Taipei, so far

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday marked the end of my first month in Taipei. The first 3 weeks went by so incredibly slowly that I felt as if I'd been here for months and month, but the past week sped by. I've got a small handful of friends (most of whom will be returning home to Australia at the end of the semester, sadly) and a new native language partner (who is trying to improve her English).

I was doing a Google search on Taiwanese bus drivers dressing up as Santa Claus when I stumbled upon this woman's blog. She and her husband bravely moved from the Bay Area to Taipei with their two daughters, and she blogged frequently about the way of life here, but they have since moved back to the U.S.

One of her entries in particular stuck a chord with me, and that entry is titled "7 Things I Hate About Taipei." I found myself nodding along to many of her grievances, which I thought was kind of funny. I wasn't sure if I thought everyone walked slowly here because I'm from New York City or because everyone does actually walk really slowly here.

To commemorate my one-month anniversary of arriving in Taiwan, I'm going to make a list of the top things I love and hate about Taipei so far.

Things I Hate About Taipei

1. The weather
I don't care what preconceived notions I or anyone else has about the weather in Taipei. It may be "warm," but it is not pleasant. (Plus, because it's so damp here, 60*F feels closer to 45*F so I'd really say it definitely gets chilly here.) I'd take dry and cold over warm-er and wet. Really, I would. So far, I've probably seen a total of 5 or 6 days when it hasn't rained. And apparently it's not just normal rain. Even if it's just barely drizzling out, you'll see everyone with an umbrella over their heads, because apparently the rain here is acid rain. I don't always use an umbrella, so we'll see if my hair starts falling out at an abnormal rate.

2. Walking speed
I briefly mentioned this above, but people here walk really slowly. Maybe it has something to do with the average age here. My teacher told me that the average age of the Taiwanese population is now 63 or somesuch. That's incredible to me. Either no one is giving birth or people are living forever. In any case, I've been given the side-eye a few times by the elderly because I've "passed" them. Without touching them or getting all that close, mind you! (Along with this, people have no compunctions about rolling their mopeds through crowded farmers markets at the pace of a snail. I tried to squeeze by this girl walking her moped twice today, and she just kept going along at her snail's pace. Argh.)

"Sweet Cake," which actually was mostly savory -- topped with caramelized 
onion bits and stuffed with shreds of dried meat

3. Food
I don't hate the food here, but I have to say a lot of it's not very satisfying to me. The local food is okay, and so is the Taiwanese take on a lot of Asian foods, like Thai and Vietnamese. The desserts, though, are particularly unsatisfying. Almost all the desserts I've tried so far have been either way too flavorless/healthy (red bean pudding) or way too sweet. Ice cream here is heavy on the ice, light on the cream (and sugar). I understand (from a college friend who grew up partially in China) that maybe Chinese people traditionally didn't eat dessert, so I guess they don't have much of a taste for sweets. I'll keep trying ... maybe I'm not looking in the right places, or maybe I need to accept it and move on.

4. Pop culture
Admittedly, I've always been a little reluctant to get into Taiwanese/Korean pop culture, probably because I've always been satisfied and kept busy enough with my American and occasionally English/Australian pop culture. I did watch a lot of television the last time I was here and got into a couple of the talk/game shows here, and I remember I was obsessed with one of the Japanese "soap operas/dramas" they aired here with Chinese subtitles.

I currently have a television in my room, but I hardly ever watch it. I've noticed that Taiwanese television has changed dramatically since 2000: there is a lot more of an American and Korean influence. Most of the local television stations are either news channels or home-shopping networks, with a handful of channels devoted to soap operas and movies, and the rest is either American or Korean television. I'm having a hard time getting hooked onto anything here (I've been advised by just about everyone to watch these shows to improve my Mandarin), particularly the soap operas/dramas people my age are really into. They're just all so predictable, and many of the Taiwanese girls talk in baby voices in these shows, which makes it doubly annoying to watch. So I have no idea who anyone is when people gossip about Asian celebs!

5. The mosquitoes
I think this one is self-explanatory (but I've written an entire entry complaining about it before).

Things I Love About Taipei

1. Courtesy
People here are much, much more courteous than they are in New York City. And people have a much stronger sense of right and wrong here than they do in New York City (does that come as a surprise to anyone haha?). People respect elders here, they abide by the honor code, they know how to form a line and the purpose of a line, they say "please" and "thank you." You can leave your wet umbrella outside the store (the bins are always outside, never inside like in the U.S.) and find it untouched when you leave the store an hour later. This is really refreshing to me, and I'm so, so thankful that people are not like New Yorkers here, because I wanted so desperately to get away from that attitude and sense of entitlement.

2. Customer service is excellent
Only once have I met a remotely rude employee here. I'd begun to notice in the U.S. that people were really dragging their feet through their work day (myself included!), and service had fallen to the wayside. Not so here. For the most part, people know what their job is and how to do it efficiently while still doing a good job. And your credit card/shopping bag/receipt is handed to you with two hands, not one.

3. The living is relatively inexpensive
I've already written an entry on the standard of living here, but every once in a while, I'll leave a store amazed at how much I've gotten and how little I've spent. A bus ride goes for $0.50 here, less if you're a senior or a student. I got myself a cute little Christmas card (just for decorative purposes) for about $0.20. The "expensive" bakeries here sell scones for $0.50 and you can leave with breads and pastries to feed a family of four for less than $10.

4. They have 24-hour bookstores!
... not that I would ever need to go to the bookstore at 4 in the morning, but it's a concept my friends and I have dreamed of for a while now. Why not? Especially if you're a college student in desperate need of that one book or quote in the middle of the night, where there is also coffee to be had.

Walking home alone at night
5. The buses
I am the most grateful for the buses here. The service is really outstanding. Never have I been somewhere where the bus driver has apologized to me for my having to walk a short distance away from the bus stop to board the bus. The bus drivers (particularly on the Capital Bus line) also thank each individual for riding the bus, ask people to stand for elders, and wait when they see someone running for the bus. In NYC (and Sydney, Australia, I've been told), the bus drivers intentionally shut doors on people, or pretend they can't see or hear people banging on the door, despite the bus still being at the stop and not moving.

6. Safety
I haven't yet felt unsafe in the city. Granted, I'm not hanging out on the streets at all hours of the night and I also live in a somewhat wealthy neighborhood, but I have also walked home alone over a mile from the subway station, past a large park at 10:30 on a weeknight and felt completely and utterly safe.

I'll probably do another one of these at the 6-month mark (if I'm still here) ... I'm sure I'll have lots more to say by then.

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