So my last post was a while back and was a bit of a downer. not much has been going on lately , studying Chinese and teaching, thats about it. But I have decided to stay here at least until January of 2010 maybe longer. And I will be making a return to good ol' NYC in September for about ten days. If you're in the city between September 24th until October 7th, let me know and we can meet up...
But I figured since I've been here about a year so far, I have a good perspective about this little island of Taiwan. So in the vain of David Letterman (the least funny late night comedian with the exception of Carson Daly is his awful show is still on the air) and my good friend Sportscenter whom I miss more and more everyday, I want to do a top ten list....I'll keep it simple top ten things I like about Taiwan, top ten dislikes...I'll start with the likes because I'm a positive person...
Top 10 things I like about Taiwan:
(in no particular order)
1. No Open Container Laws
It may seem like an insignificant detail but having no open container laws is a fantastic aspect of Taiwan. No brown bags, no fear of useless tickets from cops...in fact the other day I was drinking a beer on the street in front of a cop (granted he was riding a scooter so I'm sure how official he really was). We can drink in the parks, on our way to the bars, waiting for the bus you name it. And despite what people may think there is not rampant drinking here (if you don't count foreigners). People seem to control themselves when drinking outside and it's definitely tamer than say Penn Station on St. Patty's day.
2. Night Markets
This is defiintely my favorite thing about Taiwan (but I had to lead with booze to catch your attention....that's what we in the biz call a hook). They are incredible cacophonies of sound, food and random things. It's like the San Generio festival with an Asian twist. You can get tons of great, cheap street food, bootleg t-shirts, bubble tea, dog collars, you name it. They are everywhere and each one has a unique food or specialty so you can always experience something new, even in a small town.
3. Cheap train travel.
The trains here are super cheap. One ticket to go from Taipei to Taichung, (A city about 2 hours away) is only 6 US dollars each way. You can get easily take a day trip to the beach outside of Taipei for about 1 US dollar each way....its like the Metro North but a hell of a lot cheaper and with no open container laws. The trains are efficient, clean and English speaker friendly (well sort of). It's great to just take a trip out of Taipei and not spend a lot on tickets.
4. Taiwan Beer.
Well this is pretty self explanatory. Taiwan beer (the local brew) is cheap, tasty and WIDELY available. Before I came here I've never seen it in the states but when I get back I'm going to try and find a distributor that has some...or if I'm feelign more ambitious open up a Taiwan themed bar with said beer as the main brew.
5. Little Kids on Scooters.
Here in Taiwan EVERYONE has scooters. And the normal thing to do just like using a car back in the states, is to use the scooter to pick up your kids, run errands, get to work etc. But sometimes the kids are too small to sit behind their mother of father on the scooter. So they stand between the driver and the handlebars of the scooter often resting their head on the speedometer. Its probably not the safest thing in the world....but the kids do wear helmets. The kids are so comfortable that they will even doze off resting on the speedometer while their father zips dangerously through Taipei's notoriously hectic traffic. It's really cute and you just have to put the dangerousness out of your mind.
They are literally everywhere. I mean 3 or four on a block. But the best thing about them is that you can do anything and buy anything there.
Need some wine ? 7-11
Need a tampoon? 7-11
Need to make a copy? 7-11
Need to print out pictures from your digital camera? 7-11.
Need to pay your bills? 7-11.
Need to sign for a package but have to work when the courier is due to arrive? That's fine he can drop it off at your local 7-11 and you can pick it up at your leisure.
It's convenience super sized. Plus they are open 24 hours and the best part? They'll open your beer with a bottle opener without asking for a tip.
7. No tips
No tipping in Taiwan so when you go to a bar, the price of the beer is always the same.
8. Nature, national parks, scenic areas
Taiwan does a really good job of making sure it has ample national parks and that they are properly protected. Despite it's small size Taiwan has a plentiful and diverse selection of national parks and each of them are more beautiful than the last. Most of the East coast of the Island, a good portion of the South (Kenting) and the entire middle of the island are national parks. There are lots of hiking trails almost right on Taipei's doorstep, most I have yet to explore. Taiwan really takes care of it's natural resources (probably because it's such a small place with scarce resources)
9. Clean MRT
The subway in Taipei is great, clean, efficient and cheap. Part of me misses rats and homeless guys in the subway; but the rational part of me knows it's better to have a clean reliable subway even though the quirks of the nYC subway system are definitely far more entertaining.
The food here is delicious. There are a lot of dumplings, fried rice, noodles and the like. But the best part is that you can go to a little dumpy noodle shop in some small town pay the equivalent of 1 US dollar and have an amazing full meal of noodles or rice or soup. These little noodle shops are everywhere and the food is just as good as some pricey restaurant. Breakfast shops are plentiful too and they have a wide variety of dishes ranging from eggs to rice to soup to various kinds of sandwiches. Great stuff
* 11 I'll add Chinese to the list...now that I can understand a little it is interesting to try and pick up new words here and there
Now for the bad parts about Taiwan:
(again in no particular order)
Despite my appreciation of little kids riding scooters, everything else about scooters is awful. Scooters are everywhere, street sidewalk, in houses you name it. First off there seems to be no enforcement of traffic laws (or just no laws ) about where you can ride a scooter. The sidewalks seem to belong to them and if I'm walking on the sidewalk and a scooter is waiting behind me, the driver will beep and flash his lights, as if me walking on the sidewalk is inconveniencing him. "Can't you see this is the sidewalk????? Why the hell are you walking here?" Plus going the oppossite way up a one way street seems to be perfectly legal. The sounds of the engines all day and the exhaust are other reasons why I'm not a big fan of them.
In line with number one and probably caused by the first reason, pollution here is really intense. Taipei is one of the most polluted (air-wise) cities in the world. Sometimes I'll wake up get ready for school, step outside and smell the grime and fumes in the air. I was talking to a teacher who has been here for about 5 years....he said that he ran everyday. When he went home last your to England and had a physical...the doctor asked him when he started smoking. Apparently living in Taipei for 3 years made his lungs look like those of a smoker. It's terrible. Outside of Taipei is better, but not by much. I never thought I'd be nostalgic for that clean NYC air (no "clean air" buses here.)
3. Rudeness/ competitiveness and general elbow jostling
Perhaps because Taiwan (and Taipei specifically) is so over crowded, whenever I'm on the bus or MRT I've noticed how people don't wait for people to get off the subway before pushing in. The train or bus will stop, and immediately the people waiting will push froward onto the train. It's so annoying. I mean the train's not going anywhere at least let the people get off before you push through. On the bus its the same....you have to pay at the front when you get off. So as I wait for the bus to stop, people behind me push through so they can pay....when this happens I deliberately go slow when I'm getting off the bus.... I'm sure people are pissed but I mean just calm down, we'll all get off the bus.
4. Stray dogs
Well I don't dislike stray dogs, but I DO dislike the Taiwanese government for not having adequate facilities and personnel to take care of the stray dog problem...the poor dogs are everywhere, especially when you get outside of Taipei. It's heartbreaking and the Taiwanese government needs to improve the conditions in shelters to help these poor dogs.
5. The word WAIGOUREN
It means foreigner and not a day goes by that I don't hear someone whispering it as I walk around the city. At first it was funny but now it just is a bit much. Yes I am a foreigner but saying it in whispers won't turn me Taiwanese
6. Lack of diversity
I didn't think that this would bother me. But it does. I miss diversity, I miss seeing different kinds of people. I miss NY in that sense
I had more to write about the negative things but I honestly forgot. I'm sure I'll fill in more later on