Taiwan Observations

– By Passionfruit

A collection of personal observations of life in Taiwan.

This list started in January of 2016 and has been added to over the years.

#95]  People seem far less sick and germy here compared to the states. We guess because (#1) people wear face masks when they are sick, (#2) get vaccinated regularly against common and preventable diseases like the flu and (#3) a robust national health care plan so people do go to the doctor sooner and won’t go broke. Um, hello, USA…. please take a note and call Taiwan for some tips.

#94]  Often people use the word “uncomfortable = bú shūfú” instead of “sick”.  I think this covers more ailments and makes sense.

#93]  Mobile phone plans and pay-as-you-go are affordable and high quality. I pay about $10.00 USD every 3 months for 4G data and local voice. When I run low I simple go to a 7-11 and add more by paying the clerk. It’s ridiculously easy. USA’s phone companies are a racket which is not news, but once you experience another way it’s glaringly apparent. I will surely miss this quality and simplicity in Taiwan.

#92]  Taiwan has the most comfortable post office experience I’ve ever encountered. You take a number, there are chairs for waiting, and then a stool to sit on while you discuss your postal matters with the clerk. It’s so civilized and relaxed!

#91]  People respect “the line” as in you line up and you do not butt in line. It makes a potentially hectic situation comfortable for all. I really love this because it’s fair and orderly.

#90]  Scooters are noisy (unless they’re electric). Cars are quieter.

#89]  It’s been mentally refreshing not being able to eavesdrop due to the lack of Mandarin fluency. Eavesdropping (intentional or not) turns out to be a brain drain and something we’re not looking forward to back in the states.

#88]  Almost all car windows are heavily tinted due to the extremely hot sun. This level of tinting would be illegal in the USA.

#87]  Police cruisers drive around with roof top lights flashing (red and blue like ours) but sirens off unless there’s situation at hand. This still throws us off and prompts a knee-jerk reaction to pull over.

#86]  Babies and toddlers rarely fuss at restaurants and they stay out late (compared to USA). What is the magic here? 

#85]  It’s super rare to see men with low baggy pants and their underwear hanging out (and that’s a good thing). It’s common to see men wear their pants properly at their waist with a belt – high, tight and tidy!

#84]  If someone has the day off from work they’ll say they have a “rest day”.

#83]  Envelopes are addressed vertically (top to bottom, left to right) as opposed to our horizontal format.

#82]  Taiwan sausages are sweet.

#81]  Fire extinguishers are placed in small red metal boxes on the floor (not mounted to walls like in the USA).

#80]  If you refuse a plastic bag at a store (which I always do) the teller will put a small piece of store branded tape on your purchases. This includes food, clothing, anything. It indicates that you paid for it. If you do accept a bag, especially at a clothing store, the bag will be taped closed with this same tape.

#79]  Some parents like to put their kids in sneakers that squeak on every step and seem totally oblivious to the noise.

#78]  About 70% of kitchen waste collected on the island is reused, one use is as PIG FEED!

#77]  Construction/labor workers remove their shoes when entering your home and keep them off while working.

#76]  Snacks, crackers, nuts and so on are packaged like Russian nesting dolls. Example: you buy a large bag of wasabi peas ready to dive your hand in and stuff your face and inside are 100 smaller bags with about 25 peas inside each one. It’s maddening and terribly wasteful.

#75]  The largest Taiwanese bank note is worth about $30.oo USD. There are 4 notes total: $100 TWD (3 USD), a rare $200 ($6 USD), $500 ($15 USD) and $1,000 ($30 USD). TWD = Taiwan Dollar

#74]  When you buy a ticket at a movie theater you’re always assigned a seat or may select it. People don’t mind sitting right next to each other either. We’ve been in practically empty theaters and inevitably a person will select a seat right next to us. And outside food, drinks, beer is ok to bring in so there’s always the rustle of plastic bags as people bring entire meals in from the night market vendors. The theaters are spotlessly clean though.

#73]  Many men (more than you think) carry their partner’s purse for them. And many men carry their own man purse, called a murse. Taiwan, redefining machismo one purse at a time!

#72]  Stripping at funerals is a thing here and China doesn’t like it one bit #partypoopers: https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3371214

#71]  It’s unbelievable safe. After two years we have never felt any inkling of nervousness, fear, threat, road rage (given or received) regardless of time or day.

#70]  We love how people wear face masks when they are sick to avoid getting other people sick. It’s thoughtful and there’s absolutely no stigma attached to it, but there’s one if you don’t cover your mouth. I wish this would take off in the states, but I think people will attach a stigma to the person wearing one in the US, which makes little sense. People also wear masks to filter pollution and city grit when riding on their scooter.

#69]  More common to see people cutting meat, full cooked chickens, noodles with scissors than knives. Most parents carry their own scissors so they can cut up their kids noodles at restaurants. So smart!

#68]  In an emergency, there’s no exact translation for “HELP”. As with most things here, the word choice is chosen based on the situation. The best word choice is Jiùmìng! Jiu = Rescue and Ming = Life. Honestly, Taiwan is so safe, I can understand why I haven’t heard this word yet or been asked to learn it.

#67]  There are more dogs in strollers than kids. Babies seem to be held more than we’ve observed in the states and often in these hip style carriers. I never saw these in the US. They look so comfy!

#66]  An advantage to being a foreigner is that the rarely seen solicitor (typically young people, standing outside the post office) will not bother talking you up. They assume you know zero Mandarin.

#65]  There is little to zero pan handling here. This was quite apparent when we first arrived. Only one person has asked us for change in a year and half. It is o relaxing to walk down any city street and not be asked for money (sometimes quite aggressively in the is U.S. too) nor will you see homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks or parks here. Taichung does have some homeless people, but it pales in comparison to anything in Portland, OR or really anywhere in the U.S. The country truly does care for and provide for its people. The parks are absolutely wonderful and safe to stroll through day or night, any time.

#64]  Going outside with wet hair is frowned upon as it’s believed you will get sick. Salons will dry your hair absolutely 100% bone dry which is the enemy of my thick, course hair! One of the traditions of postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi – 坐月子) is no washing after childbirth. This is to prevent the body from catching cold and causing headaches later in life. Check out #44 for more on this topic.

#63]  There’s pigeon racing gambling here. It’s illegal and inhumane. More than a million homing pigeons die every year during Taiwan’s seasonal pigeon races, grueling sets of seven races over open ocean from ever-increasing distances. Wealthy racers pay upwards of $100,000 for imported breeder birds, and top flyers admitted to making millions on a single race. It’s a sad truth that I didn’t full understand for some time. I know of a few pigeon cages, in the city and countryside. Pets? I think not. I wrote Taiwan’s Minister of Agriculture and asked him if he would like to investigate these cages. Stay tuned.

#62]  There’s a thing called ‘skin scraping’ here, called ‘gua sha‘, typically on the neck and back (like cupping, but scraping). Many hair salons offer it as a service as it can be done while sitting up in a chair. It’s a traditional Chinese medical treatment in which the skin is scraped to produce light bruising. Practitioners believe gua sha releases unhealthy elements from injured areas and stimulates blood flow and healing. My local friends go when they are not feeling well. And yes, I’ve tried it and like it.

#61]  Hair care is a serious thing here. This video captures a general experience (they vary a bit). Her service cost $10.00 USD.

#60]  When it’s football season (a.k.a. soccer to Americans), Pickles’ Nike Ordem ball that he worked on for 7 years can be spotted in the sports section of the daily newspaper, sometime more than once! The sports coverage is more international here compared to our local paper back in Oregon. Note: We get the Taipei Times.

#59]  Carrots are really really big and tasty. They’re like super-sized. Those weird “baby carrots” don’t exist here.

#58]  Taiwanese toilet tissue is just that, it’s dispensed like tissues, one at a time. TP on a roll is not that common. I love it.

#57]  Fashion contact lenses are a trend. They offer no prescriptive value, just a weird freaky look. The doe caught in head lights look, (solid black lens) is quite popular especially with female TV newscasters. Bright colors, patterns and sparkles are also trendy.

#56]  Electric garbage disposals don’t exist here (as far as I’ve seen). Most sinks have 3-4 inch diameter, 5 inch deep metal mesh baskets in the drain to catch food which you then dump in a compost bag. The entire country has compost pick-up along with trash and recyclables.

#55]  If you purchase a pineapple at a market you will always be asked if you want it skinned. I prefer to cut my own and decline this, often to a surprised look. Local friends told me that the skin of a pineapple is very rough to handle so almost everyone prefers it skinned at purchase.

#54]  Lemons are green so to know if you have a lime or a lemon one must scratch the skin and sniff.

#53]  Taxi cabs are meticulously kept and clean, inside and out. Some even have lacy seat covers. So fancy!

#52]  Swim caps are mandatory when swimming in any body water; pool, hot tub, jacuzzi, spa, etc. (including babies). It’s a grave sin not to wear one, but totally ok not to put a helmet on your kid(s) while riding a scooter. One of many things we’ll never understand over here.

#51]  Wine by the glass is rare. More common to see the entire bottle for sale on a menu.

#50]  One needs to sign a waiver to purchase charcoal because of “charcoal-burning suicide” concerns.

#49]  Tomato is considered a fruit and served in fruit drink, desserts, etc. Scientifically, it is.

#48]  Taiwanese babies are ridiculously cute and not very fussy. What is the secret to this calm demeanor? Taiwanese moms, please share.

#47]  It’s easy, fast and affordable to have a mattress custom made here (5 day turnaround). I met our mattress makers, a sweet older couple who had just enough space to walk around amongst all the rolls of fabric standing up in their shop. Cool experience.

#46]  Beds are not the same size as the US. They are closer to square which is why we brought zero bedding from the states. Buying sheets (or anything that requires exact measurements) is challenging as most measurements are metric, but some use a unit derived from a Japanese measurement where 1 Taiwanese inch = 3.030 cm. As if being metric-challenged wasn’t hard enough.

#45]  “Saving Face” is a very important part of the culture in Taiwan. It makes living here extremely enjoyable and desirable. In short: FACE is gained less by individual achievement and more by promoting social harmony and by being seen as helpful. It relates to #32. This is a wonderful explanation: http://taichungexpat.com/2016/02/13/what-is-face-in-taiwanese-culture/

#44]  The Taiwanese (and East Asia generally) practice Zuo Yuezi when it comes to postpartum. It’s fascinating and does not exist in mainstream America. It dates back 2,000 years and roughly translates to “sit for a month”. I saw yuezi rooms and very healthy foods being shown on a tv in a hospital’s* waiting room and thought, “why are they advertising for a 4-star hotel at the hospital?” –– “The general consensus among Chinese is that Taiwan’s yuezi culture is the most advanced.” – Tseng, founder of iAunty –– *Hospitals are a one-stop shop for all health related issues, from health check-ups to blood-work to acupuncture. It’s hard for an American brain to think of hospitals this way! Link to Yuezi article.

#43] The average trash bag per household is small at 4 gallons (15 liters). American trash bags average 30 gallons (113 liters). The law requires Taiwanese to separate their trash into three categories: general refuse, which mostly gets incinerated, recyclables and kitchen waste. It’s surpasses most initiatives in the US. This system / strategy will blow your minds! Taiwan has emerged as an international poster child for recycling, boasting a recycling rate of 55% (US’s is 35%)!

 #42] Interestingly, with so many plastic bags, many people pick up their dog’s poop with newspaper or set the newspaper under the dog’s bum as they’re doing their business.
#41]  Every bubble tea / drink is bagged. Taiwan sells a lot of drinks. Just about everything you purchase is likely to be bagged, no matter how small. I learned to say, “Bù yong, xièxie!” pretty quickly which translates to “No need, thank you”.
#40]  This throws most foreigners off. Birth dates are calculated differently because the ROC (Republic of China)* calendar begins 1,911 years later than the Gregorian calendar. For example, “2016” minus “1911” = “the 105th year” of the ROC. Today it is 10/19/105. One must subtract 11 years from your USA birth year to get your Chinese birth year. *Yes, confusing because Taiwan is its own country, yet it’s labeled ROC

#39]  Number 2 is often considered a good number in Chinese culture, “good things come in pairs”. Common to repeat characters/words in product brand names. Many pet names are doubled up too, including our Corgi, Lulu (she’s so Taiwanese)! And words like: mèimei (younger sister), jiějiě (older sister), dìdi (younger brother), gēgē (older brother).

#38]  Number 4 is bad luck because the word is nearly homophonous to the word “death”. Many elevators and hospitals skip this number and it’s auspicious to do many things in sets of fours. Many numbered product lines skip the “4”: Nokia cell phones (before the Lumia 640, there is no series containing a 4 in the name), Canon PowerShot G’s series (after G3 goes G5).

#37]  A follow-up to #14. Now that it’s summer, people (mostly women) wear light long sleeved shirts backwards to protect their arms and décolletage from UV light while riding their scooters. It’s not unusual to see women wearing gloves through summer too! Tanned skin is not considered as beautiful as pale skin. Instead of bronzer lotions, you’ll find whitening beauty products/creams. You’ll never find a tanning salon here. Models in magazines are all ghostly white, almost transparent looking.

#36]  Strict DUI laws. Drive while intoxicated and there is an accident that results in an injury, you’re fined NT$10,000 – 60,000 ($300-2,000 USD) and license is suspended for TWO YEARS.  Drive while intoxicated and there is an accident that results in serious injury or death, fine is similar and license revoked FOR LIFE.

#35]  I think the equivalent to a car seat, on a scooter is putting the kid in front of you, between your legs (kid stands). Once old enough, they sit behind you and hold on. Helmets only required for driver only, fine is $NT500 ($15 USD). I have never seen a driver without one.

#34]  People take pride in their neighborhoods. Every day I see people sweeping leaves and rubbish from the parks and front of their homes (with brooms not leaf blowers). The Taiwanese have the best brooms too! It’s actually fun to sweep.

#33]  Men do not catcall here! It’s blissful how respectful men are. What I do hear on occasion is someone being excited to practice their English and may shout out “Hello!” “How are you” and often little kids will get all big eyed and say, “Meiguoren!” (American!) Which literally means “beautiful country” (mei) (guo), and “person” is (ren). Taiwan, you are too kind.

#32]  Taiwan is a relationship culture and there’s a word for it, ‘gauanxi’, meaning social networks. The saying goes, if you have guanxi, no problem. If you don’t have guanxi, you have problems.

#31]  The Taiwanese are very observant people. I learned that this is taught at a young age. Several times I have been helped/assisted/guided before I asked or knew I even needed it. How you ask? People read body language. It’s Taiwan magic!

#30]  Most everything purchased will be bagged including drinks (which get a hermetically sealed, spill-proof top from a very nifty machine). I didn’t understand why all the bagging, but it’s for the scooter riders to hang their bubble teas on their handlebars or bike hooks. I quickly learned to say “bu yong, xiexie” (no need, thank you)! The zero waste woman would lose her marbles here with all the bagging. On the flip side, grocery stores charge $ for bags so BYO is common.

#29]  Scooters are the top mode of vehicular transport in the nation and there are 13.6 million in the nation! Cars are expensive to own/insure/keep. There’s a flow to traffic here that I didn’t understand in my first few weeks. It spooked me, but now I get it. People have a strong sense of their surroundings. This applies to pedestrian and bike traffic as well. No shoving/pushing. Everything just flows. The expensive cars are consistently the most aggressive and large SUVs are rare.

#28]  My favorite Mandarin word to say at the moment is ball point pen “Yuánzibǐ” (you-ahn-zuh-bee)

#27]  This is one of my favorites: Beginning as early as 5:30 am through roughly 8:00 am, the parkways are bustling with activity. You’ll see the same at sunset too. Apparently, morning air is fresher than any other time of the day (less air pollutants, harmful gases and emissions). You’ll see people walking, swinging their arms, slapping their muscles to promote blood flow, doing simple stretches and large groups practicing tai chi, fan dancing, swording, ballroom dancing, jazzercise often to music playing from a small tinny speakers. The energy is just incredible! The museums (MFA, Natural History and Botanical Gardens) share their beautiful property for all to use which is something rare in the US. Meditation on the front lawn of the MFA? How cool is that? You’ll see the cutest little old ladies and men with walkers, canes and wheelchairs too. If they can move something, they are. Maybe just their hands or a shuffle of their feet at a snail’s pace. Being outside and/or moving is clearly important. This explains why the older generation looks so darn good (and I would add happy too). I’m sure you’d guess it, obesity is a rare sight.

#26]  Mostly women wear their puffy coats on backwards when riding their scooters. I assume as an added wind blocker. And yes, it’s puffy coat season at 64-74 F.

#25]  There’s a Taiwan “receipt lottery” (since 1951), encouraging locals to obtain receipts for every purchase made with businesses with a monthly turnover of NT$200,000+ (US$6,200). As a result, the Finance Ministry collected NT$51 million (US$1.6 million), representing a 75% increase from the previous year. The lottery drawing falls on the 25th of every odd-numbered month and winnings vary from $6 – $300,000 USD based on how many numbers match your receipt. Nope, haven’t won, yet. But Steve is lucky and he left me his Starbucks receipt. FOOL!

#24]  On the flip side of #23, maybe I’m witnessing a backlash to “strawberry generation”, a Chinese term for Taiwanese people born after 1981 who “bruise easily” like strawberries. From wiki: meaning they can not withstand social pressure or work hard like their parents’ generation; the term refers to people who are insubordinate, spoiled, selfish, arrogant, and sluggish in work. The term arises from the perception that members of this generation have grown up being overprotected by their parents and in an environment of economic prosperity. The Strawberry Generation, like the Post-80s of China, could be the Asian counterpart of the Millennials in the Western world.

#23]  Children appear very well-behaved, few spoiled/entitled kids have been observed. Have seen 1 crying fit in public and the parents were not reacting one bit.

#22]  People seem to love small dogs and most are dressed in outfits which include, but are not limited to; costumes, pants, overalls and tutus.

#21]  The middle class appears strong here, less divide between the “haves and have nots”. We took a 2 day Cross-Cultural Training program and learned that in general there’s little anxiety of being poor here which adds to the trust among people.

#20]  Rubbish pick-up is quite different here. Petite trash trucks drive around and broadcast short jingles (like Für Elise). When you hear your ‘hood’s jingle, you grab your rubbish and walk out to the street and toss it in the truck. It’s a very interactive event! We live in an apt building so they do this for us. Taiwan recycles everything and collects food scraps for compost (there are fines if you don’t sort your rubbish). Our apt building has a compost machine that is constantly churning with little pellets to help break down matter. There are few public trash cans and surprisingly little litter. We observed teens cleaning up their spilled coffee on an outside high speed rail platform with their own tissues and city workers using vacuums on the sidewalks. People have great pride in the space they inhabit/visit.

#19]  Common to see women, teen girls and even dads and young sons holding hands or linking arms. It’s very sweet. Not big on the hugging here (which is a-ok with me). When Scott and I moved to Portland we thought people were hug crazy. I think the hug factor increases as you move west in the US and the fades as you cross the Pacific ocean.Family ties seem stronger here compared to the US. Children live with their parents as adults, very normal. Elders are respected. Families often out and about together versus one parent at the helm.

#18]  There are beautiful temples (small and large) nestled throughout the city, most are open air facing the street and painted/decorated in bright red and gold colors. A 2005 census reports that 35% of the Taiwan population is composed of Buddhists, 33% Taoists, 18.7% identify as not religious, approx. 10% Taoist or Confucian origin (among them 3.5% adhere to Yiguandao), and 3.9% Christians.

#17]  Markets here are fresh and plentiful, day or night. Anything you can imagine is available and quite affordable. Actually, eating out is very affordable too and many locals will tell you they rather eat out than cook.

#16]  Fresh is best here. If the head isn’t on it, it’s not fresh. The connection to food is authentically strong and always has been. It’s not a trend like “Farm to Table” in the USA. One local told me she didn’t understand why we have names for meat like bacon and steak. It’s called pig and cow here.

#15]  When food is served, you start eating. Hot is best. It’s not considered rude to start before everyone is served. Eating here is blowing my mind! I love trying everything.

#14]  Beautiful skin! Most people cover up their skin to protect from the sun and as a result there’s a lot of beautiful skin here. It’s true, sun will age you and fast. My hands have seen a lot of UV from biking. I have seen 65+ year old hands here that look far younger than mine. A friend here plays basketball, but she only plays after sunset. You’ll see all sorts of UV blockers aside from long sleeves, there are hats with face shields/masks, beautiful large brimmed straw hats and sun-brellas (even when it’s not visibly sunny, because UV lurks every day).

#13]  Today is Lantern Festival, February 22, a Chinese festival marking the last day of the lunar New Year celebration (which began on Feb 8). Children go out at night carrying paper lanterns which was observed over the weekend. The lanterns can symbolize people letting go of their past selves and getting new ones, which they will let go of the next year. Similar to American resolutions? The lanterns are usually red to symbolize good fortune. My Mandarin teacher told me I need to eat tang yuán today (sweet dumpling soup) so of course I did. Round shapes symbolize everything, completeness, everything you wish. I got both a sweet and savory from a fav place, Su Mama. The sweet dumplings are filled with different fillings like sesame and peanut. What will you be letting go of?

#12]  While there are many good coffee shops, you will be hard pressed to find one open before 7 am. As one cafe said, “they need to get their sleep.” Fear not, Starbucks is here for the early risers.

#11]  People are genuinely kind. I have been at the receiving end of many kind gestures from locals who step in when they see there is a concern/problem. If they can’t help, there’s an eagerness to find a solution. People don’t walk by as if they have better things to do. Empathy! I think there’s a strong correlation to #9.

#10]  Less “me” more “we” vibe here. Group mentality and sharing can be observed everywhere.

#9]  People are easy to smile and most often will say hello/good morning/good evening when out and about. There seems to be a high level of general happiness. A correlation to National Healthcare perhaps, #8?

#8]  There’s national healthcare! Fun fact: One model was USA’s Medicare (per wiki: The system promises equal access to healthcare for all citizens, and the population coverage had reached 99% by the end of 2004.) Come on USA… we can improve ours. Health = wealth & happiness.

#7]  Water is served in restaurants at room temp or warm (even on hot days). You will never see ice water. I love this! Never understood the American ice water fetish, especially in the winter.

#6]  People (of all ages including teenagers) seem to take pride in their work, from the bank, to sweeping the parks, to serving you in a restaurant. I have yet to be served by an angsty, moody teen!

#5]  When finished eating at a restaurant, you walk up to a register to pay. The transaction is rarely done at the table. Tipping is not expected and you will rarely see tip jars.

#4]  Almost all businesses, restaurants and convenience store employees wear uniforms or matching jackets. Lends to a very professional appearance and group unity/spirit. Kids wear uniforms to school too.

#3]  Shoes are removed at the entrance of every home. Slippers almost always provided by homeowner. This makes for a rather clean home!

#2]  Restaurants provide baskets for personal belongings to prevent items laying/falling on ground. You keep this basket by your chair.

#1]  People seem to be very punctual, if not early.


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