I hope you all had a smart and safe Thanksgiving and plan to do the same for Christmas and New Year’s. When I think about what it’s like back home, it still blows my mind and makes me incredibly sad. And while I of course want everyone to stay home, wear a mask, and social distance, it’s also hard to blame people for wanting to get out and see people. I don’t know how you’ve done this for almost a year now, but don’t give up hope yet. Though there is some promising news on the vaccine that may appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s still a really long tunnel so let’t not get overly excited just yet. We’ve still got a long way to go, but keep the faith and keep doing the smart thing. Plus, you know, the whole having an actual set of mentally stable humans in the White House should hopefully also help.
Meanwhile, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have landed where I did. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating; getting a job on this tiny island about which I previously knew nothing, and the fact that they handled a pandemic that has devastated the rest of the world and that I get to spend half of the worst year ever in the best place on Earth – the odds are incomprehensibly small. I get to live in a place that has had perhaps the only Pride parade and music festivals in the world this year, and I’m running a half-marathon with 10,000 other people next weekend in Taipei! And all I had to do was mess up all my relationships for a decade and decide to teach abroad 10 years later than most people do! (Joke’s on you, suckas!)
This post, however, is not going to be braggy. This post is meant to provide some balance. To assure both you and myself that I am not posting a curated life on social media. While of course Instagram and this blog are mainly going to capture the highlights, I do try hard to be real with what I post and I assure you that this is not a case of showcasing the highs and concealing the lows. It really is quite incredible here and it’s true that my cup has felt more full lately than it has in a long time. Alas, nothing is perfect and I thought you might appreciate learning about some of the less-than-ideal parts of life in Taiwan, at least from this entitled gringo’s point of view.
Things I don’t love about Taiwan:
Paper products. Absolute shit. Basically everything is a tissue that is half the size and thickness of a standard Kleenex. You need some paper towels to clean up a spill? Here’s a tissue. Hands covered in grease after eating out at a fried chicken restaurant? 450 tissues. A roll of toilet paper? I don’t even know what that is. You’ll have to make it work with some tissues. When you’re done, don’t forget to wash your hands. Oh, you want to dry them? here is a plastic envelope filled with tissues that you have to dig around in to get just one but you’ll probably grab 10 on accident and the bag is all wet from other people also failing at the finger crane game, so your hands aren’t exactly clean anymore. If you’re feeling a little cooped up these days and that travel bug is itching, here is what you can do to create a cultural experience. Go to a nice restaurant with your partner and another couple (or better yet, get it delivered, please). Take a single 2-ply generic “facial tissue” with you. Peel the two layers away from one another. Now, cut each square in half and pass one-fourth of the original tissue to each member of the dinner party. Congratulations! You have just created a Taiwanese napkin. Eat carefully.
Cash only. Other than booking a hotel, 100% of the transactions I have completed here have been done in cash. This was shocking to me. I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind it. I was expecting a very technologically advanced society, which it is in many ways, but credit cards and phone pay are not one of them. My first day here I went to a grocery store. I saw that they had a credit card machine and I handed mine to her. She looked at it like it was an alien invention that she had never seen before. She tried it a few times, but it did not work. At rare places like this, you can use a local debit card, but it seems like very few people do. I’m used to carrying cash around now, but it’s not fun. I also have a bang load of 1 dollar coins (~$0.03) from getting change everywhere, but I don’t want to take them to the bank to exchange for bills because no one there speaks English. You wouldn’t think so, but everything any of the foreign teachers have ever tried to do at that bank is always surprisingly complicated, so I’m going to wait on that for as long as possible.
Sidewalks. There are none. Your choices are to walk along the edge of the road with a thousand scooters zipping by you at irresponsible speeds or, on some streets, there is this half-promenade half-storefront space that is safer than the road, but you also have to scootch around someone who is cooking at their food stall, walk between tables at a restaurant, and squeeze through scooters parked haphazardly literally everywhere. Again, such an impressive society in so many ways… except in the early days someone forgot to add “safe space for people to walk” to the infrastructure checklist.
Aggressive dating. The Taiwanese love themselves a relationship. People like to get married and have kids. I think there is some low-key shame in being single. (It’s crazy – I moved 7,000 miles away and it’s like I’ve never left the Midwest! Ha!) Relationships here move faster than the coronavirus at a Trump rally. My first first date was lunch, and then an impromptu one-hour drive to the ocean, and then dinner at a rest stop/mall on the way home. It was fun, but a bit much. Nice girl, but no future. The second girl I met was also wonderfully thoughtful, fun, and creative. But after our second date, she was planning full-day adventures, asked me to travel to Kaohsiung to meet her family and was sending links for Airbnb’s wanting to plan a weekend away. It’s intense, and I’ve been told this is not uncommon. So I’m cooling it on that for a bit. Just going to enjoy being single, exploring the country, going on adventures, meeting people, making friends, and see where it takes me.
No one drinks anything here. Not water, not coffee, not juice, not milk, not beer, not wine. My best guess is that people have adapted to be like air plants and they just get their moisture from the air?? People seem to like tea, but that’s about it. In line with the aforementioned napkin situation, do not expect to get water with your meal when you go to a restaurant. There is typically a water station, but a) the water is likely to be on the plus side of warm (they really hate cold things here) and b) the size of the cup will be somewhere between a shot glass and a thimble. Us new teachers typically remember to bring our water bottles when we go out, but if you look around, literally no one else will be drinking water with their meals. I do not understand. It will be 108°F and everyone will be eating a steaming hot bowl of beef noodles with not a molecule of H2O in site. It’s fascinating. As for alcohol, there are a handful of bars, breweries, and clubs, primarily in one part of town, but most people do not drink much. The good news about this is that since they don’t have a problem with drunk people doing stupid shit, you can bring beer anywhere you want. Every restaurant is B.Y.O.B., you can drink in Ubers, you can drink in parks, you can drink on sidewalks… or at least you could if they existed! It’s hard to find a decent beer, but you can get a Taiwan Beer for $1 USD at any convenience store and drink it anywhere you want. I’m a simple man, and this brings me great pleasure.
So as to stick to the theme and give this post some balance, a few other things that have brought me pleasure lately include, but are not limited to:
- On my second attempt, I passed my scooter driver’s license test! The hardest part is that you have to drive really slow and straight on this skinny line. I tipped over the first time, which is an automatic fail. But we set up a practice course at school and I redeemed myself the second time around!
- I joined a running group called the Taichung Hash House Harriers. You follow a chalk-marked trail through different parts of the city or mountains, you get to go places where few have gone before, and they drink a ton of beer! It’s been great.
- As I mentioned, I will be running a half-marathon in Taipei on 12/20. I will fill very good if I can complete it without my knee hurting too badly. More than that, I’m excited to be part of the race, feel the energy, and watch full-marathon finishers!
- I am going to be Santa and co-emcee for the school Christmas concert. (More accurately, I will be playing Santa’s brother-in-law Dan.) Also, tbd on if this will be a highlight or not.
Taiwan is a wonderful place, but perhaps nowhere is perfect… although I haven’t been everywhere yet, so standby. Thanks, as always, for reading and for your comments, thoughts, and good vibes! Peace and love to you all, Happy Holidays, wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t be a dick, defund the police, dismantle the patriarchy, and fuck Donald Trump.