Category Archives: Taiwan

8 Things I’ll Miss About Taiwan

It’s the eve of my departure, and with my suitcase packed, the usual flutter of butterflies settles in the pit of my stomach. It’s not dread, as such, or fear. It’s just… nostalgia mixed with looking forward to the future.

After swearing I would never come back to live in Taiwan again in 2008, I find myself almost ten years later finishing a 7 month stint back to the place I call home. Here is what I’m going to miss:

  1. The relative ease of everything- Yeah, it’s pretty freaking easy living here. You want something? Let’s hop on the scooter and go get it. It’s not so difficult to do what you want. Yes, sometimes there’s red tape, but even then! When I went to shut an old bank account down, I needed to have proof of name change (yeah that’s a whole other story). It was a bit annoying, but I went over to the registry people, and for 15NT I had a stamped Hu-Ji-Teng-Ben to take back to the bank. It’s not like I had to wait in long queues, fill in request forms, and wait 3 weeks. It took maybe 20 minutes! img_0280
  2. Food- Duh. If you didn’t know this already then you don’t know me at all. I live for Taiwanese food. I love the Red Bean Cakes on the corner, the hot pot restaurants, and even department store food halls have a special place in my heart.
  3. Driving- I was telling an English friend just the other day: driving in Taiwan is so much easier because you know it’s chaos. You have to watch out, you don’t depend on anyone but yourself to make sure that you get in and out of the traffic safe and sound. You’re the safest person on the road.
  4. Suei-bien culture- Suei bien is mostly translated into ‘Whatever’, but if you think of the words used, it means ‘however is easier’. I love that. Not everything has to be super rigid and structured, we can also just see how things go. Yes, sometimes it’s extremely annoying and you just want a straight answer, but most of the time, it’s easier just to go with the flow, isn’t it?

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    Getting your hair dyed at the pool because why not?
  5. Generosity- This might have to do with positive racism, but people are extremely generous here. The bread-stick man always gives me an extra one (although that might be because I’ve been going to buy breadsticks from his little stand since I was like six), the tea stand people are always sure to double check what I mean when I tell them what sugar preference I want that day (I like to switch it up). Then there’s the lady at the fruit stand that also remembers me and tells me they have ready-to-eat Buddha heads. When we went to Xiao Liuqui, the hostel owner went fishing for us so we got to eat literally THE freshest seafood (this was definitely not a positive racism thing he was just such a generous guy).
  6. Kindness- Of course, with generosity also comes kindness. But this one comes with a bit of a double-edged sword… this is definitely due to positive racism because I’ve seen some real bitchy Taiwanese people especially when it has to do with their own people. But generally, people mean well. Even when they tell you you’re too fat, or you should get married, or you should stay in Taiwan to help your parents… they mean well. I admit, I often have to remind myself of this. Problem is, meaning well is all fun and games until it is taken the wrong way. This is where people (and not just Taiwanese people!) have a lot to learn. Just because you think you are portraying it one way, does not mean it is perceived as such. It’s a big lesson to learn, one that has to be constantly RE-learned, but one all the same.

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    Ha! Good luck trying to pay with card in most places… although, I do have to say, it’s getting better!
  7. Cash culture- I often find that spending actual cash makes you realize how much moolah you’re actually spending. And often that’s a good thing. Credit cards and online payments makes you forget how much, say, 1000NT is. Having said that, though, Taiwan needs to make some serious strides on the banking front. You might be able to pay for something via LINE, but hell will freeze over if you want to move money internationally via Internet Banking.
  8. Saying ‘hai hao’ to the doctor- God, isn’t hai hao just the best phrase in the world? I’ve come to rely on it way too much too. So much so I even use it in English conversations with non-Mandarin-speaking folk. I love it especially when the doctor asks me a question! “Do you have a dry mouth and tongue?” In my head I’m like “I have no clue” so I just respond “hai hao”. “How’s your sleep?” There’s a freaking night bird that keeps me up “Hai Hao.” Do you like this food? “Hai Hao”. Did you enjoy the movie? “Hai hao”. It’s the most non-committal phrase EVER.

So, I close this chapter and am ready for the next. And you know what? I’m so excited to be Asian again. I’m not very comfortable playing the wai-guo-ren. It’s much easier, much more fun to be the Asian. White people are just so vanilla sometimes, and that becomes expected of you as a mixed kid. More on that later. Off to have one last Korean dinner with a friend.

Kaohsiung Fo Guang Shan Review

Doing cultural things is really normal in Taiwan, even with the locals. Maybe it was in England, but I was too poor and too car-less to be able to go far and wide at my leisure. Here in Taiwan, a day off is really rather precious so people take full advantage of it and try and so as much stuff as possible.

One such touristy spot is Fo Guang Shan. As my friend exclaimed when he checked it out on Tripadvisor, “That’s one big-ass Buddha!” It’s not actually very far from where I live out in the Kaohsiung countryside, so it wasn’t a total trek to get there. If you’re an old-timer in Taiwan and remember going years ago, it might be worth revisiting again now. But make sure you give yourself a few good hours to do so, and also time to do both old Fo Guang Shan and the new one.

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This is the old FGS, with the Big Gold Buddha.

We started at the old one, and I would recommend others to do the same. It’s relative peace and calm is really nice (especially if you come from the city). You’ll have a bit more time to peruse and read all the different plaques and signs. Make sure you take into account the “this is a place of worship not for sightseeing”. Be respectful of that while you walk around. With no ill will meant, but old FGS feels a bit like a Disney Park for Buddhism. There are shrines tucked in corners and on top of hills. A tea shop is hidden behind the Main Shrine. There’s the super well-kept Lumbini Garden with happy little Buddha statues lining the path as you walk along. There’s plenty to see and take in. Don’t forget to go to the Pure Land Cave, either. There’s also the cafeteria you can go to for lunch, made by the monks. We didn’t go this time (we just weren’t hungry), but be sure to ask around. Monks walking around are usually more than happy to help and offer directions.

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Main Shrine

Once you’re done here, you can go get back in your car and drive 200m down to the next parking lot (your legs will thank you later I promise). Now, the new FGS. If you want to better understand the history of the place, then I suggest that once you reach the plaza with all the pagodas, go into the ‘8th’ one and ask to watch a short, 10 minute introductory video about it (in English). In short, the new FGS was built because one of the three teeth left from the original Buddha was given to the monastery to protect. You’ll hear all about its journey and how the new FGS was built.  It really does give you more appreciation of the scale, size and just how well-finished it is.

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View from the Main Hall second floor, looking down the Eight Pagodas down to Front Hall, and some mountains beyond.

When you get to the Main Hall, make sure you run up the stairs to see the big Buddha. But there’s quite a shrine or two downstairs, too, so make sure you take a look at that. If you want to see Buddha’s tooth, you will have to pay for a guided tour that takes half an hour (it’s usually in Chinese, they didn’t tell us about any English options unfortunately). It’s called the Jade Shrine Tour, I believe.

The new FGS can feel a bit… I don’t know… huge? A bit over the top if you ask me. And the Front Hall is stuffed with shops and trinkets it doesn’t feel like people come here to worship or even admire anymore at all, but rather come here for the shopping. There’s even a Starbucks! There can also be hordes of people if you come in tourist season or at the weekend, which isn’t ideal for a peaceful feel. For that you’ll need to go to the old FGS, the ones tourists usually skip out on.

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The Big Buddha with a Four Noble Truths Pagoda/Tower.

All in all, I would say one can’t really go without the other to get a full picture of what FGS means and to understand its past and present. Buddhism is clearly making its way into the 21st century with their head held high, and I have to say, for that, I applaud FGS.

Driving to Save Your Life

There’s something about driving in Taiwan that is both comforting and exhilarating. You never know what’s going to happen, you have to be alert at all times. There are more slow drivers than there are fast, and people can’t park to save their lives. And don’t get me started on busy streets in city centres. Cars parked illegally, sometimes even three cars deep, right out onto the middle of the road. Rude. But you know, it keeps me on my toes.

Admittedly, there are (a lot of) times when you really want to tear your hair out. Oftentimes, the reason people park like absolute a**holes is for the sake of convenience. If I had to document every parking violation I saw, I would basically have a full-time job.

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Car getting towed for parking on a zebra path outside my work (first time in 3 months, they should come every day they’d make a fortune).

 

And then there are the scooters. In general, I believe that scooter drivers are actually better than people who drive cars. Having ridden a scooter on occasion, I also better understand how traffic works from their perspective. With that in mind, driving with loads of scooters becomes a lot less scary. But, as with every single type of group of people on this planet, there are the dickheads of the group. The ones that tear down roads without much regard for others, the ones that go through reds, the ones that go through red because they’re ‘only turning right’ without actually looking for oncoming traffic, or the ones that purposefully drive on the WRONG SIDE OF THE BUSY ASS ROAD disrupting everyone in their path.

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Dude in his BMW thinks it’s OK to park on the corner/red line of a busy Kaohsiung road while he picks himself up a Starbucks. It was there 10 minutes.

I feel that this horrid behaviour in driving both cars and scooters has something to do with behavioural culture. Taiwanese people, as kind as as giving as they are, can also have a darker side (generally speaking, of course). People can be ultimately rather selfish. Cutting in line, the way they treat people in the hospitality industry, and the importance of status and face are all examples of feeling as if they are god, and they should be treated as such. It really irks me when people come across all holier than thou. I guess I see it more because I technically also work in the service industry here. People think you need to carry them on your hands because you’re offering them a service, and common courtesy goes out the window. Everything for them has to be 100% the best or else they walk. Everything has to be better than what the other person is getting. Equality isn’t a given… someone is always better than someone else.

In my opinion, as soon as people let go of this ‘me me me’ attitude, then even driving will become a more pleasant experience in Taiwan. People that actually wait as you cross the zebra path rather than trying to cut you off, speeding while doing so. Cars that don’t park in the middle of the tiny road, blocking off traffic for the whole street on Old Street in any given town. Until we address inequality, though, we won’t really get there. One can dream, though… one can dream.

Bai Sha Wan Minus Tourists

If you’re looking for a tourist’s guide to BaiShaWan with this post… you’re halfway there. If you want a quiet beach to yourself with as few Chinese tourists as possible, then yes you should read on. I’m not going to talk too much about Kenting either… I just want to remember the beautiful weather tbh…

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What a baller. This is the first time I use baller. And also the last. #ChineseTourist #Superman
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Look at them all, pretending to love water… This was around 2pm.

I went in the beginning of November, midweek. It was a bit of a last-minute decision that we made on our day off. The sun was so hot that we happily paid the 300NTs for a parasol even though we only stayed for a couple of hours (for that price you can actually stay for the rest of the day). Both times we went, it was obvious there were lots of Chinese tourists milling around. But guess what? There’s a trick to this. Most people enter onto the beach through the ‘main’ entrance, where the campsite is with the bars (there also used to be shops). Well, if you just keep driving a little further down (as if you’re Kenting-bound), there’s a massive parking lot too, with very few cars. On both week days that we were there, there were also no people actually enjoying the beach for being on the beach. I even have photos to prove it! Below you’ll see photos of about 10am on Thursday morning, where there were no people!

It’s such a lovely place to chill out. The water was exceptionally gorgeous, too. I wouldn’t recommend trying to tan in the sun too long though… it got pretty damn hot after a while.

Top Tips:

  1. Go early. Late afternoon is Tourist High Tide
  2. To avoid Chinese tourists, try and go as far down the beach as possible (see above for how, relatively easily)
  3. Get a tent. It’s not expensive and will save you that horrific sunburn later
  4. BYOB. There are so many 7’s on that main road you might as well buy a few beers. Maybe bring a cooler bag. Also clean up after yourself!
  5. There ARE jelly fish. They’re small ones (so small I didn’t realise I got stung til like 3 days later, ha oops).
  6. Bring a snorkelling mask, or, failing that, just your swimming goggles. You just might see some ocean wildlife. The water gets deep real quick.
  7. Great place for watersports. If you go down to that middle bit of the beach like I say, there’s a few guys that’ll do some funky water sports with you. Definitely fun!

Covered, for life

To start things off as honest as possible, I am pissed off in such a major way right now. So this is going to be a rant, 100%, and probably more insensitive than I usually am. If you are offended, the door is that way. Or you can try and talk to me, but you can count on a few swear words along the way.

I’ve been working my ass off on getting my life going recently, and one thing to consider is of course, insurance. I want to be a globetrotter, and I need to make sure I’m covered for when bad things happen. The kind of stuff that is usually out of your control.

Enter Taiwanese insurance market, enter in a deep, dark hole of figures and promises that sound ridiculous but oh so enticing. To give a bit of a superficial historical perspective, this really took off about 30 years ago. People started making money, people wanted their lives protected. Everything up til then in Taiwan’s life was unpredictable and questionable, and now, finally, some stability was coming in. Since then, the market has been gaining some serious traction. There are a million different ways to be insured medically. You can be just insured for a monthly premium, or you can be insured, pay a higher monthly premium, and get money back after 10 years or 20 years. You can pay a monthly premium, get money back yearly, too, until the end of your days. You can get life insurance, and for a premium, get medical insurance. No wonder our medical system has to run so well. Everyone is insured up to their eyeballs.

Now, we meet the insurance seller. I guess some people call it a ‘broker’? I don’t see it that way. You are selling me a product, so behave like a salesperson. Now, my mother over the years, has amassed a few different forms of insurances. I won’t go into details, but it’s a wonderful feeling, knowing you are worth more dead than alive. Anyway, in order to find out what I was looking for myself, I asked her to get them to come and speak to me so I could take over payment for example, or just get a better understanding of what is happening in my name. Last week, a lady came by armed with a print out that was clearly printed on ‘save ink’ mode in black and white. She said a quick hello and then dove straight in to the insurance, talking about how much I would get if I ever had to stay in the hospital, how much per night, and if I had to get this, then it would add so much per night, and if I got cancer, etc etc. I had to stop her at one point. I tried to explain that the numbers didn’t mean very much to me because I’ve been out the country so long. She’d only caught my eye twice by this point. “Yeah, so let me finish explaining it to you”. No no, I have some of my own questions. She only half-listened, using the question to lead herself back to her spiel. I got more and more upset. I eventually stopped her and said, “Listen, if I were to die in Argentina next week, I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling you about it.” I tried as nicely as possible to excuse myself from the conversation when she just laughed it off saying she would give me an international number to call.

Just now another insurance lady came by to do the same. This one didn’t even acknowledge my existence, and only talked to my mum. I don’t exist. When you are someone’s daughter, and you’re not married or looking to buy your own insurance, you don’t count. You are just a figure. She didn’t ask me anything, either. How long you back for, what are you doing now, how can I help you today. Nothing. I’m a natural born seller, and this went against every play in every sales book I had ever written or even read. Connect with me, goddammit. If I’m going to hand over big bucks to you every month, for whatever coverage I end up getting, then I want you to treat me like I’m a human being. You don’t even have to tell me I’m beautiful like everyone else does here. Acknowledge my goddamn existence.

It’s times like this when I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be here, and be cool. I’m not going to play this game of not having a life because I’m not married or working at a factory. My mother ended up telling me off for being rude to the insurance lady. The scary part was that I had to explain to her that the insurance lady was the one being rude to me. I don’t have to be nice to anyone ignoring me. Especially when they are the ones that want my business. Welcome to the 21st century. Easy sells no longer exist and human connection is more important than ever. So get with the programme, old Taiwan.

You’ll Find Me in the Water @Xiao Liuchiu

They say that the water of Xiao Liuchiu is super clear, and that the difference is stark between mainland Taiwan and this beautiful coral island. Boy, they weren’t wrong. We couldn’t really get excited about the prospect of spending the next 24 hours on the island as we disembarked because… well… it was raining. We were met by an old lady from our B&B who showed us to our bikes, and then led us into the small city centre of Xiao Liuchiu, where, in one of the back alleys, we were shown a courtyard to park our bikes.

After checking in and deciding we didn’t want the discounted ticket for all the caves and hikes, booking our all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner, and being told if the weather was good at night we’d go stargazing, we headed out on our motorbikes anyway because well… we’re in Xiao Liuchiu. So what if it was raining? We weren’t going to sit inside all day. In hindsight we probably should have gone to the caves… it would have been dry inside at least. But oh well.

We took our time riding around the island. We stopped several times to take in the view that the island had to offer, despite being shrouded in cloud and rain. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, and asked my friend to stop by a small, natural bay. There were people swimming in the sea despite the rain, and I couldn’t help myself. It’d been ages since I’d been in the ocean and as soon as my feet reached the water, I was sold. The water was beautiful. I mean, the Med was going to have to work hard to top it. The water felt warm and cool to the touch. We wouldn’t get cold if we stayed motionless, but it wasn’t exactly warm either. We must have stayed by the sea for an hour before donning our 30NT raincoats again, this time completing a circle around the island and heading back to the B&B for a shower.

 

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Our BBQ, round 1. I stopped counting after round 3.

The only pictures I took of the first day were of the BBQ. Taiwanese people love a BBQ, and my friends and I were no exception. We were so excited about this BBQ, in fact, that we were the first ones to arrive (a small backstory: my friend Teresa and I didn’t even have a BBQ for the mid-Autumn Festival so we definitely felt ‘due’ a BBQ).

After dinner we headed out to a few bars that the island had to offer, but unfortunately it wasn’t very busy, especially considering it was Saturday night. In each of the two we visited, we were one of two sets of customers there. And when we were about to head into the third, we saw no one in there, so abandoned ship for the night. We got some fried chicken and vegetables instead, and took it back to our room to eat it instead.

 

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Breakfast out in the traditional courtyard of our B&B!

Early morning, because when traveling in Taiwan you start early and finish late. Breakfast was ready for us in a little basket, and we got to eat it al fresco as the sun was finally shining! Hooray! After a quick breakfast we snorkeled… you can read all about it here. It deserved its own post.

 

 

 

After the snorkeling, one of my friends took us to her ‘secret hiding place’ which essentially is a tiny beach hidden among massive coral rocks, where we could swim and take selfies to our hearts’ content. We must have been there for a good couple of hours, (me) taking in the sun, (us) bathing in the crystal-clear, warm water and taking photos.

By the time 11 o’clock came round, it started getting really hot. We were also getting a bit peckish, so decided to head off back into town to grab a bite to eat. But then, on the way back, we passed Venice Beach, which is the one of the few beaches on the island that has actual sand rather than small coral rocks… so… well, we had to stop and at least take a look. Besides, there were some Bao-a’s left from breakfast we could snack on in the meantime. So we headed on down and got to take in a pretty cool beach. The great thing about the island is that due to all the coral, the beach is shallow as, and so you can go in quite far and still only have water up to your knees. It’s really great for warming up that water and just soaking in the ocean.

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Me and ma girlz!!
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OK we had already eaten a lot of the food… but you get the idea…

Eventually we got hungry so we had to head back into town for some food. We went to one of the most famous seafood restaurants on the island (of course), where you ordered meals by the number of dishes you wanted, and it all came in quick succession. It was pretty darn good. I mean, I could have lived without the sushi because it wasn’t very fresh and badly cut, but the rest of the food was awesome. One of my friends also got us snails as a treat which was yum!

 

After lunch we went and had a late check out from the hostel, and washed up changing into summery clothes. The day was still hot and the sun was glorious. I lathered myself in sunscreen for the third time that day. We had some time before the boat took us back to Kaohsiung so we went for another little ride around the island, looking for vistas of sweeping oceans and the famed Xiao Liuchiu sea turtles. We did end up finding some down some country road that brought us to a campsite on a cliff, with the sea turtles swimming in the vast sea below us. It was absolutely gorgeous. My camera and photo skills are nowhere good enough for it so you’ll have to go to see it for yourself.

All in all, I would go back to Xiao Liuchiu but definitely not to go snorkeling. I wish that we’d had the time to do the caves because of the Dutch/Taiwanese history of the Black Dwarf Cave (a.k.a. Black Devil Cave…), and just to see what all the fuss is about. The island is tiny and takes about half an hour to get all around, which is really ideal for just zipping here and there exploring different corners and harbors.

And the water… oh… it was so beautiful. I could have laid in either the secret hiding place or Venice beach all day and had food brought to me. Seriously so gorgeous. I would go back just to chill by the beaches and really take in the island rhythm.

You can easily do Xiao Liuchiu in two days one night, but if you want some time to chill by the ocean and not worry about catching a boat, I would stay two nights. You might find that nightlife is a bit meh on the island, which is isn’t really an issue. If you really want a drink you can still go to one of the bars on the island, just don’t expect to have a wild night out. And if you get really bored you can always take a hiking trail as well.

TOP TIP: If you have water shoes bring them because the coral starts feeling like an intensive foot massage after a while of exploring beaches.

Here are a couple more shots of the day:

Fruit-Selling at the Pool

I go swimming every weekday morning at this swimming pool that also has quite an impressive Spa. You can read more about my pool antics here.

When you go regularly, you start to pick up on things that happen around the pool, and one of my favourites happens on Thursdays in the ladies’ dressing room.

There’s one lady that buys fruit online. I don’t get it, either, we live in the countryside fruit is easy to get. But no no, she buys her fruit online. She takes orders from everyone, puts them in on Sunday, and on Thursday they’ve arrived and everyone gets to take their share home.

Every Thursday, I come into the Ladies’ changing room to this:

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4 baskets of fruit, a few ‘bricks’ of popped rice laced with sugar, and some Japanese pears that she found somewhere (I don’t know where). 

Usually as I’m getting my latex hat swimming cap and goggles on, the women are huddled in the corner. The woman that ordered the stuff telling everyone that will listen how great the quality is and how she’s definitely going to order more next week.

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The women getting their orders delivered.

I just wanted to share this story because I think it’s just so… definitive of Taiwan. These ladies are clearly retired, enjoying their retirement by going to the spa in the morning with their friends, and yet still they find a way to make money. And not make money in a dirty way, either, but in a genuine want to give others the best. In this case, the best is this amazing fruit that you can apparently buy online.

It just speaks volumes of the Taiwanese sentiment of working till you’re physically unable to, and always inventing new ways to keep busy.