I have been living in the beautiful tropical island of Taiwan for almost seven months now. With a natural environment as rich and varied as its history, Taiwan is a paradise for those seeking adventure and learning! So far, I have had many memorable experiences—from eating duck’s blood, to adventures such as exploring Buddhist temples, river tracing and climbing Taiwan’s second-highest peak. I have been very lucky to experience many of the island’s natural and cultural wonders. When not teaching, I am often out exploring Taiwan’s many attractions. I have come into contact with many different people, places and landmarks. Certain aspects of the culture have made me feel at home. I have grown to love it here. Below, I have listed my top five favorite things (in no particular order) about living in Taiwan so that you can understand a little more about how people live their lives on this tiny island!
The friendliness and generosity of the Taiwanese people make living here great. When I first arrived, I was pleasantly shocked at how people waved and smiled as I walked down the street while groups of children shouted “Ni hao!” as I passed by. They often followed with “Where are you from?” and “Welcome to Taiwan!” in English. I was surprised and pleased at how easy it was to talk with people. Total strangers seemed pleased and eager to help me out whenever I was lost or just could not find the train or bus station. I cannot count how many free meals and snacks I have had here, just because someone wanted to make me feel welcome. My host family, the local shopkeepers and restaurant owners, my co-teachers and the students at my school are all very kind and helpful to me.
The Natural Beauty
Taiwan has every type of natural environment you could ever want to explore. Huge mountains covered in tropical forests, beaches of sand and pebble, geological hot springs, snow-covered mountains, creeks, rivers, waterfalls—if you can name it, Taiwan probably has it. I already have trips planned in April and May to go paragliding, white water rafting, sky diving, rock climbing and mountain climbing, and I still have June and July to plan! I have had many outdoor adventures here in Taiwan so far and can’t wait to explore more of this beautiful place!
One of the best things about living in Taiwan is the huge array of delicious foods. In addition to the many restaurants cramming the streets, Taiwan’s cities are famous for their night markets. Night markets are outdoor markets where vendors set up booths selling everything from snake’s blood soup (at the strangest end) to giant shaved ice bowls piled high with fresh mango, sweetened condensed milk and red beans (at the more popular end). I am lucky to live in Yilan County, which has one of the largest night markets in all of Taiwan and which sells some regional specialties that people travel great distances to get! My favorites are green onion pancakes, barbecued chicken skewers, and chua bing (the Taiwanese word for the pile of shaved ice I described above). Another favorite dish of mine is hot pot. Hot pot involves dipping different ingredients into a pot of boiling broth, flavored with various types of herbs and oils. It’s like a fondue in the United States, except with broth instead of cheese. My favorite flavor is Sichuan peppercorn. Delicious!
The Easy Public Transportation
In Taiwan, every city and town is connected by train. In addition, every city has a bus station which connects it to areas all over the island. There are two main bus companies in Taiwan: Capital Star and Kamalan. In the medium-sized and larger cities, buses depart every five minutes. In Luodong city, where I live, buses leave to Taipei every five to ten minutes. A ticket from Luodong to Taipei costs about $3.50 one way and the ride lasts about one hour. Trains are even cheaper. A ticket from Luodong to Yilan, a five minute train ride, costs from 15-23 NTD depending on the type of ticket.The high speed rail ticket is the most expensive, but the train travels over 180mph! So, if you have a long way to go, it is sometimes worth the extra money!
The Culture and History
Taiwan has a rich and complicated history which has left its mark on today’s culture. One of my favorite things about Taiwan is the wide range of influences that has made its culture international, yet tradition still plays a critical role in Taiwanese customs and beliefs. This unlikely marriage is what makes Taiwan such an interesting place to live and explore.
The Taiwanese culture is a mix of Chinese, Japanese, indigenous, other Asian and western influences. One major influence carried over from China is religion. The majority of the Taiwanese people practice either Buddhism or Daoism. All over the island you can find temples built to various gods from these two religions. People burn incense and say prayers at the temples and ask the gods for good luck, healing, or help in finding love. In Yilan, many temples are dedicated to the goddess Matzu. The area around Yilan is a major fishing community and Matzu is believed to protect fishermen. Temples also often serve as community centers and places where residents can get together to socialize, play mahjong, and eat pot luck dinners.
In addition to temples, “old streets” are fairly popular community areas. Most Taiwanese towns contain an old street. Old streets are where you can find regional specialties, including food, crafts, and artwork. For example, in the old street in Sanxia, an area near Taipei famous for its indigo dye, you can find a multitude of blue-colored scarves and blankets for sale.
While outside influences are partly responsible for the way the Taiwanese culture presents itself today, the aboriginal anthropology also plays a critical role. Taiwan’s government recognizes 14 aboriginal groups: the Ami, Atayal, Bunun, Kavalan, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Tao, Thao, Tsou, Truku, Sakizaya, and Sediq. There is a long history in Taiwan of the struggles and difficulties placed on aboriginal groups at the hands of invaders, and at certain times, by the Taiwanese government. Today, aboriginals comprise about 5% of Taiwan’s population and have distinct languages, beliefs and traditions. Efforts have been put into place to preserve and protect what is left of Taiwan’s original cultures.
So, there you have it! These are my top five favorite things about living in Taiwan! I cannot wait to explore more of this beautiful country and I feel very lucky to be able to experience the wonders of Taiwan’s people, places and culture first hand.