I was born and raised in New Zealand, however if you were to ask me my family background, I would say Taiwan. Since I was very little, I visited Taiwan each year and have just been in Taipei for over a week now. I notice the same things or some new things each time. Whether it’s taking public transport, walking on the streets or going to the shops. One of the things I find extremely convenient if you live in Taipei is the public transport. You can take the MRT, bus, taxi, bike, walk or scooter. I don’t think I’m alone on this, but the food in Asia is always absolutely delicious and brings certain memories. Some of these points are from my experience in Taipei and others are generally the culture in Taiwan.
1) Many, many scooters and bikes. Taiwan has a massive amount of scooters. There on the street, parked on the side of the road and beside apartments.
2) No eating or drinking on the MRT. It’s something I forget each time I arrive in Taipei, because I’m always tempted to have a drink of water. There is a fine charged if you break those rules.
3) The use of phones on public transport. I’m sure this is generally in most cities, because no matter where I am in Sydney, Auckland or Taipei, there will be people using their phones on the trains, bus and on the streets. However, in Taipei sometimes the whole section of the train might be using their phone.
4) Being a pedestrian can be scary. In Taipei, vehicles have the right of way, from the way that pedestrians experience walking on the road. Even when the green light goes, a car turning might not always give you way. Try to be careful and look out for those cars, because they won’t stop for you!
5) There are no rubbish bins. From what I’ve noticed, there are almost no public rubbish bins in Taiwan.
6) There are 7-Elevens everywhere. There are many convenience stores, which are great if you need to buy a quick meal or need something. They are also great for postal services in which you can receive your packages and pick them up from the store.
7) Night life and Night Markets. Many people love to go to KTV during the day or night. Karaoke is quite popular in Taiwan. There are also many night markets in Taipei where you can experience different street foods and go shopping.
8) No one wears helmets when cycling. At least the majority of people don’t wear any protective gear. It is dangerous, and especially with the traffic in Taipei and the driving, you have to be very careful when biking.
9) You might smell stinky tofu. In the area I live, there is a shop nearby that makes stinky tofu (臭豆腐). I think it’s more of the smell that can be off putting, but it does have an acquired taste.
10) Wearing face masks in public. This is usually because the person might be sick, have an allergy or the air is generally more polluted in the city. For scooters, the engines have a lot of smoke and the air can be very dirty to breathe when driving.
11) Garbage trucks play Beethoven. You will definitely hear Fur Elise at some point. It’s a loud sound that indicates that the garbage truck is nearby for people to take out their trash.
12) EasyCard for public transport. An EasyCard is super convenient for when you go on trains, buses and city bikes.
13) Having an umbrella on you. It’s always good to have an umbrella on you, as it can be suddenly sunny or rainy at any moment.
14) Lining up for food. If there is a popular store or a certain dish that’s very popular, people are willing to wait long periods of time to buy it. You might see a huge line waiting just for a meal. I can never imagine lining up a long time for food, but it’s part of the Line Culture.
15) Dark blue seats are priority seats on the train. There are courtesy/priority seats for pregnant women, the elderley and disabled. Most of the time the seats are vacant, but when you sit on them, be sure to stand up for someone who needs it.
16) Book stores and libraries. Ever since I was young, I loved the Book stores (especially in big shopping malls) in Taipei. They are clean and spacious and full of all kinds of books. There is a library in Beitou that has one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve ever been to.
17) Convenience using cash. It’s good to always carry cash on you, because most stores (especially in food stores) may only take cash.
18) Cute things everywhere. One of the things I like about Asia is how cute things are appreciated and a normal part of daily life. In most western countries they might be seen as childish and immature, but in Asia it’s fully embraced.
19) Taipei 101. It’s hard not to see it, as it’s one of the tallest buildings in the world, standing at 449 m. You can go up by visiting Starbucks.
20) Rejecting food can often be rude. It’s courtesy to accept food from someone, to show that you enjoy the food. As someone who often says “No, Thank you” when offered, I know the feeling that it can really offend some people.
21) Food is a huge part of the culture. Relating back to the previous point, food is a huge part of Asian culture. You will see it everywhere and on nearly every street.
22) The air is not great. This is inescapable. It’s a city and there are vehicles everywhere and factories that emit smoke. The air is polluted and more so in certain areas. Especially if you are from New Zealand you can feel the contrast. However, if you travel to areas in Taiwan such as Hualien or in Yang Ming Shang, the air will be much more fresh.
23) Nature and historical buildings. You might visit Elephant Mountain, Yangmingshan National Park, National Taiwan University, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and various other places.
24) Most people are friendly and helpful. People are willing to help and some people may even take you to the destination you’re looking for.
25) Some taxis will smell of smoke. If you’re like me, then just be prepared if certain taxis have a strong odour. Unfortunately, this is one of the downsides that some taxis will have the smell of smoke.
26) Great place to buy technology. There are various places to buy products from phone, laptops and any other devices you seek. The prices are usually pretty affordable.
27) Hard working people. Of course there are hard working people everywhere, but I feel that even from the tiniest food stand on the street to the long hours of corporate work, many Taiwanese people work very hard.
28) Experiencing hot springs. It’s great to go when the weathers starting to cool down. There are many hot springs around Taipei.
29) Whitening products. In beauty stores, there are many whitening products from face masks, moisturisers, creams, BB and CC creams and so on.
30) If you don’t appear Taiwanese, you won’t be treated as a local. I’m not sure how to fully explain this point. If you are a westerner, living in Taiwan long term, you may relate to the feeling of never being truly a Taiwanese, even if you have the citizen.
31) Gift giving. It’s common to receive or give gifts in Taiwan. Usually it comes with a lot of politely refusing the gift, and the other person insisting them to take it until they do.
32) Paying for the bill. When there is a group of friends, family or guests, it’s common for one person to stand up to pay for the bill. It’s also common to fight for the bill out of courtesy, and it also means that many people take turns paying.
33) Squat toilets. In some areas there are only squat toilets. Although, I don’t mind these so much because in public toilets, I prefer not having to touch the seat.
34) The traffic is crazy. There’s no other way to describe it. 9/10 vehicles are not going to give way for you even at zebra crossings. Some scooters don’t follow the rules, and you might even see scooters that drive on the pavements. Standing on a bus can feel bumpy at times but you get used to it after a while.
35) Overcrowded MRT’s during rush hour. As with any busy city, the trains will be full and sometimes they will be full to the extent that you might feel you cannot move. Just be aware of your surroundings and make your way to the exit when you see your stop.
36) Everything is convenient. At least from my perspective, I feel one doesn’t necessarily need to drive a car. You can do your shopping, travel and meet people by travelling on the MRT. Did you know it’s possible to travel from the top of Taiwan to the bottom in a day?
37) Being polite and keeping face. This may be a common cultural aspect in many Asian cultures. However, if someone is rude, most people will maintain a polite disposition. If something wrong may happen, many people (thought not all) will ignore it or act as if nothing is wrong. Indirectness is possibly one of the negative aspects.
38) The fashion and style. This point might be generalised, but mostly in Western countries it’s normal to show a bit of cleavage or more skin than Asian countries. You will see anything in Taipei from corporate, cute, casual and quirky.
39) Keeping low voices on public transport. It is polite to lower your voice when talking on the phone or talking to others when you’re on the bus or train.
40) An affordable city. Perhaps for many tourists, they may perceive Taiwan to be quite an affordable place, and Taipei to be quite affordable for visiting. However, for a local it depends on the individual and their situation. The pay for certain jobs can be very low.
41) Contrasting appearances of buildings. In Taiwan, there are areas where the buildings are new and modern, and there are areas where there are very old and dirty buildings.
42) The importance of recycling. Taiwan has a strong culture in recycling and disposing rubbish. The foods are separated into the categories of recyclables, non recyclables and food scraps/left overs.
43) The weather is very hot during the Summer. Likewise, the winter can be very cold and rainy. The humidity in Summer can reach high temperatures.
44) English signs. In terms of public transport, there are always English signs. Unfortunately not many people speak English, but there will usually be someone nearby who can speak English.
45) There are many temples. You will most likely see a fair amount of temples around Taipei.
46) Amount of entertainment. It’s not hard for people to find entertainment in the city. You can go to the cinema, visit an art gallery or go watch a concert.
47) Taipei is generally pretty safe. Taipei has a great night life, and there are often still many people in the city during later hours, which makes it safer when travelling home.
48) Shops stay open much later. Most stores stay open later than stores in New Zealand. For example, most stores and companies close at 5pm. However, in Taiwan there are stores that open until 11pm or even later.
49) Perspective on appearances. It’s not uncommon for people to comment on your appearances, such as “好漂亮” (so pretty), even if they mean it or not. Especially if you haven’t seen the person in a long time. It’s also not uncommon for them to tell you if you have gotten fatter or skinnier.
50) Strong connection with history and culture. There are many festivals such as Dragon Boat and Mid-Autumn Festivals. Chinese New Year is largely celebrated and there are many traditions, ways of thinking and cultural aspects that are carried down the generations.