#TaytakesTaiwan: The good, the bad, and the “should my food be moving?”
GREETINGS FROM THE FUTURE! Well, the future, in my case, means living in a time zone 13 hours ahead of those at my beloved second home, James Madison University. Hey there, friends! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Taylor Herndon, a sophomore theatre/SMAD double major and editor of Reduced Pulp. This semester I’m participating in a JMU exchange program right outside of Taipei, Taiwan and I’m here to share what I can of the adventure with YOU. Taiwan has such a rich and lively culture, so I thought it’d be best to kick things off with a few tips that I’ve learned since arriving:
- 7-11 is the backbone of society.
Now when I say the backbone of society, I mean THE backbone of society. Bus pass, SIM card, dinner, the place to pay student fees, wedding venue. Get you a convenience store that has it all.
- Pictures can and will be taken for every occasion.
I am ALL about this. I tend to feel bad for wanting to take so many pictures back home. Usually someone’s waiting on me, the background may not be anything special, etc. But here? Going to a tourist attraction? Take pictures. Make a new friend? Take a picture with them. See an exchange student? Definitely take their picture. Be sure to bring flags or fun props that people in the picture can use too.
- You’ll collect awkward hugs like souvenirs.
If you’re a hugger like me, Taiwan will bring you a whole new world of awkward interactions. Even when you think you’ve read all the signs right, you’ll still be faced with the painfully ungraceful side-hug, single back pat situation. Whoops.
- The garbage trucks…have a song?
That’s right folks. Hear that obnoxious little jingle blasting all over town? That’s not an ice cream truck, no no no. It’s the opposite: a trash truck. And, when you have a serious phobia of garbage trucks like me (bad experience, long story) that cheerful little ditty will haunt your nightmares.
- Back of the line, kid.
The culture of Taiwan is very respectful overall. You always pay when you get off the bus, you give up your seat to the elderly, and you always wait in line. In the subways, they actually have lines painted on the floor to direct lines. And even if you could run in front of everyone, you just don’t. The other day, a man accidentally skipped me in the bubble tea line, then apologized for a whole five minutes when he realized he’d committed such a sin.
- Green eggs and…Kit Kats?
I could write 500 blog posts on Taiwanese food itself, but the Kit Kats were specifically intriguing to me. I had heard rumors of the ominous green candy, but never had the pleasure of gracing my taste buds with it until now. They’re made out of matcha tea, which is essentially just green tea ground up, and they actually taste heavenly. I have now even committed myself to trying all of the green pastries I can find…. we’ll see how that one goes though.
- If kindness could kill, there would be a genocide.
Okay that sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s needed to emphasize my point that Taiwanese people are SO. KIND. I already touched on the fact that it’s a respectful culture in general, but they really deserve more credit because these people are like JMU’s best door holders on steroids. The one time I gave up on chopsticks and tried to use a fork (my first mistake), I ended up slinging my fish across my plate, and thus also slinging the dark red fish sauce ALL over the sweet girl next to me, but was she even upset? Nope. Was she just a precious angel who laughed it off and said not to worry? You bet. A friend of mine literally ran into old man with his bike and the old man apologized to him! Two days ago, a girl who I had never met sprinted to share her umbrella with me when she saw that I didn’t have one. Even the Starbucks employees give me extra chocolate syrup. God bless Taiwan.
- Cold water…isn’t the norm???
Maybe I was just raised in a household that was too traditional, maybe it’s the influence of my wild peers, maybe it’s just because it’s convenient, but I like ice in my water. There, I said it. I’ve lived this way all my life, but when it’s cold in Taiwan you definitely don’t drink cold water. Because the water dispensers have hot water and anything else would just make you more cold, right? People have stopped me every time, assuming I’m choosing cold on accident, to question if I know how to work the water dispenser. Basically my whole life is a lie.
- Stinky tofu. Self explanatory.
Stinky tofu is one of the first things that the locals will ask you about because they know it’s a hot topic of conversation. It’s made throughout Taiwan and “stinky” is an understatement. This tofu taints the air with the smell of dead dreams and discolored rainbows. I actually cannot breath when I walk by it and have to hold a scarf over my nose. Just in case I don’t have a scarf handy, I have now calculated all the stinky tofu stands in my vicinity and how long I can hold my breath to get past the range of its stench.
- Taiwan is home to the cutest dogs ever. EVER.
This is hard to even put into words, but all of the dogs are 1000% fluffier with huge eyes that just melt your heart. Also, people are all about mobilizing their pets, so dogs (and even cats) will just sit in the tiny floor of a moped and drive along with their owners. They also have accessories like you’ve never seen before. I identify as a cat person, but I would be a dog person for Taiwan’s dogs.
- As for the English products…well they’re trying.
Finding clothes/bags/other various merchandise with English phrases that just make zero sense has become a new hobby of mine. The other day I saw a girl wearing a shirt that read, “MILK. COOKIES. BREAD.” In large letters and couldn’t help but wonder…. what is the bread being used for in that situation? Also a popular marketing slogan for gyms here is just, “We want your body!” written on large signs. Good.
- Get out of your comfort zone!
If Taiwan has taught me anything thus far, it’s that the world begins outside of your comfort zone. Do something that scares you. Take leaps of faith. There’s a big world out there waiting on you. (Also, #GoDukes).
About the Author
Writer & Editor
Taylor is a sophomore theatre and SMAD: digital video cinema double major who is STOKED to be working with Reduced Pulp. She overuses to word “nifty,” and is a firm believer that Kevin was the superior Jonas Brother.
When not doing theatre/SMAD things, she can likely be found studying Chinese, taking pictures, stalking the quad cats, or thinking of a witty tweet. In the future, she hopes to act, travel, and break the world record for the most coffee dates in one week. She is so excited to share her love of the arts with JMU & you can follow along with her on twitter at @freckleface_tay.