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Taiwan is an amazing place, and until you’ve actually visited the land they call Formosa, it’s practically impossible to understand the pull this island has on expats and visitors alike. But unlike other expat destinations where years and even decades in your new found home can have little or no impact on your daily behavior or your outlook on life, at some point in your time here you’ll start to feel more Taiwanese than foreign. Practice any of the habits below, and the chances are you’re slowly but surely turning Taiwanese, and that’s not such a bad thing.
Since the SARS outbreak back in 2003, Taiwanese people have become quite health conscious. So if you sneeze in public and you’re not wearing a mask, you can expect some unfriendly glares. It’s a good thing to keep your germs to yourself and to protect yourself from the pollution of a million scooters, but it takes time to get used to it. If you automatically grab a mask when you’ve got a sniffle, you’ve worked in a hospital before, or you’re becoming local.
“Don’t drink that orange juice!” is a phrase that any expat with a cold has heard on many occasions. A life of following Western medicine advice has us automatically reaching for anything that may contain even the smallest amounts of vitamin C to banish that cold. Spend a little time in Taiwan, and you’ll soon find yourself avoiding cold fruits like mandarins, lemons, and kiwis in case you make your cold worse.
Back home you’d have to be at death’s door to even consider a visit to the doctor whereas here you think nothing of popping in to see the doctor because you sneezed a little too much last night. Taiwan has incredible health care, but when you can’t weather the storm of a runny nose without medication, then you’ve perhaps become far too used to it.
People queue for food everywhere, but in Taiwan, they take it up a notch. If something is particularly tasty, cheap, or has been on the TV recently, then you can expect a long line of happy customers prepared to wait as long as it takes. If you find yourself thinking that twenty people ahead isn’t too long of a wait, then you’ve started appreciating food like a local.
Taiwan is hot or at least comfortably warm for the majority of the year, but when the ‘cold’ weather hits in January, glove and wooly hat sales go through the roof. You’ll laugh at first but given time you’ll have at least two winter coats and a collection of scarves. And when family come to visit in winter, they’ll sweat it out in shorts while you complain about the chill in the air.
And not just 7-Eleven but FamilyMart too. It’s true that convenience stores everywhere have improved in recent years. They have fresh fruit, tons of microwave meals, and an incredible range of teas and drinks. But when did you start thinking that you could have your dinner downstairs in the local 7? Those convenience stores, they’re just so… convenient!
The MRT has had a huge impact on commuting for city dwellers in both Taipei and Kaohsiung, but it still takes time to get around both cities. When a friend suggests taking an hour-long trip across the city because they heard that a night market there has nice noodles, and you say “let’s go”, you’ve pretty much achieved local status.
Many a tourist and even some expats have unwittingly crossed a street during an air raid drill only to have a police officer pull them back onto the sidewalk. While at first, you may think that they are quite unnecessary and a little overkill, you eventually accept them as a chance to sit in a coffee shop and avoid work for 30 minutes.
In Taiwan, food is everything and there’s always a restaurant open somewhere at any time of the day or night. This is because locals here live by a simple philosophy when it comes to dining; if you’re hungry, eat. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3pm or 3am, when your stomach calls, you answer. Anyone that’s been here a while knows exactly where to find beef noodles at ungodly hours.
There’s a convenience store on every corner in Taiwan and when you’re just literally stepping outside your front door to buy some milk (or a beer), why bother changing? Besides, it so hot outside you just can’t face getting fully dressed for a one-minute run up and down the stairs.
You go home for a holiday and automatically pull off your shoes at the door. When you’re told to leave them on you can’t help but wonder how dirty the floor in the house must be. The Taiwanese and many other Asian nations have it right, shoes off in the house really is more comfortable.
Lanes, alleys, streets, roads, and even sections of roads; addresses in Taiwan and the cities, in particular, can be a challenge for a foreigner who’s fresh off the plane. In fact, before smartphones, even taxi drivers without GPS had it tough finding an address. If you can do it without Google Maps, then you’ve had plenty of practice.
It might only be a short visit for a week or two, but when you’re sitting down to another steak dinner and wish you could just have some instant noodles, you’re thinking like a Taiwanese. Nothing says that you’ve fully assimilated yourself into a culture more than being homesick for it even when you’re back at your childhood home. Speaking of which…
This is it. The final sign that you’ve been here a long time. When you confuse your friends and family back home by continually referring to Taiwan as home, you know you’ve already made the decision that you’re in it for the long haul. And deep down you know that you could do a lot worse than calling this incredible island home.