8 things foreign to a foreigner in Taiwan

As great as life is, there are still some things that get under my skin and probably will for as long as I stay here.  I’ve really tried to understand why they happen (or don’t happen).  And while there are good reasons for some of them, I still get irrationally pissed off.  In no particular order, here they are:

1. No public garbage bins

This really gets my goat.  I get a lot of take out food.  I also buy a lot of other stuff during my day (coffee, juice etc).  Since Taiwan LOVES to overpackage everything, I’m constantly left with a load of garbage and recyclables that I have to stuff in my scooter and on my person until I get home.  Granted, the garbage truck comes in the evening, but I want it NOW!  It’s all about instant gratification.  I never gave a second thought to all the public garbage bins back home, but they are such a HUGE convenience.  Treasure them.

2. Squat toilets

After spending years doing my business on a throne in a relaxed manner, I just hate these things.  Plus, I’m getting fatter, so squatting squishes my fat guy gut.  People here prefer them because you have no contact with the surface of the toilet, so it’s considered cleaner, but to hell with that.  There is nothing worse than having a turtle head poking out and being faced with one of these.  I have used them and I hate them.  I want to sit comfortably and not be in a torturous, pain inducing position trying to rush the process.  Oh yeah, and sometimes there is no toilet paper. I found that out the hard way.  Thoroughly horrible.

3. Used toilet paper disposal

When they built the Taiwanese sewer system, they forgot to make the pipes wide enough to accomodate used toilet paper.  Why?  I have no idea.  Maybe toilet paper wasn’t invented yet.  So used toilet paper was discarded into an innocuous looking garbage can beside the toilet.  I didn’t know this, so I had a nice face full of  stink when I first opened up one of these.  The problem has since been rectified in most places, but a lot of people still keep doing it out of habit.  Literally a “sh***y habit”.

4. No water, only hot tea

Taiwan is a hot country, so you would imagine that restaurants would serve a nice glass of cold water to cool you down right?  Nope.  A lot of restaurants will serve you a scalding cup of tea so that you can continue to boil and sweat through your meal.  Granted, if you ask for it, they will bring you some water, but they ask if you want it “hot” or “cold”.  Why would I want hot water when it’s a million degrees outside?  And sometimes you have to buy the water.  But the core-temperature raising tea is always free.  This one I don’t understand.  I guess they just LOVE hot tea in any weather.  Almost all Taiwanese I have observed drink tea or hot soup, but very rarely water, with their meals.

5. Hot, hot food

I don’t mean spicy, hot food (which I like) but just plain temperature hot.  Getting your food hot enough to be delicious is one thing, but getting the fires of Hades in your plate is something else entirely.  And the way food is served in many restaurants here gives one the impression that Satan himself is the culinary genius in the kitchen.  I would imagine that in days past, this had to be done.  From a health point of view, all the bacteria in the food had to be destroyed, so serving a firey repast was necessary.  People started liking it that way.  So now I have to wait 10 mins to eat my dinner while my companions (Taiwanese) are scarfing theirs down.  And then I can wash it down with some nice hot tea.  Awesome.

6. Face

Face is an Asian concept that roughly translates into reputation.  But it encompasses a lot more than that, and there are a lot of social rules around face.  I have written about it here.  Basically in order to keep a high reputation one has to make sure to never lose face, and this translates into all sorts of different behaviours that may be considered ridiculous at home.  Thankfully, as a foreign philistine, I am excempt from the rules because I have no face to begin with.  Score.

7. Island punctuality

I always was on time for important appointments (doctor, job interview etc).  Being used to that, it was pretty frustrating to get used to island time.  This means that people will show up for a meeting when they feel like it.  Everyone I know here is always late, and one realtor actually explained it to me as “island time”.  This was after he was 30 mins late for our meeting.  No one rushes and everyone takes their time.  While it’s nice to take your time, not expecting it, I was irritated.  But now, I go to everything late, and it all works out.

8. Hard Beds

While my bed isn’t made of nails, it’s still pretty hard.  I am now used to it, and all is well, but in the first few weeks of being here, my coddled rump complained loudly.  I was spoiled by the nice, soft, tushy-friendly beds of home, and the bed in my apartment is the opposite.  I remember in the beginning I used to go on runs before bed to tire myself out.  It was hard to fall asleep in my demon bed if I wasn’t tired.  Even though I have now adapted to my  “mattress”, I sometimes still pine for soft beds.

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2 Responses to “8 things foreign to a foreigner in Taiwan”


  1. 1 Troy Dalton March 17, 2013 at 4:26 am

    I’ve been here for almost 5 years now, and I get you on some of these. Others aren’t so bad:

    1. Some cities have them. They’re blue and octagonal.
    2. Always use the handicapped stall.
    3. Yeah, that one’s gross. No comment.
    4. They claim “But tea is healthy! Hot water is healthy! Cold water is not healthy!” So… yeah. Old stigma.
    5. Haven’t experienced this… maybe just bad restaurants in your town?
    6. Face is hilarious.
    7. The lax timing is great! You have pretty much a 5 – 10 minute cushion to be late on any given day, and if you’re ten minutes early every day, they think you’re a saint. Contrast with Japan, where if you finish all your work and go home you’re seen as “contributing less seriously” than the idiot who has to stay late because he can’t wrap up his work.on time. Taiwan wins.
    8. Ask your landlord/lady to go 50/50 with you on a new mattress purchase with the promise that you’ll not take it whenever you leave. They might even offer to pay for the whole thing.

    • 2 islandsidechronicles March 17, 2013 at 5:39 am

      Thanks for the detailed response. I’ve been here almost 2 years now and am used to all this.
      The timing issue, I concur – be a little early and you are a rockstar, but I’ve also heard that ppl stay late here – goofing off on FB just to put in the hours so they don’t seem lazy. I’ll find out when I get a job in a company.
      As for the bed, I’m used to it, so my tushy doesn’t complain as much.
      Cheers!


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