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Reflections on 15 months in Taiwan

Challenges, people and culture

sunny 26 °C
View The Big Trip & Boracay & Taiwan on lucid's travel map.

My journey to Taiwan started in January 2007. I had been living in Scotland since I went to University in 1997 and decided I needed a change of life and scenery and wanted to satisfy my burning desire to travel. I was originally interested in teaching in Japan but the company who interviewed me offered me a job in Taiwan too. I chose Taiwan to avoid the grammar test required for Japan :-p

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” - Rudyard Kipling

My first impression of Taiwan was that it smelled of sewage, pollution and stinky tofu stalls. I still smell the tofu and sewage but my nose has become used to the pollution. Having never lived in a city my lungs have been relatively healthy throughout my life. However, I have been unwell countless times in one year here and had Bronchitis twice within 7 months! So it's fair to say that the environment in Taipei is not a healthy one.

The things you can do in Taiwan are limited by the things you can find out how to do. The level of English is not particularly good for a city (hence the need for English Teachers!). The MRT provides English maps and details of the tourist attractions you can get to by metro. The most 'oriental' tourist spots are Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, The Grand Hotel, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall and Longshan Temple. In my first 6 months I went to most of the places on the outskirts of Taipei worth visiting. Wulai is an Aboriginal village with pretty mountains and a waterfall.

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Some of the challenges of living abroad continue on for the whole time you are there. In Taiwan I struggle with the language, the food and the culture. I have tried to embrace these things but I find the food of very low quality and bland taste and the people are pretty much scared of life, which makes them hard to live and work with. Challenges I have overcome are homesickness (although I have a boyfriend now so that helps), and fear of getting lost - I walked across the city for 3 hours and gained a much better knowledge of its geography.

Taiwanese culture is based upon a close family unit - everyone lives together and the young look after the old. Even the families that move abroad expect their children to return to Taiwan to look after them in retirement. The people are concerned about how they look to such an extent that many will lie to avoid admitting they don't know something. Confrontation is not part of society so when people act stupidly, wrongly or dangerously no-one will point it out. I have nearly been run down by taxis who have seen me crossing the street but carry on regardless. They don't care because no-one will do anything about it!

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Taiwanese children have virtually no free time because they go to school, English classes, Maths classes, art classes, after-school classes and homework classes! The obsession with education leads to academically educated adults that have no common sense and a very narrow understanding of life outside of Taiwan. One of the guys I met asked me, "Why don't you sound like my BBC CD?" Now I'm not so narrow minded as to group everyone in Taiwan together as ignorant but even my Taiwanese friends fall prey to the same cultural flaws. They are taught to repeat the actions of those before and not to question anything. Therefore they lack creativity and free ideas, which are things I prize so highly.

After a year I was ready to leave this country and put it down to a difficult, but nonetheless rewarding experience, but I'm now committed for one more year. It's cheap to live in Taiwan and the wages are good enough to save money so my boyfriend and I are going to travel on when we have some money to bigger and better things...

Posted by lucid 13:21 Archived in Taiwan

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