If you ever move to Taiwan I guarantee the thing you’ll hear the most before you come is how nice everyone is. In all of my interviews and with everyone I talked to who had been here, it was all they kept saying. “Everyone here is sooooo nice!” At some point it honestly started to get old. I believed them, but I also thought it was partly a sales tactic. Turns out, people here are really fucking nice. Like, culturally, across the board just kind-hearted, good-souled people everywhere you turn. It’s not just that people smile and make you feel welcome. People here will consistently go out of their way to help someone else or take time out of their day to make sure another person gets what they need. And it’s not just because we are white, either. It’s true that we experience some privilege and excitement because we are somewhat of a novelty and a lot of people here wanna be friends with Americans to practice their English (A country that isn’t xenophobic? Imagine that!) But even though I can’t understand them, I often see little interactions in stores or on the street of local people helping each other out. In the past couple of weeks in particular, there has been a string of several moments that typify what people are really like here. I want to share those with you here.
On a Thursday night, my friend Ashley (aka Teacher Ashley With The Shiny Hair, aka Trashley, aka The Young Phenom) and I were going to rent city bikes to go to dinner. The YouBike system here is really slick. Just tap your card, take the bike, and go. There are stations all over the place and they are free under 30 minutes, and like a dollar per hour after that! I had a card, but Ashley did not, so we went and bought one at the Family Mart. But when we went back to the bikes, it was saying we had to register the card. We were trying on the app, but it was all in Chinese so it was proving difficult. After a few minutes of struggling, a woman just about to take a bike of her own says “Do you guys need help?” Clearly we did.
Abigail (as we would later find out) took Ashley’s phone and helped her register on the app. Despite her effort, it was still not working for some reason, so she went with us back into the Family Mart to ask the clerk. They had a bit of a conversation in Chinese until she figured out what the problem was. (We were on the wrong app or typed something in wrong or it needed time to process… I never actually learned what the issue was.) Eventually, we got it squared away and went back out to the bikes. She waited with us to make sure it worked, and we thanked her profusely for taking the time to help us.
The whole process took about 10 minutes, during which she apologized several times for how long it was taking. I kept saying, “Are you kidding? We’re sorry that you got dragged into this saga!” At one point around minute 8 I asked, “What are you up to tonight?” and she responded, “I am late for English class.” Ashley erupted, “We’re making you late?! Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” To which Abigail stated plainly, “Oh it’s okay, this is pretty much the same thing.” We got to talking a bit more and it turns out that she lives in my building… on my floor… directly across the hall! I haven’t seen her since, but I’m hopeful for the potential friendship.
The following Sunday, the other Ashley (aka Brown-Haired Teacher Ashley, aka Flash) and I went on a beautiful hike up a rocky river bed to some natural hot springs. For some non-skillful foreshadowing, let me say that this entire two-hour hike is on top of small, medium, and large rocks, you cross the river a dozen or so times, and it is very important to have good footwear, or at the very least, footwear. The hot springs come up through several little pools along the side of the river, so when we arrived, we found our own little spot and got in to relax. The sun was shining, the sky was clear, the air and water temperatures were both perfect, and I was feeling good! The only thing missing was a beer.
A few minutes later, I asked Ashley, “Is that your sandal floating down the river?” She jumped up and ran down a few feet to grab it. Close call. Unfortunately, when she got back, she realized that her other sandal had already floated away unnoticed. Crap. She looked among the rocks, hoping it got caught on one, but no such luck. She walked down the river a ways past all the other hot springs pools looking for the sandal and asking everyone if they had seen it. Still no luck. I was staying very calm, but I knew was going to be a problem and was kind of freaking out a bit inside. We sat there for a few minutes discussing how to engineer a makeshift shoe out of a chip bag and an extra t-shirt, but before we had any prototypes in the works, a man came out of nowhere with the missing sandal! She said he wasn’t one of the people that she had asked earlier, so I’m guessing he found it, asked around, and people pointed him in our direction. We were saved from a long, painful, dangerous hobble back to our scooters.
While we were riding high from our relief and gratitude towards this stranger, another man came over from another pool and offered me a beer! Totally random act of kindness. It was the best luke-warm, shaken-up-from-being-in-a-backpack-for-three-hours Heineken I’ve ever had. A wonderful day narrowly saved from the jaws of peril by the selfless efforts of a stranger.
The last story for now is about the service industry. On a Friday night, John and Lindsay and both Ashleys(!) and I went out for some drinks and were given a round of free shots at two different places! It’s not like we were spending a ton of money or getting the party started or having a long conversation with the bartender or anything. We were just sitting there quietly and given them as basically gifts of appreciation. The very next day, John and Scott and Sarah and Lu– I mean Rainbow Panties, Taupe on a Rope, Fiesty Forest Pig, Size Queen and I (This Long) were out at another bar after the Hash run (Hash appreciation blog coming soon) and we were given another free round of shots and a basket of truffle fries! Particularly at the more upscale types of cocktail bars, I feel like this level of generosity would be pretty rare in the US.
Lastly, on Wednesday we were out at the one good brewery in town for St. Patrick’s Day – a holiday celebrated in Taiwan by approximately 10 of us teachers and maybe like 5 other people. (Sidenote: I’m realizing that in addition to illustrating the kindness of the Taiwanese, these stories are also painting a pretty colorful picture of me just drinking a bunch. I’m fine, I swear.) I bought a hat because I really like their branding… and their beer. When I got home, I put it on and realized that it didn’t fit quite right and wasn’t really my style. I knew that they had another option, so when John and I were there again on Saturday (boy, you’re really not buying that I’m not an alcoholic, are you?) I brought it back to try to exchange it for the other style of hat. Instead of accepting my exchange, the server just gave me the second hat for free and insisted that I keep the first one as well. I couldn’t believe it. An extra bit of free advertising sure, but essentially another act of pure generosity.
So my interviewers were right: people really are nice here. It’s more than just general good-heartedness; it’s a cultural pillar. It’s a collective-minded society. People look out for each other. There is very little crime here. People don’t lock their bikes or scooter helmets. I accidentally leave my keys in my scooter at least once a month, but I never worry about anybody taking it. In fact, sometimes people will even take them out of the ignition and put them in the little compartment on the front so they are more hidden. We don’t lock our door. The girls I work with say they don’t worry about walking places alone at night. Some of this, of course, could be aided by the fact that there are cameras at every single intersection and on most buildings and the government is watching you at all times. So, you know, some pros and some cons. But people here are willing to sacrifice a bit of privacy for the benefit of a society that works. People here generally trust those in power. In exchange, they receive access to things like jobs, healthcare, and safety. What a concept! It’s societal Karma. Wonder if the west will ever adopt these ideals.