As our time winds down here in Taiwan, Sarah and I have really been reflecting on the past year. What have we experienced? What have we learned? How can we apply our time here to our life back in GR? It’s always been very entertaining and intriguing to have “honest hour,” with our guests…to listen to what differences they saw and felt while visiting Taiwan. Now, as we prepare to leave Taiwan, it’s our turn to have our “honest hour.” I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the differences and quirks Sarah and I have come to know while living here. I, by no means, want to disrespect anyone or anything, but just want to share some of the cultural differences and how they have affected us.
The infamous squatty potty. Actually, I just read an article the other day how the Western world is pooping all wrong. The sit down toilets we use to drop the number 2 are not designed for ideal trajectory. How often do you hear people struggling to push it out? That can’t be good on the ol’ b-hole. What’s the answer? The squatty potty! It’s basically a pit in the ground where you crouch down nice and low and let it go. Apparently, the squatting angle is the perfect angle for optimum results. Who knew? However (I know this would make a lot of Dad’s angry), you aren’t able to enjoy your evening newspaper and relax…I think I’ll stick to the Western style. Sarah, on the other hand, loves the squatty potty!
Fun fact: When I was experiencing the squatty for the first time, I was sure I had everything aimed just right. PLOP. I looked behind me and there it was….right BEHIND the hole. CRAAAAP (pun intended).
It’s been an adjustment not having a car to quick jump into…but it’s been reallllly nice not having to drop $40 a week on filling the tank. No car, no scooter, no bike….although hindsight is always 20/20. A bike would’ve been a great purchase 10 months ago. It’s been the subway and walking. The MRT system in Taipei is absolutely fantastic. Within about 40 minutes you can be anywhere in the city for no more than $1.50. Instead of $40 a week on gas, it’s $40 a month on the MRT card…not too shabby. We also live only one MRT stop from our school, so we walk there and back, 20 minutes each way. Great excuse for some exercise.
3. Trash Day
I love this one. I wish I could embed a video on this blog to show you a live feed, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Anyways, walking home from school one night, Sarah and I happened upon what looked like, a giant gathering outside of all the apartment buildings. All of a sudden we hear Beethoven’s Fur Elise playing over a loud speaker…ice cream truck? Awesome, I would love an ice cream cone! Psych! The garbage truck was blaring classical music while rolling up the street. Now, that’s awesome!
Most people here don’t have a trash service like we do at home, so once a week they bring out their trash to the street and throw it into the Beethoven-playing trash truck. Hey, at the least the song makes trash day a little more enjoyable.
7-11 just straight up owns over here. From our building alone, we can walk to four different 7-11’s within the same walking distance. There’s literally a 7-11 or Family Mart on every single corner or road. They’re not your average 7-11 either. I know what 7-11 you Grand Rapids people are picturing when I talk about 7-11…yea, that real shabby one on Fulton and Lane…way different! The 7-11’s over here offermuch more than your Coca-Cola slurpee.You are able to pay every utility bill, buy a gourmet latte, eat lunch, and purchase any type of sporting or entertainment ticket you can imagine. On top of all that, instead of having your recent online purchase sent to your house, you can have it sent to the nearest 7-11 for pick up!
5. Winter Clothing in Summer
Summer months in Taiwan are hot…ridiculously hot. It’s 100 degrees with 100% humidity. For us, the last thing we’d ever think of wearing on a day like this are a coat and a pair of jeans. But when you look around, you see many people wearing sweaters, jeans, coats, hats and a popped umbrella to protect their face. People here cover up when it’s hot. They avoid the sunrays like the plague. Us Americans could really learn a few lessons from our Taiwanese counterparts. Although I like to get my tan on, you can definitely see the positive affects of staying out of the sun on the middle aged people here. They look so young and their skin is flawless.
6. Scooters vs. Trucks
Scooters are everywhere, and they are not just used to transport people. Scooters are the most convenient mode of transport for people AND things. You will never see a GMC 2500 or a Ford F350 on the road here, but will see a million Yamaha 50cc scooters! It’s amazing what you will see on the back of those units. We’ve seen everything from an extension ladder to a 10 foot high pile of clothes….and the occasional family of five!
Yes, there is a baby hidden in there!
7. Markets vs. Meijer
This difference has been an enjoyable experience for us to get used to. We love walking through our local day market on a Saturday morning. They are so full of life with people searching and bargaining for the best price on star fruit or pig tongue. If you ever get the chance to go to Asia, make sure to visit the local markets. This is where you get a true taste of the everyday life. Other than Costco, there is nothing remotely close to a Meijer. We have a grocery store next to our house, but it is small and expensive. For our staples, we head to the market. Unlike at home where you can easily drop $150 once a week for a weeks worth of food, we tend to spend $5-$10 everyday on what we will eat that day. There’s usually nothing wasted, where at home I could probably count a shelf’s worth of half eaten boxes of snacks. We hope to combine these two very different methods of grocery shopping when we get home. Trust us, we definitely miss Meijer. It makes us smile thinking of being able to buy everything we want in one store!
This is a no brainer. There are two official languages in Taiwan: Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese. Just about everyone can speak both languages. Taiwanese is generally spoken amongst the older generation, while Mandarin is used by everyone else. I started learning Mandarin as a freshman in college and came to Taiwan my junior year for the first time to study it more in depth. Chinese is a very difficult language to learn and is vastly different from English. First and foremost, there is absolutely no alphabet, rather each character stands for a word. 我 = I, 愛 = love, 你 = you, 我愛你 = I love you. The no alphabet thing makes it very difficult to read and write..especially write. It comes down to root memorization. It’s a constant flipping and flipping of flashcards. They say you need to know about 3,000 characters just to make sense of a newspaper.
The grammar side of things, compared to other languages, is rather easy. Remember when you had to learn the male and female of every word in Spanish? Remember all the conjugations you had to memorize? Chinese has neither of these. In fact, other than adding 了 to a sentence or two, there aren’t even any tenses to learn. The basic structure is as follows: 我們今天晚上想要喝一杯紅茶 We today tonight would like drink one cup black tea. Not too bad!
Lastly, and most importantly in terms of speaking, are the four tones. Chinese is a tonal language and requires its learners to memorize the tone of each word. Depending on the tone of your word can change the meaning drastically. It can be extremely frustrating when I’m trying to say something, that I think is right, but turns out my tone was wrong and the person has no idea what I’m trying to say. For example, if I were to say “Mom” using the flat tone, that would be correct, but if I said “Mom” in the falling then rising tone, I would be calling her a horse. Need to know your tones!
I love learning Chinese. It’s a difficult but very rewarding language to learn. It’s always fun asking for something at the market in Chinese and getting a response of “you speak Chinese?!” It’s also opened doors to many friendships that I otherwise wouldn’t have made. Sarah has even learned some Chinese! She is able to go to the market by herself and buy the things she needs. I’m so proud of her 🙂
Lastly, you can’t beat the hospitality of the people here. Everyone has made us feel so welcome. From our night market family to our friends in Neihu, they have spoiled us beyond words. Whenever we bring guests to the night market or go out to eat with our friends, we are treated to endless amounts of food. They are just so proud of their home and are excited to share their culture with other people. This is something we are looking forward to bringing home to America. Instead of saving that $10 for who knows what, why not share a share a pint of your favorite beer with someone? We are going to miss our friends and their hospitality immensely.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it gave you a window into the life and culture of Taiwan and its people. What an amazing country to call home for a year!
Kyle and Sarah