I have now been living in Taipei for one year. For the most part, I love it here, but as with any place, there are a few things I don’t like so much. So I plan to post a series about the best and worst things for a foreigner living here. Each day I’ll cover two things I love and one I don’t so I can keep things balanced. They are grouped based on themes, not based on how strongly I feel about them.
Things I like:
I hear the question marks popping into existence above my American readers’ heads. “What?” they say, “We have 7-11’s in the States, too. And they’re nothing special! Did Elizabeth put this in the wrong post?” Meanwhile, my readers in Taiwan are saying, “Yes, of course.”
Yes, we have 7-11’s in the States. No, they are nothing like 7-11’s in Taiwan. In fact, if I owned a Taiwanese 7-11, I would be embarrassed by the pathetic excuses for convenience stores in America. I would probably go on a rant about how they are a disgrace to the noble name of 7-11, or something.
But I’m not going to do that now. Instead, I’m going to talk about how wonderful Taiwanese 7-11’s are. They have walls covered with interesting drinks (fruit juice, tea, flavored milk, soymilk in different flavors, etc.) They have food including sandwiches, noodles, rice wraps, fruit and fresh salads, as well as chips and other junk food. You can also buy things including (but not limited to) soap, washcloths, umbrellas, cat food and disposable underwear. (Ok, that last one is a bit weird, but someone must use it, or they wouldn’t sell it.) My cell phone is on a plan where I add money to the sim card periodically, and both the card and the ways to add money come from 7-11. I’ve also booked train tickets and seen friends get tickets for concerts there. And if you don’t have a mailing address, you can ask FedEx to send your package to 7-11 so you can pick it up. And based on my observations, at any point in Taipei, there is at least one 7-11 within two blocks of you. Actually, there will usually be one closer. In fact, There are now four within a 10-minute walk from my house. And one of my coworkers apparently defines a small town as one where you have to drive to 7-11, rather than having one within walking distance.
6. Convenient Transportation
Taipei has an amazing public transportation system. I have a subway stop just outside of my apartment that will send me to the center of town in about 20 minutes. The subways here are some of the cleanest in the world, or so I’ve heard. This is because they are very strict in enforcing rules against eating, drinking or even chewing gum on the bus. If you break these rules, people will take pictures of you with their cellphones and report you to authorities. The subways are very convenient and reliable, and they go to most of the popular destinations in the city. And they announce stops in four languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka (another Chinese dialect) and English.
Taipei also has an extensive bus system. The busses go all over, and it’s a flat rate of US$0.50, even for the 45-minute ride to my church. Some of the bus stops have neon signs that will display how long it will be until the next bus. It’s nice knowing how long you’ll have to wait. If it will be a long time, you can go to 7-11 and buy a drink!
Things I Don’t:
3. Comments about my appearance
We Americans have a reputation for being blunt. We’re very straightforward about most things, like asking for help and making suggestions. In contrast, Asians tend to be much more indirect about those things, dropping hints which we Americans generally can’t pick up on. But there are a few areas in which this is reversed. Here, the charging rhino of American bluntness becomes a timid mouse in comparison to the Taiwanese approach. And one of these is comments on people’s appearance.
In Taiwan, it appears that the rule of etiquette is “if you can see it, you can talk about it.” This means that people have no qualms on going up to you and pointing out that you’re overweight, or that you have a lot of pimples, or that your hair is going gray. In some cases, people have come up to me and said, “You should stay out of the sun, and don’t eat too much oily food.” It took me a minute to realize they referring to my pimples. (I have a lot of pimples here, which I think is caused by pollution.) When describing people’s appearance, people have often referred to mutual acquaintances as “the fat girl (or boy, but in my experience it’s mostly been girls).” Part of the reason for this is that the usual way Americans describe people isn’t available here. We usually talk about hair color and texture, but in Asia, saying “the girl with the straight, black hair” doesn’t get you very far. But even when I understand it, it still shocks me when I hear it.