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:
9. Awesome Foreigners
Expatriates are a really cool group of people. Although there aren’t a lot of foreigners in Taipei, we all tend to find each other because we tend to hang out at the same places, work at the same jobs and have many friends in common. After all, it’s easy to make friends with someone who speaks your native language and who shares the joys and frustrations of trying to find their way through the maze that is Taiwanese culture. But in many cases, our status as “Wai-guo-ren,” or foreigners, is almost the only thing we have in common. This actually leads to many interesting conversations, especially about the places we come from. For example, I have learned more about South Africa in the past year than in all the previous years of my life combined. In Taiwan, I’ve met people from Canada, England, Holland, France, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, New Zealand and probably a few other countries that are slipping my mind right now. I’m learning a lot about different cultures – and not just Taiwanese/Chinese culture.
Expatriates are also interesting because they tend to have a broader perspective and more travel experience than most other people. I haven’t visited many countries in Asia, so I’m always fascinated to hear stories about other people’s travels and to dream about all the places I’d like to visit. We live in such a big, colorful, fascinating, diverse world, and living in even one country outside your home can help you take in much more of it.
10. Awesome Locals
Taiwanese people are incredibly friendly. I’m not just saying this because I’m used to cold, aloof New Englanders – everyone I mention this to agrees with me. I pretty regularly have people strike up conversations with me on busses or subways, at restaurants and in shops. In most cases, they speak to me in English, which could be caused by a desire to practice their English or an assumption that I don’t speak Chinese, but I prefer to think of it as their way of being hospitable. Once they find out where I’m from and how long I’ve been here, people are always eager to hear what I think of Taiwan (especially the food). They’ll ask if I miss home, give me tips about where to go and what to do, and in some cases offer to help me out in some way. Of course I’ve had a few bad experiences, but these were mostly cultural misunderstandings, and many of them arose from people being a bit too friendly.
The Taiwanese are very polite; they wait in line and apologize if they inconvenience you. I also feel very safe here. One time I dropped a small wallet that had a little cash and my transportation card in a metro station. I didn’t realize this for about ten minutes, but when I returned, someone had turned the wallet in to the information desk. My card and all my money were still there. Obviously, I don’t recommend leaving money lying around, but this experience does say something good about Taiwan as a whole. That’s why when the locals ask me what I like about Taiwan, I always respond “The food and the people.”
Things I Don’t
5. Not Being at Home
In spite of all the awesome people I meet in Taiwan, I can’t stop missing the awesome people I left behind. Once in a while, especially when I’m tired after a long day of work or other activities, I find myself thinking longingly of eating dinner with my family, playing games with my brother or staying up late playing cards, watching TV or having deep discussions with my college friends. I guess that’s an inevitable part of living away from home, and in a sense I’m glad of it. This lingering homesickness is proof that what I had back in America was good and valuable and that it is still a deep part of who I am. It would be very sad if I never looked back on the past, never missed my family, never wanted to return to where I came from. That’s the hardest part of living in Taiwan, and sometimes I think that if I could bring my loved ones here with me, I would be perfectly happy. But I’m realizing that leaving some things behind is an inevitable part of growing up, and that we need to keep and treasure the good things in our past while we move on into the intimidating but invigorating adventure that is our future.