrella, a rain poncho or something similar. It rains a lot and is really, really humid. That was the only thing I did not like about the country. It was sweltering and sweaty.
posted by cairnoflore at 2:31 PM on August 18, 2015

I've been to Taipei on a couple of trips and I found getting around Taipei very do-able while knowing zero Chinese. It was a bit daunting at first, but in practice the MRT is cheap and easy - they have station names in English. Watch out for the station exits though - each station can have many different ways out that can leave you disoriented. Get an Easycard (public transport pre-pay card) at the first opportunity - it's far more convenient than cash. If you need a taxi, get the Chinese translation of wherever you want to go printed out on some paper and give it to the driver.

A lot of people speak some English but also many don't - ordering food from street vendors and small shops by pointing and holding up fingers worked well for me. I found locals were extremely helpful when faced with an oblivious westerner.

Other surprises:

- 'Bubble tea' is a local speciality and surprised me the first time - I thought I was getting some kind of ice tea drink and got confused when chewy balls of tapiochre started coming up the straw into my mouth.
- Usual tourist rule applies: If there's a big queue of locals, the food is good.
- Cycling on the pavement is normal and expected. The UBikes work on Easycards, but you're lucky if you find one where everything works.
posted by Urtylug at 2:38 PM on August 18, 2015

I have lived in Taipei three times, most recently for four years, and absolutely loved it.

The MRT and trains are bilingual, some buses too although they will be more challenging if you don't speak Chinese.

The Community Services Center has useful resources for foreigners, including a directory (I think it's called 'Taipei Living') which is very helpful if you need to find out where to get something or how to do something; and a book of 'taxi cards' which has lots of addresses and locations that you might want to go written in English and Chinese.

The food is fantastic: I like the Hungry Girl blog to find out the latest good places.

Travelling round the island is really worth doing, too. The East Coast is beautiful, Kenting is lovely too, and the offshore islands are all really different from each other and all really interesting. I used to hire cars from the railway stations, and it was very easy and convenient, but you may need a Chinese speaker for this. There is excellent hiking all over the island including day trips from Taipei. Lots of English-language blogs describing the routes.

Memail me if you have any specific questions. I am jealous of your opportunity! This is an example of everything I miss about Taipei...
posted by ontheradio at 3:24 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wrote my master thesis in cultural studies on the food culture of Taiwan. I spent 4 weeks there doing research.

Memail me if you want to read it (I think it is fun to read throughout most parts and not overly academic-dry).
posted by Fallbala at 3:54 AM on August 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am extremely grateful for each comment and suggestion. A quick update, I am settled in, living in Sanchong District, New Taipei City, loving everything (the MRT is incredibly convenient, I had it figured out by day 3 and I have so much that is walkable also) I have discovered about the country, the suggestions and advice have played a big part in getting the hang of things quickly (hello Line) and I intend to follow up regarding several comments, the reason it has taken a little bit of a delay is I made here home the 'best' way possible, by spending two days in hospital (AskMe implied what I was feeling was appendicitis, because that's what it felt like) with what turned out to be Kidney Stones. It's possible that the large amount of rain tricked me into not noticing that it was still hot and I was sweating? I'm better and still love where I am. Hoping people are still open to follow ups.
posted by infinite intimation at 3:52 AM on September 3, 2015

Arrived late to see this thread and hope you're adapting and enjoying your time in Taipei! How has it been for you?

I also recommend taking impromptu hikes around the city. There are many clearly marked paths (try Elephant Mountain near 101) and you can pick up Richard Saunders' "Taipei Escapes: Sights and Hikes around Northeastern Taiwan" at major bookstores.

I've noticed there are some MeFis in northern Taiwan~ maybe one day we can meet up IRL :)
You can also MeMail any questions or post here--best of luck!
posted by wallawallasweet at 7:16 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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