It’s a curious invention from the mainland that involves going to a restaurant to cook your own food, which doubles or triples the time it would actually take to eat a meal.
In the west, you socialize over drinks. In Taiwan, you do it over food — often multiple times a day. On a Friday night, the bars will empty but the restaurants will be packed.
In Taiwan, whenever I bring my lunch to work my Taiwanese co-workers are amazed. “Did you cook that yourself?” They ask, jaws dropping in disbelief.
Eating out in Taiwan is cheap and convenient. Most apartments come without a kitchen and most people can’t, or at least don’t, cook. Street food and night markets are everywhere, and it’s always easy to pick up something if you’re hungry.
Anytime has become a good time to take a selfie for me. When I’m waiting for public transport I like looking around to see how many girls (and sometimes guys) are taking a selfie while they wait. It’s an unselfconscious and universal routine: pout, hair flick, hair rearrange, pout again, snap.
In the malls, the MRTs, on the sidewalk, and, of course, anytime food or drink happens — a selfie is taken.
When my Taiwanese friends first wanted to selfie everything we did, I was a little reluctant. Now I relish it. Taking a memory of the ‘insignificant’ moments of happiness makes it easier to look back and remember to enjoy the little things in life.
If it’s an object, it can be made cute.
I have a drawer, literally a whole drawer, of stickers, cute Post-It notes, and postcards I’ve been collecting to send back to friends in Europe. There’s no country that embraces ‘ke’ai’ — meaning cute or loveable — as much as Taiwan. Hello Kitty is everywhere — buses, trains, and even their airline. Small teacup dogs are dressed up in themed outfits bought from shops devoted just to dog clothes.
Cute isn’t just for children — it’s for parents, professionals, taxi drivers, everyone. It’s easier to go with it than fight it: sooner or later, the ke’ai will get you too.
Not only do the Taiwanese ride their bikes on the sidewalk, they also ride their scooters and motorbikes. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been nearly flattened by a scooter casually zooming down the sidewalk on the hunt for a parking spot.
It works both ways though: when the traffic on the road is too backed up, I just hop my bike onto the sidewalk and cycle along until it’s more convenient to be on the road again.
One day my Chinese tutor greeted me with the words “You have a lot of pimples, are you tired or just on your period?”
I just wasn’t wearing makeup.
Something I learned quite fast here is that people aren’t trying to insult you or make you self-conscious, they’re genuinely concerned and trying to help. Personal comments become a way of showing you care
My language exchange partner told me that we couldn’t meet after work one week, because she had to go to the dentist. “My appointment’s 8:30pm,” she told me, matter-of-fact.
Taiwan and 9-5 office hours just don’t go together, and weekends are only debatably times of rest. There are 7/11s on every street corner and several in between, where you can get almost anything you want. There’s even the world’s first 24-hour bookstore here, and regular shops and cafes don’t shut until 10pm.
Now my expectations for working hours are completely unrealistic everywhere else.
“Do you work Saturdays?” is a regular question here among expat teachers. It was only after 8 months in Taiwan that I realised not only does this mean we work on a Saturday, it means the kids are at school on a Saturday. I’ve built up a curious tolerance for having very few days off. Working Saturdays, evenings, and the occasional Sunday just makes me more productive with the time I do have.
When I first arrived at my new school, my manager insisted I walk under her umbrella when showing me the way. A few months later I went on a hike with a Taiwanese coworker, and she looked at me in complete confusion when I arrived. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. She was wearing long sleeves, long trousers, and carried an umbrella. She gestured to it.
“Don’t you need one? You’ll get brown!”
But now summer is approaching, and I have to admit this time round the shade of an umbrella sounds very appealing.