I was told that I would be living and working in a very small, rural town in Taiwan. So, I mentally geared myself to be ready for it. Small, rural towns in Canada are slow paced, easy going communities with maybe 1 or 2 Tim Horton coffee shops, a Chinese restaurant, a local bar or two, a major intersection and maybe 5 000 – 20 000 residents.
So, imagine my surprise when I was confronted with this:
As I walked around town some more to familiarize myself with the area, I started to come to the conclusion that my idea of a small town is not at all what a small town is here. In fact, it seems that, a Taiwanese small town is the equivalent to a Canadian one on lots of steriods and amphetamines. This was not what I was expecting.
Cars and scooters were zinging around everywhere and there were massive amounts of signage for all the stores and businesses (none of which I can understand). From peering into the windows, I realized that a huge number of these shops are restaurants. In fact, I could probably eat at a new one every day, and still not go through them all in a month. There is also a huge, 2 storey supermarket as well as numerous bars. Well, not exactly bars, but KTV bars. One of the new phenomenons I came across was the fact that everyone here loves to sing, and instead of having a normal bar or pub, they have what is essentially a karaoke bar. Groups of people will come here, get drunk and sing their hearts out. This is a phenomenon popular all across Asia.
A familiar sight (one of the very few) that caught my eye was a 7-11. Naturally, I had to check it out. When I walked in, the staff shouted out something that sounded very much like “Good morning!” Never mind that it was the middle of the afternoon. Besides having all the usual 7-11 stuff (Taiwan-ized of course) I found a lot of fresh food and salads. There were also tea-eggs (eggs hard boiled in tea…nice flavour), and ready to eat soups. I later found out that you can even pay your utility or cell phone bills at 7-11. And the best part, 7-11 s here are like Timmy’s back home. There is one at almost every corner. I rarely went to them at home, but now they are a staple. Read more about 7-11 s here.
Another thing that struck me was the proliferation of scooters (they call them motorcycles which leads to a lot of confusion at first). Being a tropical island, scooters can be driven around for most of the year. They are cheap and provide a great way to get around. Scooter drivers zip in and out of traffic like angry hornets on a mission. A lot of times, the traffic lights seem to be a suggestion rather than a rule. Driving here is definitely an adventure.
Upon looking into it, I discovered that this town has a population of about 93 000 people. The population of Taiwan is around 23 175 000. Considering the island is only around 36 200 kms squared, makes sense that a “small” town would be this densely populated. In any case, a small town here feels much more like a city.