Taiwan is SO different than America. My experience was great. I was only there for two weeks, but so many things have stayed in my memory. These are all things that have stuck with me the most.
1.Don’t stick chopsticks straight up in your food.
Sticking chopsticks straight up resemble incense being burned at a temple- it symbolizes someone praying. Instead of mimicking it, go see it for yourself! Taiwan has loads of temples, and I stopped to check out as many as I could. What most people do is lay their chopsticks on top of their food or if food is in a bowl they lay them on the rim of their bowl so the chopsticks are not even touching the food. Many times I had my chopsticks stuck in my food and didn’t realize it, so one of my Taiwanese friends I was with would just move my chopsticks for me without saying anything.
2. Don’t point at cemeteries or graves.
Again, I learned this because I was the one pointing at the grave and was told that it was disrespectful. I’d be safe and not point at temples or statues of gods either. It might be smart to ask if you can take a picture of the god.
3. Squattie Potties
Taiwan doesn’t have the toilets we are used to. You don’t have to sit to use the toilet, you have to squat. It’s like this in China as well, and there my friends simply called toilets “holes”. Don’t forget to take along your own tissues, because restrooms rarely have them and your own hand sanitizer, because there is never soap in bathrooms. In a way these toilets are more sanitary, but here are some other benefits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZQA2hNP-R8
4. There are scooters everywhere!
This is definitely a sight to see! I thought this would only be something I saw in Taiwanese TV shows, but it’s real! Scooters have a lot of right-of-ways in Taiwan. For example, in some places there is a lane just for scooters, and there is an area at the front of the line where cars wait for red lights to turn green. This way, if there is a red light, scooters can pass all the cars that are waiting and ride right up to the front of the line. So when a red light turns green in a busy area, there will be so many scooters at the front of the pack. All of this, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t many cars. I was always afraid to see a car run over a scooter and its driver-they aren’t the most careful of drivers. All that aside, I highly recommend you find an opportunity to ride on one; they’re so much fun! My favorite thing to see was when there was a little kid riding on a scooter. They were too small to sit behind the driver, so they had to stand on the small platform where the drivers feet go. It just looked really cute.
5. You 99% of the time have to pay before you get your food at sit down restaurants.
Once you sit down, you actually write down what you want yourself, then take it to the counter where you pay, then a little bit later you receive your food. It’s all usually in Chinese, but some restaurants might have a menu with pictures you can look at if you can’t read in Chinese.
6. Taiwan is not a small island
I got to Taiwan thinking “Hey, it’s an island, so everything must be close.” Wrong. Taipei to Taichung is about a two hour drive by car, but on a map it does not look that far. Two things in the same city might be a 40 minute drive without traffic, which to me was rare because I come from a small city. If you would like to visit a different city, the high speed train is a great idea. It turns a 2 hour drive into a 40 minute train ride. Remember, cities are divided into districts, so before visiting it might be wise to get a sense of which districts are where and what you want to see in each district.
7. Public transportation is amazing!
Taipei has the MRT (like a subway) and buses. Taichung has trains and busses. If you have GoogleMaps and data while you are in Taiwan, it is super helpful because it gives you the best bus route, tells you when the bus is arriving, and which buses you can take. I feel like Taichung transportation is a better deal, though, because your first 10 kilometers on every ride is free! So if you want to get from one place to another, it might be free because 1) your destination is less than 10 km away or 2) you have to transfer onto another bus and all your transfers might be less than 10 km. This I believe is only if you have an EasyCard. You can get one at any convenience store (7Eleven, HiLife, or Family Mart), and the initial cost is 100NTD (about 3.30USD), and then you add the amount of money you would like to have for traveling. I was told that, at least in Taichung, if you run out of money, you can still use it and pay it back later. Also, in Taichung you have to scan it when you get on and off the bus. This card is good for all of Taiwan public transportation, even the normal train. Easy cards have all sorts of cute themes, or you can get a key chain or charm for your phone that might cost a little more.
8. It’s hot
I went in the middle of the summer, so I can’t tell you what the weather is like during other seasons. At least in the summer it’s hot and humid. If I could recommend any souvenir for you to bring back to remind you of your time in Taiwan, I recommend a little towel or handkerchief so you can wipe your sweat from your face. I got one from Hello Kitty Shabu Shabu in Taipei ( a Hello Kitty hot pot restaurant) that says “Made In Taiwan,” so not only does it remind me of the wonderful meal I had there, but it also reminds me of how much I sweat. After a really bad day, my handkerchief would be so damp that there was no point in using it. I would wash it and hang it to dry for next time. I have pictures of me where you can literally see the sweat dripping from my face.
9. Just because some destinations’ name is translated into English, it does not mean that there will be English speaking people or English information.
If it is a very populate place, then there will be information in English. But if it is a less popular place that doesn’t get many toursits, you might not get much background on it. What killed me was when I would see information boards that had heading in English, so I would think “Oh yay! This place has information I can understand!,” but the rest of the board was in Chinese. Why they do that? Probably to mislead us. All that aside, don’t let that stop you from visiting any place. It is all so worth it!
10. Find an opportunity to teach English
If you are only going for a short time, this might be hard to do and unnecessary, but I had the awesome opportunity to be hosted by a family with multiple English teachers, so I got to join one of them and help teach her class. It was a super fun experience. I taught them some songs, tongue twisters, and dances. Most English speakers living in Taiwan are probably there teaching English, so you might be able to find a job there too.The demand for English teachers is very high!