February 20, 2010

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Taiwan: First impressions

All this will certainly be rebutted within a month

I thought I knew a lot about Taiwan by what my girlfriend has told me and from everything I've read online before I went on this trip. I was so wrong. Taiwan has to be experienced in real. You have to see it, feel it and smell it.
Now people may have all kinds of first impressions, depending on where they come from and where they have been. Most of the time compare all the things I see here with what I've seen in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong before. Taiwan has many similarities with these three countries, but many things are uniquely Taiwanese here. Let me list some things that made an impression on me in these first 5 days and if you're new on my blog, please know I see everything with the eyes of a Westerner:

Taoyuan International Airport: That's the first thing you see in Taiwan. It's a very modern airport. It doesn't seem so big at first, it certainly feels smaller than the ones in Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong, but I'm not too sure. The walk from the plane to the arrival hall was pretty long. But there wasn't so many people. I guess that may be because of Chinese new year (CNY from here on).

Chinese new year in Taiwan: I always think that the best part of CNY is the time before the actual holidays, when you anticipate that first day with the reunion dinner and the first visits the next day. I arrived here at the 3rd day and it was raining all the time. It didn't feel very festive. Most people were inside, shops were closed, so I couldn't really experience the CNY the same way I did last year in Malaysia. Because I've been anticipating it with my ex's family, we cleaned the house, decorated it, we ate the reunino dinner together, visited family and friends. That's the real CNY. This time I just spend time with my girlfriend, but we celebrated the beginning of our love and life together. I must say that I've said "新年快樂" (xin nian kuai le or) "happy new year" few times to some people and everytime they smiled and replied "红包拿来" (hong bao na lai or) "now give me a red package". Haven't experienced that in Malaysia.

Taiwanese people in general: Very friendly and polite! A bit reserved at first, but they're willing to help you. Everywhere you go, be it a store, 7 Eleven, hawker, café, they will always say 謝謝! (Thank you!), which sadly wasn't always the case in Malaysia and Singapore.
And I've noticed that Taiwanese are not really kiasu, when it comes to public transport. The MRT (subway) has marks on the ground to show where people have to stand while waiting for the train to arrive. Nobody's pushing, everything goes smoothly, people alight in the middle, those who want to go in, stand on the side and wait. I like that. But then when there's food, Taiwanese can be very kiasu! Be it night or day market, especially in places where there's many food stalls at one place, there was always someone pushing me, while waiting for the food, there was no order. If the hawker demands a line, then people will stand in line. It depends. There's also tourists from China, who don't stand in line, but I can't really distinguish so far who's Taiwanese and who's from the mainland.

Taiwanese girls and women: They seem a bit quieter than their "cousins" in Malaysia and Singapore. Because it was raining all these days, most of them would wear boots, stockings and jackets. They dress up very well, use good make-up and take good care of themselves. I know many say Taiwanese girls are very beautiful, but for me there was not such a big difference from Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese girls. But I guess I haven't seen the cutest girls yet, since it's new year. Of course beauty is very subjective, but trust me, I have a good eye :-P You have all kinds of girls and sure, now and then a girl, that looks stunning passes by and you think: Wow! She's hot! That happened to me many times. Then I realized it's my girlfriend :-P

Taiwanese boys and men: The first thing I noticed is, that they don't take care of themselves as much as the girls here. And my Taiwanese girlfriend said the same. I'm talking about clothes, hairdo... Some guys wear very casual clothes here (jogging suit and sandals). Of course that doesn't apply to everyone, some guys here really look good and cool, remind me of some Tokyo street styles. You see that a lot when you go to Xinyi or Ximending. My area is located near factories, people who live here are workers and don't earn as much as the educated elites in the city center. I definitely need to explore more areas to allow myself a more comprehensive statement. So take all this with a pinch of salt, please :-)

Couples: I must share two funny instances. While I was on the bus, I saw a couple, where the guy would sit and the girl would stand beside him. I asked my girlfriend "Ain't that funny?" She said it's normal here sometimes. I thought it's no wonder the men here have a bed reputation. But then I saw a totally different thing on some other bus: The girl was sitting and her boyfriend stood beside her and caressed her hair. That was so cute, haha. Aside from these two extremes, most couples seemed pretty normal here, like everywhere else I've been. I definitely need to see more couples.

Food: is everywhere! Seriously. I thought Malaysians and Singaporeans are crazy about food, but in Taiwan, food can be smelled and seen everywhere. Every corner would have a small hawker frying some traditional pancakes or steaming dumplings, at least in my area. And even though it's not on every corner, the famous stinky tofu can be smelled almost everywhere (more about that one soon).
I must say the food is very diverse and generally delicious. Of course I'm a Westerner and some things are not really my favorite, but I've tried everything so far, yes, even the stinky tofu and duck's blood. I think for Malaysians and Singaporeans this food tastes far better than to Westerners, so it's no wonder, that Taiwan has become one of their favorite destinations.

Traffic: Is running smoothly. The roads, especially where I live, are cramped with motor bikes, the sidewalks are narrow, hawkers are squeezed in between. Sometimes you have to walk on the road, but the cars always mind the pedestrians, so it's safe. It's somewhat like Singapore, but let's rather not mention Malaysia here :-P There's many crosswalks with an animated cute green man, typical for Taiwan. There's also many crosswalks, where you can cross diagonally (the so called pedestrian scramble), which is very convenient when you cross those wide roads, especially near Taipei 101.

Transport: Let me tell you how I see the transportation in Taiwan.

- I should start with EVA Air, the Taiwanese airways, that brought me here. The flight was smooth, the stewardesses were really nice and the food tasted great. Before I used to fly with Qatar Airways. I must say EVA is at least as good as them, so thumbs up.
- Once we've left the airport, we took a bus. That one was great, but there's also a different kind of buses in Taipei county. The ride with them may be a little bumpy, but it's ok, since they're the cheapest way of transportation here.
- I also had the pleasure to take the high speed train. It's really impressive. It's long, slick and dynamic. Inside it's very quiet and it runs smoothly, as if you were on a plane. We went 255km/h, but I haven't felt the speed at all.
- All cabs here are yellow. The drivers are polite, they drive safely and don't talk to you.
- The Taipei MRT is excellent. Comparable to Singapore and Hong Kong. I will write more about the transportation in a separate post.

Architecture: You have all kinds of buildings, it's a real mix. Apart from Taipei 101, I haven't seen anything comparable that would blow my mind. I live in a typical traditional Taiwanese neighborhood, with hawkers, cramped motorbikes, narrow streets, where people hang clothes everywhere (something I will do, too). Let's be honest: It's not the cleanest here, but I'm ok with that. My apartment is very nice from the inside, I have internet access, water heater, a TV, a big cupboard, couch and a big bed. And the landlord is nice. I don't need more. But the building looks old from the outside, the stairs and walls have some cracks, maybe because of typhoons and earthquakes? I don't know. But aside from my area, I've only been in the city center and that part is totally different: New modern buildings, but not really skyscrapers as seen in Singapore's or KL's downtowns. The roads are wide there, almost like boulevards. It's clean and neat. I definitely need to see more of Taipei and Taiwan.

Entertainment: I've only been to a night market and besides food, they have all kinds of games there. It's not really my cup of tea. I hope I can experience more than that and go to a pub or club some time in the future.

Prices: Are quite high. Most of the things like food and drinks are between 50-150NTD, which is between 1-3€ (5-15RM). The hawker is the cheapest of course, but it's more expensive than the Malaysian. Here are some of the prices for you to compare (as on 20. Feb 2010):
(NTD: New Taiwan Dollar - €: Euro - RM: Ringgit Malaysia - USD: US Dollar)

A bus fare for a certain distance: 15TWD (0.34€ - 1.6RM - 0.46USD)
A MRT train fare: 2oTWD (0.45€ - 2.1RM - 0.62USD)
A high speed train fare Taoyuan to Taipei City: 160TWD (3.65€ - 16.9RM - 5USD)
A cinema ticket: 270TWD (6.15€ - 28.5RM - 8.4USD)
Coffee (Latte): 50-90TWD (1.15-2€ - 5.3-9.5RM - 1.55-2.8USD)
Traditional pancakes at the hawker: 35TWD (0.80€ - 3.7RM - 1.1USD)
A portion of stinky tofu: 45TWD (1€ - 4.75RM - 1.4USD)
Instant noodles in supermarket: 20TWD (0.45€ - 2.1RM - 0.62USD)
Bubble tea: 25TWD (0.57€ - 2.6RM - 0.77USD)
Ice cream: 20TWD (0.45€ - 2.1 RM - o.62USD)
A menu in McD: 110TWD (2.5€ - 11.6RM - 3.4USD)
A pack of cigarettes: 65TWD (1.5€ - 6.9RM - 2USD)

Life in general: Life's fast-paced here, Taiwanese seem to work hard and don't complain about it. Everything's well organized, seems to be running smoothly. But that's the case in every modern country. Once I know the system from the inside, I will be able to tell more about it.

Mindset: I have no observations in this regard, haven't gotten to know many Taiwanese so far. Been introduced to few, but we didn't go beyond a small talk. I will need a lot of time to understand that better.

There's so much more to see and experience here in Taiwan. First impressions are mostly deceiving, but there is some truth in them. I try my best to be as objective as possible, but I have flaws and I know that some things will be rebutted soon. I'm surely gonna blog about where I was wrong, where I got a wrong impression of something.

What do you think about all the things I've shared with you here?

28 comments:

  1. you're much more observant than i would be...
    i'd be too busy looking at all those beautiful Taiwanese girls to even notice the architecture, entertainment etc ;)

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  2. For five days you've amassed a lot of information! That's good. You have a good eye for details. Always help in some way or the other.

    Reading your observations makes me want to visit Taiwan. Malaysia was already in my bucket list. So now I'm adding Taiwan!

    :)

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  3. agree... malaysia advances toooo fast that we left our tradition and mannerism behind... else its a nice city!

    i will take note of your details for my future trip.

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  4. TAIWANESE SAUSAGE!! *Droool... Faint*

    Something u should note about the greeting from store staff. The greeting has been so automated that if the door chimes and no one comes thru, they just announce the greeting outloud without even looking if someone has come in or not. Hahahaha... This is esp in the 7-11 stores.

    Fashion seems to be important to Taiwanese as I have noted that there are some who will just wear a pair of specs (without lenses) just coz its the IN thing. This was hilarious to me.

    Keep breathing in all the new experiences. ;)

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  5. All in all it's an overly exciting place. With some minuses but mostly positive. I can't help comparing it to Tokyo. There are similarities. Can someone tell me which country in the area is a trendsetter? Is it Japan? Everyone turns toward Japan? I get that feeling. Tell me if I am wrong. I am really interested in the question.
    I can't agree with you about the prices. Too high? The examples you gave...mmm seem cheap. You were comparing the prices with the ones in Slovenia or to Malaysia and Singapore? I always though prices in Japan are alike ones in Croatia or better. And I doubt Japan is cheaper than Taiwan. I know Slovenia is in EU and Croatia isn't...but i doubt prices in Slo are lower than those in Cro.

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  6. This is such an interesting post! I read all and you write and explain things in a way one can always close the eyes and smell, see and live the things. About the couples... men who think they are something better and don't respect (their) women are everywhere... they just do it in some slight different ways... I am happy I'm not there... I would never ever stop smoking with that price! ;-))) Keep on posting and enjoy your life! It's so beautiful! :-)

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  7. ohh and i thought in taiwan the men wre all metro and took so much care of their appearence

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  8. @adamantixx: Well, I see all that and much more :)

    @P.T: I tend to observe a lot. Glad you liked my post :)

    @Lily: I agree :)

    @Lizzy: Well, I still like the greeting, even if it's automated :)
    Fashion is big, especially for women :)

    @Saša: Japan and Korea are trendsetters. Music and drama is Korean domain, fashion and make-up products is Japanese domain.

    The prices are similar to Slovenia, but I usually compare to Malaysia, hehe. Somehow I am used to lower prices when I am in Asia :) Don't worry, I will soon realize, that I'm not in Malaysia anymore :P

    @Daisy: Aw, thanks a lot. Yea, cigarettes are quite cheap, but haven't seen many smokers here. Yeah, you see all kind of guys and girls here, will be interesting to share :)

    @Manju: I thought so, too. Some are, but not the majority :)

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  9. It's such a great experience to live in another country, even for a while! You notice differences and learn. :)

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  10. dont get me started with malaysia/malaysians.

    yeah i know.i'm one but sometimes i feel like kicking their faces off like a football. every time i come home, go to the shop & say thank you, they stare at me like i'm an alien. i mean, excuse me... i was thanking you!

    and the line up for anywhere... horrendous! ahaha.

    your observations is excellent. keep it up. i wanna hear more.

    p.s say hi to lily for me :)

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  11. Hmm, wonder why I couldn't comment on another post of yours!?

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  12. awesome, well detailed post. I hope to hop over to Taiwan for a few days when I manage to get to Japan for an extended period. Might even try Malaysia and Singapore too.

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  13. @Kasia: Yes, true.

    @Ejann: Well, Malaysia is different, but not bad :) Maybe you're too Westernized alredy, hehe. Will observe more and Lily says hi back :)

    @Steph: I disabled comments on some posts with pics, you can comment here.

    @Jamaipanese: I think for you Taipei would be fun for few days.

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  14. You seem to be having time of your life there. For just 5 days you know so much about that place already. I kinda missed this post as you posted both on the same day and just checked the pics one :P. I like the pics... i said that already :D.

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  15. The prices there don't seem that high at all...I don't know the distance between Taoyuan to Taipei but I know the price for a high speed train fare from where I live to South San Francisco (which is very close) is around $11-$12 USD. And a pack of cigarettes here is normally $5.75. All the food looks cheap too. I'm amazed you get ice cream for only $0.62 there! Ice cream here in groceries cost around $5.50. In an ice cream shop, around $6.50. So 0.62 is a great price! Lol. The cinema ticket here is $11.00 for adults, so $8.40 is good.

    The coffee price there does look very close to here or very similar. But everything else there looks pretty good, lol.

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  16. thanks for sharing your experience.. and i especially love the ximending pics... i always wish to go there if i visit taiwan in future. =)

    Hope you are having a great time there. Cheers. =)

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  17. I have never been to taiwan so, its nice knowing more facts about it.
    Wow, and reading from your previous posts. Great on meeting your loved one !

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  18. @Harini: Yeah, I'm trying to observe as much as I can. I want to learn a lot in short time. Thanks for always being so supportive :)

    @Van: Prices are a lil higher than Slovenia and much higher than Malaysia, where I've been last. Somehow I always feel that, if I am in Asia, prices should be much smaller, hehe. That's really because I've been in Malaysia too many times. I know that Singapore and HK are similar to Slovenia and so is Taipei. Will get used to it. I still have no feeling for the Taiwanese dollar, my girlfriend was paying for everything. The banks were closed during CNY, so I couldn't exchange the money. I forgot to exchange it at the airport. It's ok, tomorrow is business as usual, I can finally exchange :-)

    @Adeline: Thank you :-D Happy you like what I'm sharing. And Ximending is really fun, I'll be returning for sure. I'm having a good time, yeah.

    @Roxy: Thanks :) Hope I can help you to know more about Taiwan :)

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  19. Singapore's kiasuness at the MRT Station is pretty disturbing, in fact I will say its unsightly, especially for people who are new to the culture.

    Taiwan serves great food, love their dumplings an their stewed rice. But the lingering smell of smelly tofu doesn't really appeal to me, but you will get used to it soon. Le me know how it taste. =p

    Singaporeans compare Taiwan alot with Hongkong, but I personally prefer taiwan for a good mix of great food, great scenery and variety of culture.

    On a side note, have you (and are you planning to) find a job in Taiwan? Pardon me if you have mentioned it in your earlier posts, may have missed it.

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  20. @Shingo: The stinky tofu I had was not bad. Tasted similar to any other tofu I had eaten in Malaysia before. Lily said that one wasn't the best and strongest in taste. So I need to taste more of them to pass a good judgement :) I'd say Taiwan is different than HK, Singapore and Malaysia. Some things are similar of course, but so many things are unique here, so I'd say it's one of a kind. As for your last question, I hope yes, but I won't blog about it until I have something, don't wanna jinx it ;)

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  21. you are just a good bloger^^, i do mean it!!!-cherry

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  22. So interesting, you're very informative. Maybe I need to make a trip there next, to test out just how thorough you've been.

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  23. I want to visit the fascinating Taiwan as well...:'( The weak body just doesn't want to listen to me.

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  24. @Becks: Sure, you can test me. But you may see things with totally different eyes :)

    @Stefanie: Ah, sis. Hope you get better soon, k. If you manage to come and I am here, I will surely welcome you :)

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  25. 1.Hello to you... I read your blog and wanted to share some other things with you and the readers regarding Taiwan, if I may. Taiwan is a beautiful place as far as natural goes... I have been to Hakka village and the bus ride as with most of my experiences there, come with amazing stories, some sad, some funny, some bad, some good... Another place to visit, when in Taiwan would be Penghu or the Pescadores... You can ride a ferry to Penghu or fly there from Kaohsiung. The ferry ride will take several hours and a plane ride takes about 30 minutes. The Pescadores were the highlight of my stay in Taiwan. The Islands are magnificent and the people of the villages are unlike any culture I have ever seen, they too are beautiful! In Kaohsiung, I enjoyed hiking up monkey mountain, to see the monkeys. Taiwan has been a part of the lives of several people I know, due to their job. As a tourist you won't notice things about the culture there but as one spending much time there you will. There are several things to be aware of regarding the culture... Ego and greed being at the top of the list... It's easy to be seduced by the simple logic of the people as their culture is demands it. The people are simple but they know westerners have something they want, money being one of them! As a western tourist, gift shops will have two prices for souvenirs... A local price and a western price... It is wise to bring someone with you that speaks the language and going to Hakka village will mean someone who speaks Hakkan. Taiwan has several languages with Mandarin Chinese being the most common. The problem with having a Chinese speaking friend is where greed gets more complicated... A western man in Taiwan will become prey to women between the age of 20 and 40. They do not care how old a western man is nor do they care if he is married or in a relationship... A woman offering a man her services as a guide comes with a price! One of the first places you will be sent to for western food are the pubs and it will be in these pubs that a western man will be singled out. After being seduced these women will work to drive a wedge between his western family, wife and children, girlfriend and children, etc. The goal is to get out of Taiwan and to the U.S. with a husband! Some pubs, in Kaohsiung, to be wary of are the Focus pub, Bottoms up Pub and Judy's pub. Some names to avoid are [Girl's name] or [Girl's name], [Girl's name] and [Girl's name], unless you are single and looking for special services that they do provide with the hope of getting out of Taiwan. To be continued...

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  26. There are many others throughout Taiwan as they have come to believe the grass is greener elsewhere! This type of culture is a huge problem for western men who do have a significant other at home waiting for them. I have seen it happen a lot over a period of 6 years. Unfortunately, when these women make it out of Taiwan they are not prepared for what they are getting into... They go from simple life with a goal, to a complicated life where they don't know where to start... The result is they end up in a bar playing the games they know very well. If you do happen to meet the "perfect" girl in Taiwan, you need to ask her point blank if she has children. There seems to be some "rule" that keeps them from talking about their children. Some will introduce you to their children and tell you they are their nieces and nephews or they will claim they are babysitting the children of a friend. They do this to "test" you.... After the wedding you will meet them again and they will be called your children! Others won't mention children at all until she is married to you!
    Just remember if things are, or someone seems, too good to be true, they probably are! Enjoy the scenery and don't get suckered into an ancient scam that leaves you with nothing at all, in the end! I know too many people who have been taken down this road and it's ugly. I have also known a few who woke up and saw what was going on before it was too late for them. China is a place where most are born unhealthy, their skinniness is usually the result of worms, coming from hygiene problems regarding the food they eat... As they age they will develop osteoporosis and it's heart breaking to see the elderly suffer so. The diet over there lacks much needed nutrition for the body, factor in the worms and other things and it's awful to witness. I wouldn't want to be there knowing I was destined to end up that way. These health problems do find a way into the westerners who spend a lot of time over there... Low T is a common ailment for westerners due to the diet... If you are there it is wise to eat from the night markets where you can choose your meal as it's alive and then have it killed and prepared to eat. I offended many locals as I refused to eat from a vendor serving food with flies all over it! Not to mention the highly processed foods that are lacking in nutrition, when "meat" is a white looking meatball, I am not eating it. The people are aware of their lack of nutrition because I always got emails requesting vitamins for them and their families, when they learned I or someone else was going over there. Vitamins there are more expensive than they are in the U.S. and they are highly desired! Bring imodium with you when in Taiwan or China and drink bottled water as sewage runs freely. The place is beautiful but it does have it's darksides!

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  27. @Anonymous: I have censored your comment in the part where you mention some people's names. I don't want my blog to be abused for a personal vendetta.

    Apart from that, I have to say that my experience in Taiwan is completely different than yours. Most things you mentioned I can't relate to: I have never seen nor experienced them.

    The post you commented on was written in 2010, few days after I have arrived here as a traveler and of course my impressions were different than they are now. A year later I have moved here, married a local girl and started a new life, with few challenges along the way, but none of the kind you had.

    I wish you to see more bright sides in the future.

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