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All Abroad! Taiwanese observances

When Trine applied to go to Taiwan, she had no idea there would be earthquakes and typhoons

While I write this, a super-typhoon rolls across Taiwan with gusts that make the dormitory building shake. It is not the first time the building is shaking. Two weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night because an earthquake shook the dormitory. The locals stay calm – they are used to it and, unlike me, they know that the dorm is built to resist it.

Despite natural disasters, I have no regrets about my decision to go on exchange to Taiwan.

Exploring Taiwan

The country possesses a lot of natural beauty just outside the urban jungle of Taipei City. By taking a 90-minute bus trip, you can reach the waterfalls in Yilan or go to the historical city Jiufen, which served as inspiration for the scenery of the animation movie ‘Spirited Away’.

There are plenty of temples and museums in Taipei. The National Palace Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Chinese artifacts. The museum building itself is worth the trip.

If you like historical artifacts, National Palace Museum is a good reason to go to Taiwan.

Waterfalls in Yilan

Friendly, silent Taipei

If you are not into history, you should come anyway just to meet what seem to be the friendliest people in the world. As a non-Chinese-speaking person, it’s impossible to stand on the street and look confused for more than a couple of seconds before someone comes up and offers to help.

Maybe that is part of the Taiwanese mindset – they want people to feel good. Taiwanese seem to have a very different way of behaving in public space compared to Danes. With its 2.7 million inhabitants, Taipei has a silent, nonstressful atmosphere.

People speak softly on the street, and whenever they enter a building, they lower their voices even more. Even in the university area with its 30,000 students the city has a very low noise level. If you yell or speak very loudly, be prepared to face a lot of locals staring at you.


Taiwanese social skills

My Taiwanese social skills did not exist yet, when I went to a dinner with a girl from the dorm on the first night. After a delicious meal of noodles I wanted to pay and tried to signal to the man that I thought was the waiter. I asked him if I could pay, and he pointed at a small counter next to the door.

In Taiwan you pay at the door when you leave the restaurant – not at the table like in Denmark. I went to the counter and gave him my new Taiwanese 100 dollar note. He threw the note on the counter and looked at me with disgust. I was confused! But as days went by, I realized that we might have spoken quite loudly at the restaurant, and then tried to get the waiter, OR the owner, OR the chef to act like a waiter in a western restaurant. And, on top of that, I paid in a very impolite manner.

Always use both hands to give the note when you pay! After that experience I have not had any trouble at all interacting with the Taiwanese. Try to fit in – they are the sweetest, most helpful people. By the way, the meal was wonderful, as was all the food that I have tasted so far from Taipei’s overwhelming supply of restaurants and street food.

Local restaurants

A different world

You will quickly learn to fit in by lowering your voice and lining up for everything, including the MRT and the bus, and respecting the line! Also, try to accept a biking life without any rules. As a Dane this can be confusing and seem dangerous. I’m sure it is!

Bikers drive together with pedestrians and in and out between them. 50 meters ahead the bikers are suddenly on the road between cars and scooters. Giving signals is a non-existing phenomenon and people look at me like I am weird when I use my helmet.

While talking about these cultural differences, I should not forget to mention that the garbage truck plays ‘Für Elise’ and you should always bring your umbrella no matter what the weather is like. When it rains, you use it as normal, and when the sun is burning, you use it as sun-protection.

Oh! And one last thing. Just do it! Go abroad! Regardless of the fact that it can sometimes be a confusing, shaking experience, I’m sure you will not regret it. It allows you to explore a foreign country and its culture from within, and without any doubt you will return wiser in many ways.

Trine Borg Frees

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