February 28, 2010

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Taiwan 14 days later...

...about the ups and downs, highs and lows, challenges and rewards

A while ago I wrote about my first impressions of Taiwan. That was written just few days after I arrived here and some of the things turned out to be true and some not. First impressions are always superficial, they may be right, but most likely they're not. So how do things stand now for me in Taiwan?

Well, the first 10 days were really great. Everything was going fine, I was becoming more and more independent. I learned how to take the bus and the MRT train by myself, I went on a big sightseeing tour alone. I was able to order food and drinks by myself. And even though I lived in one of the most traditional Taiwanese cities in Taipei county, which was quite a challenge for me, I somehow found a way to get by. But then I suddenly got sick on the 10th day and everything changed for the worse (at least temporarily).

Being sick and changing apartments

I don't know what hit me, but it looked and felt like flu to me. I was (and still am a bit) dizzy, nauseous and weak with a sore throat and minor headaches. I was stuck inside in my room most of the time. And amid my worst days, I transferred to a smaller room just one floor up (offered by the same landlord). My girl asked the landlord for a cheaper room and that's what we got. It was cheaper and smaller, but still a bit too expensive according to my girl. And we soon realized, that it was way hotter than the one before, so we decided to search for a new accommodation all together. And luckily my girl found a better one very quickly: The room is cooler, it's on ground floor (the old one was on floor 6) and it's located closer to a subway and nearer to Taipei's city center. That means there's no need for me to take buses, I will save on money and time. Taking a bus here is not easy for a Taiwan newbie. You need to catch the right one and alight at the right station. That can be a real challenge, when everything is written in traditional Chinese and the whole environment is unfamiliar to you. Yes, I know some Chinese, but that feels like no Chinese when things get serious.

When they speak Chinese to you

I had few cases, where someone spoke Chinese to me and I had no idea what they're talking about. It's funny, but even though I couldn't look different-er than the locals, everybody assumes that I understand Chinese perfectly. That day, before I got sick, I went out on my sightseeing tour. The stairways were just being cleaned by a man and a young woman. I just left my flat, which was located on the 5th floor, when the young lady, while eating her noodles, started to talk to me in Chinese. I only understood "Are you living here?" and then it was all 漢語漢語漢語 to me O_o. And she went on and on for like 5min, while I kept nodding and thinking about what the *not heaven she wants from me? I assumed she doesn't like that people walk on the stairways while they're being cleaned. Then she started to ask me questions and I replied 我不明白(I don't understand). Finally I decided to call my girl and gave her my phone to talk to me. And what did she want? Apparently she wanted to charge me for the cleaning service, but my girl friend told her, she needs to contact the landlord and discuss the issue with her. No idea, if she wanted to turn a buck from me, but it was a pretty funny situation. Chinese have a saying, that two people are like chicken and duck, when they don't understand each other. So what was I, chicken or duck? :-P

It sucks being sick and about the traffic

My flu really sucked out a lot of energy from me. It put a damper on my initial excitement, made me moody and emotional sometimes. There were times, where I had to go out, but walking would became a real torture. The roads in the area I used to live weren't pedestrian friendly. The sidewalks were occupied by motorbikes and hawkers, so you're forced to walk on the road, where almost every second a motorbike pops up and swings by, missing you by less than a meter. In my previous post about first impressions, I wrote about how smooth the traffic was and how the cars always mind the pedestrians. Well, that impression was wrong, because I observed the traffic during the first days of Chinese new year. Now, that everyone's back to Taipei City, I can see how crazy the traffic can get. The cars are ok, but the motorbikes are crazy: They're literally everywhere. Even in the smallest tiniest lane, there will be someone on a motorbike slowly driving behind you and you have to move aside. You just have to keep an eye on those motor bikers all the time, they come out from every little spot. I've never been in any country with so many of them. Suddenly Malaysian traffic doesn't seem so bad. :-)

There's something in Taiwan that really surprised me!

What would that be? You'll find out soon, but let me fill you in on the situation you may face here. Take-out food is very popular in Taiwan. I mean, why would you cook at home, if you have a hawker virtually on every corner? So you buy food and drinks, bring them home and in a day or two you realize that the plastic bags and bottles stacked up like crazy. So naturally you try to find a waste container nearby to get rid of your trash. And that's what I intended to do. Where's a trash can? Well, there's none near my apartment. Ok, I guess I need to go to the main road and find a public one there, shouldn't be that hard, right? I walk and walk, but there are no trash cans. Weird. I call my girl and ask, where are trash cans located in your country? She says they mostly don't have them. Wow. There are almost no trash cans around Taipei! They have a system garbage trucks driving around neighborhoods once a day in the evening collecting the waste and all the people gather on the streets (you can read more about that here). I seriously had no clue about that. There are some trash cans near the MRT stations and around Taipei's city center, but as far as I've seen, they're rather an exception. So I need to get used to the new way of disposing waste. Will you see me waiting for the garbage truck? Yes, but when I get healthy again. For now, I need to take it easy and rest.

Taipei City is like many small cities grown together

I still don't have a good and proper understanding of Taipei. I still don't feel or grasp Taipei as a city the same way as I have felt Singapore or Penang. But what can I expect after only 2 weeks, right? Taipei seems small at first, but when you take the train to various places around the city, you suddenly feel it's not so small. In fact, it's huge. The whole city feels like a huge chess board, some parts are beautiful and some are not. Take a few steps from a boulevard to a side lane and you will feel as if you left a mega city for a small town. New and modern is beside old and traditional. Food and its smell is everywhere on every corner. I haven't seen many Western tourists and I don't know why. The biggest group of tourists come from China, but I still can't distinguish them from the locals, although my girlfriend says they dress, behave and sound different than Taiwanese. I guess that skill to is developed after living in Taiwan for few months.

There are many beautiful women in Taiwan

Now that the Chinese new year is over, there's much more people in Taipei City. The trains and buses are full, the roads and shopping malls are bustling with people. Many Taiwanese only work in Taipei, but they live outside the city. And if you walk around the city these days, you can spot so many beautiful women, it's beyond your imagination. Of course, that's my subjective opinion, maybe some of you would not be impressed at all, but that's why impressions are called impressions and not facts, right? :-) Well, what I see here, I can only compare to what I saw and noticed in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong before. I must say beautiful women-wise, Taiwan trumps all those places. The girls here really dress well and there's many of them, you can't not notice that. The most common sight in this winter are black stockings, boots combined with short skirts in all variations. Women here are very feminine and female beauty seems to be very important to the Taiwanese society, at least that's my impression. You don't only see that on Taipei's streets, you see that on TV every day: Beautiful women dominate most of the shows. From daily talk shows to various (sometimes weird) nightly shows of cute girls in bikinis playing some silly games... For me, beautiful women are the most common sight on Taiwanese TV and on Taipei's streets. Of course you have to forgive me my male eyes, they can be so biased towards female beauty, it's outrageous :-P

I'm in my new apartment and I have a problem

In case you're wondering what's up with that photo of the remote control, let me showcase to you, how small things can be a real challenge. My girl went back to her home and I realized I can't turn down the volume on the TV. Which button should I press, it's all in Chinese O_o. I don't wanna press any wrong ones and mess up something the settings or something. So yeah, that's what happens when you're a duck in a chicken country :-P It's just one of the numerous small things that make you chuckle. Anyway, I'll be fine. I'll off my TV soon and sleep. I need to rest and get better. And then my adventure shall continue. I have tons of things to do. Every day lost because of my flu is a real pain, but what can I do? Be hopeful and positive is what I try. :-)

Ps: Hope you're not bored with my posts about Taiwan sights. I want my blog to become a good source of information to all, who are interested in Taiwan. But when I cover all the main and important things, my blogging style will return to how it was before my Taiwan trip :-)

[Photo by MKL, 2010]


  1. Hey Ducky (sure you're no chicken as you're coping well over there for someone who's new there!). How's job hunting going? Have you started yet?
    Not getting bored at all and I read your posts as quick as it goes because they are just TOO interesting.
    Well I was impressed of how easily and quickly you can change flat in Tapei... And then I heard and read (in the book "Saving Fish From Drowing" and "Hundred Secret Senses" by Ami Tan) that in China there are so many dialects that it's fairly difficult even for Chinese to understand all the people...
    About the flu: get well soon!!!
    Big HUG

  2. Yep, your girlfriend's right. Chinese mainlanders do behave, dress, and sound different from the Taiwanese. For one thing, their accent is way different. It's usually slightly more high-pitch than the Taiwanese. The way they dress is very different too. The Taiwanese seem to be...more up-to-date in fashion and style than the mainlanders although mainlanders do sometimes try new styles too but...they don't really have a good sense of what goes well with what if you know what I mean.

    It's kind of hard to explain their differences with words. It's an instinct that you gradually develop over time. I developed it through my mother, lol.

    I hope you feel better soon though!

  3. ohh you've been to hong kong before?
    it's kind of a common thing when you travel abroad and switch climates to fall sick. your body needsto adjust i guess. take care and you'll be fine soon im sure:)

  4. Nope. Not bored at all. I like this style of writting too. You combine well information with fun stories. Since you arrived in Taiwan, i learned more about the country than ever before. I had no idea about Taiwan. I knew somewhat about the politics and their problems with mainland China but that was it. And i always had an image of Taiwan as being "more" western than China. Is that so?
    btw. did you chew on some betel nut already?

  5. I demand for random Taiwanese pretty girl pics.

  6. As someone who grew up in Taiwan for 15 years and now resides in the States.. welcome to Taiwan! It does take a bit to get used to, and I'm impressed you seem to have adjusted well thus far. Have you found forumosa.com?

  7. Your adventures are definitely not boring, nothing should be less boring than doing a desk-bound job.

    Being Singapore-trained, I was at a loss also when I couldn't find dustbin in Taiwan. Being a tourist, it doesn't seem right for me to take the easy way out and litter in my host contry.

    One other difference is that when doing "big business" in toilets of Taiwan, one is expected to throw the used toilet paper into a small bin, and not into the toilet bowl.

    It's easy to differentiate the Chinese from the Singaporean. They talk louder, and they have this strong Mandarin accent. And if you look hard enough, the Chinese has a certain "Chinese look". For your case, taiwan is so near to China, so probably the difference is smaller.

    Taiwanese gals are yummy yum yum, I agree with you on that. But please add on some pics to support your statement. =p

    Drink more water, and get more rest. Sleep seems to be the best cure for flu.

  8. @Daisy: Well, my flu was an unexpected set back and so I couldn't do much in the recent days. Hope I can catch up this week. Thanks for liking my posts, I'm happy that some people still read them :) Flat can be changed fast, if you have a local girlfriend, who does all the talking and negociating :) Yes, there's many dialects in China, but not so many in Taiwan. Mandarin is the norm here. I hope I get better. Thanks a lot, hug back :)

    @Van: The way you described the difference between the Mainlanders and Taiwanese sounded like my girlfriend :P She said that some dress like Taiwanese used to dress in the 80s, lol. I haven't noticed that, but I saw them in groups near Taipei 101 and they're usually the noisiest. But I think every group is noisy, when they're on holidays, right? :) Thanks for your well wishes.

    @Manju: Yes, been to HK last year, but only for few days. My body caved, I guess. Snow, rain, hot sun all within 2 weeks was just too much for it, I guess. Thanks for your kind wishes. :)

    @Saša: Yea, I like to combine some personal interesting stuff with facts. If people wanna read facts only, they have Wikipedia :) I tell you, I didn't know so much about Taiwan before, too. Even from what I've read and what I've been told by my girlfriend before, seems like so little compared to what I see and experience here. I guess it's same about Japan. I've read so much, but when I can visit one day, a whole new horizon will open up for me, right? Taiwan is "more" Western than China, but I rather say more "progressive" or "modern", because things here are sooooo typically Far Eastern, I can hardly associate the word "Western" with Taiwan :) Haven't tried the betel nut, but I asked my girl yesterday, how it tastes. I guess it's not that yummy, hehe. But I may try it one day :)

    @Izso: Oh, I don't feel comfortable taking pics of women here and posting on my blog, unless they offer themselves to pose as models for me :) It's one thing to post photos of models on the blog, another of common people on the street. But who knows, Shingo said I can be a model scout, hehe :)

    @小翼: Thank you. I'm trying my best and things went pretty well until I fell sick. But I'll be fine. I know Forumosa.com, have read some posts. My main source of info and support is my Taiwanese girlfriend :)

    @Shingo: Thanks for your support. And you gave me heads up on that "big business" thing. Lucky for me, I had no pleasure yet to do "big business" outside my flat, hehe. Next time I know how to dispose the used TP :P
    Yea, Singaporeans vs Chinese is easy to distinguish, but Taiwanese vs Chinese is not as easy for me. Will take more time.

    I don't think I will post pics of random Taiwanese girls on my blog, I feel a bit uneasy snapping pics and posting... unless girls beg me to, hehe. Kidding. Who knows, maybe I make some friends and they want to be on my blog, then why not :)

  9. I hope you get better soon. Buts its kinda common. Change of everything from food to climate, it takes a toll on your body. And whats up with the whole job thingy? Found any? I am not bored of your posts. Actually i now want to go there once in my life.

  10. OMG i cant believe it's already been 2 weeks!!!!

    Taiwan is really turning out to be quite the 'adventure' isn't it?? :p

  11. Its always like that when you're starting out in a new place. The edges need to be smoothed out. You'll get there eventually. :)

    Taipei ain't exactly a quiet place either compared to the temporary snowy-land (slovenia in winter) that you just left. For me the challenge was to consciously look left then right b4 crossing the road.

  12. @Harini: I was very sick for the last 5 days, couldn't do much but lay in bed all day, blow my nose and cough.

    @Sabrina: It is an adventure and like any, it has many ups and downs, challenges and surprises...

    @Lizzy: You're right. Well, as for traffic, it's same as in Slovenia, we also drive on the right side of the road. I faced that problem in Malaysia :)

  13. Hi MKL,

    Your writeup wakes up memories, thanks :)

    Try 听不懂 (I hear what comes out of your mouth, but I can't understand it, because I didn't learn those words yet. Use simpler words to explain.) instead of 我不明白 (I do understand the words you're saying, but I don't get your point. Explain it in a different way.)

    I agree, you should work as a model scout. That would suit you. Or maybe something in TV or fashion?

  14. Wow! Love these posts they are so interesting and make me miss travelling so much...
    Just little things like you said of new television shows and kooky remote controls haha it's all so exciting and new! Except getting sick that's not good hope you are feeling back to normal asap :)

  15. Learning new things is never boring, at least for me :D Maybe your body is still adjusting to the different weather/ environment? I do hope you get better soon! :)

  16. @Junjie: Thanks for the heads up :) In case of that woman, none of that would've helped, she just talked, but didn't care what I have to say. But I'm sure it'll be useful next time.

    @Sarah: Thanks, I'll try my best.

    @Krissy: I guess all the changes were too much for my body. I'll be fine, thanks :)

  17. Living in Singapore, I can't imagine a place with no trash cans within 100 metres away from each other. lol.

  18. @Nashe: Yeah, we also have trash cans almost everywhere. It's certainly a challenge for me, but I'll be fine.

  19. next time, my advice is, throw the remote control to the tv. surely the channel will change. ahahha.

    i'm just tired... overtime for many hours - it's more like mentally exhausted than anything!

  20. @Ejann: Wow, the week barely started and you're so tired. Poor you... hope you get some time to rest soon :)

  21. Hi MKL,
    My friend told me about your blog, so I came, and was very surprised and touched by your postings, especially those about Taipei/ Taiwan.
    What a coincidence! One of my friends is living in Slovenia and trying to become a Slovene. He describes it like a paradise, and that makes me really want to go visit Slovenia.
    Now I can show him your blog and convince him to visit me in Taiwan!
    Nice job! we need more people like you who is willing to come out of the comfort zone.
    Please keep spinning your globe!

  22. @Ting-Yu: Thanks for your comment. What do you mean by trying to become a Slovenian? What nationality is he? I'm sure many Slovenians would love to visit Taiwan, if it was more known to them. Hope my post will help a little. Slovenia and Taiwan have something in common: beautiful mountains.

  23. Ha! He's American, but his mother's father was from Slovenia, so he went back to the "Mother Land." Realizing how much he loves this country, he decided to get Slovenian nationality and live for good. (Maybe you guys have passed by each other...)
    Yeah, "All humankind is one kind. What we have in common is way more than our differences." Once an Indian Maestro told me that.

  24. @Ting-Yu: Wow, how great :) We had many people migrating to USA, Canada, Australia and Argentina, we still have Slovenian communities there, but most don't speak Slovenian well, especially the younger people. Really happy to hear someone returns to the home country of their forefathers. I think he should visit Taiwan, too. Now he has my post about Taipei in English and Slovenian, so there are no excuses xD


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