6 months in Taipei

Tex and I hit the six month mark here a couple weekends ago.  Some days it feels like we’ve been here FOREVER and others it feels like we just arrived.  That’s true with a lot of people in the Foreign Service, I’m sure. Now that we’ve had time to make this city our home, to a certain degree I feel more comfortable judging it.

The Good:

– Taipei could not be more safe.  It it perfectly safe to walk down weird alleys, ride public transportation, and wear stupid clothes here.  No one will bother you – ever.

– Taipei is navigable.  We are able to get anywhere in this city quickly, cheaply, and safely.

– The city is full of tons of different restaurants, stores, and experiences.  It is not some sort of homogenous Asian experience.  There are scotch bars, tons of western food, and festivals all the time.  It’s fun.

– Everyone is NICE.  My weird Chinese word salad is TERRIBLE.  However, the people here LOVE that I try.  They correct me, help me, and let me massacre their language with patience and understanding.  Thank goodness.  Also, so many people speak at least some English.

– Environmentally speaking, Taipei recycles and is very aware of their carbon footprint most of the time.  Island living certainly makes them conscious of their imprint on the world.  (Unfortunately, sometimes we get pretty bad smog from China.)

– No tipping – everyone in Taipei is paid a living wage.  Unfortunately, that is very low.  We sort of live like Kings here.

The bad:

– Timing – it’s just weird. Servers hand you your check and then stare at you until you pay them.  It’s probably to be polite, but in the U.S. that would be considered super weird.  Also, I’ve noticed that people walk really slow here.  The mindless, zombie, phone-staring youth contributes a great deal to the slow moving streets.

– Food.  I know I’ve complained about the food before but I’m so serious about it.  Before we came here people said: “Oh!  you’ll LOVE the Taiwan food.”  Um…no. Sweetened boar meat sausage, weird cartilage-filled cuts of meat, oyster omelettes, stinky tofu, pork balls… it’s gross. Just EW. Luckily, just around most corners you can find French, Indian, Spanish, American, Swedish, Sichuan, Italian, German, even Canadian cuisine.

– The phlegm – Gross.  In many Asian cultures it is considered unhealthy to keep any phlegm in your body.  If you know it’s there – get rid of it.  Unfortunately, that means that people are hacking, coughing, spitting, clearing, and otherwise being gross much of the time.  It’s accepted here…and very disgusting.

– The table manners – annoying.  My family instilled in me a strict set of rules for the dinner table.  Some of them I still follow though I can’t seem to keep my elbows off the table.  The number one rule was to “chew with your mouth closed” because “nobody wants to see what you are eating.” This does not extend to the Taiwan people. It can make for an uncomfortable meal.  Many people will also take any opportunity to floss, even if that means doing so on the bus seat next to you. They also tend to suck on their teeth – A LOT.

Besides the 3 F’s: Friends, Family, and Familiarity, I can’t help but miss the following about America:

Cottage Cheese
Taco Sauce
Shopping for clothes/shoes that fit my giant American body
Readily available popcorn
My brand of deodorant
Morning Star Farms products
Being able to get all of my groceries at the same store
My car

I consider myself VERY lucky that this list is so short.  There are many other posts that just, well, suck.  They don’t have lettuce, nightlife, western food, vacation spots, etc.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is: So far, so good.