Taiwan: Island of Courtesy to a Near Fault

Taipei, Taiwan 09.15.2016 – I have lived in Taiwan for little over a week now. Prior to setting off on my little two year stint here, I was quite petrified. Making a leap abroad again is stressful and I had grown accustomed to my little bubble in Ireland. With that said and done, bubbles are probably the most dangerous things you can choose to be inside. Breaking out was a must and coming to Taiwan scared me for the right reasons to kick myself into some kind of action.

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I’ve settled into my flat which is adjacent to Nangang Park and registered with my university. The process of settling into Taiwan went a lot smoother than I had initially thought it would be. Truth be told, the bureaucratic nightmare that ensued from applying for a resident visa in Ireland was immense. I had to get a medical that stipulated the need for an X-ray and blood tests (Testing if i had STD’s and if I had my MMR vaccine).

In Taiwan, such a medical wouldn’t cost more than $40, but in Ireland, this kind of medical could cost upward of $250 to $350, depending on if you decide to go public of private for the tests. After that, you still need to have the medical verified by the Department for Foreign Affairs, and again have it verified by the local Taiwanese Consulate. That again, adds a cost of about $150. Add to that, I had to get my University Transcripts and Degree verified like my medical, that is another $150. So, before I have even set foot in Taiwan, I have already paid about $550-$650 on my application to go there.

Again, it was a bureaucratic nightmare on par with what is to be expected elsewhere in Asia. I always find it odd how the prerequisite to enter an Asia country for longer than 6 months is to take a medical to prove a you are healthy. I think they should enact a policy for foreigners to take the same exam before they leave to see if they have become healthier or sicker as a result of their stay. Though, I doubt I could get anything but healthier living in Taiwan. It feels like a mixture of American, European and Taiwanese living. The food and media is American, the lifestyle is European and the culture is Taiwanese.

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Once I arrived in Taiwan, everything seemed to fit into place. I had fortunately found a flat prior to setting off and I had a bed to crash in after the 20 hour journey from Dublin-Dubai-Taoyuan-Taipei. My neighbour saw me mooching at the bottom of the flats and asked me ‘what the hell’ I was doing. He showed me where my apartment was and brought me shopping to make sure I had water and snacks to get myself through the initial leg of the dreaded jet lag. Trips to IKEA, Carrefour and Costco guaranteed I wasn’t going to be sleeping rough or going hungry.

It is now over a week since my arrival and I have settled in greatly. I feel like I’ve lived here longer. But I suppose the effects of jet lag probably made my sense of time feel elongated and strained at times. I had trouble sleeping more than 2 hours at a time and my bedtime was a poultry 9 pm. I have since been able to stay awake longer than 12 pm, so take that Mum and Dad.

I think the two things which can best sum of what Taiwan is, are two photos I took while traveling on the MRT (Taipei Subway system). If you want to understand a city, travel on it’s subway or public transport system. The MRT in Taipei has some strict regulations. For instance, if you smoke on the subway, you will be fined over $300. Likewise, if you are caught eating food or drinking a beverage on the MRT, you will be fined $230. It doesn’t matter if it is water or if you are dying of thirst like Lawrence of Arabia, the locals will tell you to put your bottle away, lest ye want to be reported. There are also signs which suggest text messaging on the MRT instead of making erogenous phone calls that inform everyone that you are going through your menopause. Nobody cares.

But most of all, what stood out to me, was the level of courtesy and care. I can’t tell you how nice the locals are here. They will make the effort to say ‘Good Morning’ in their best English when you walk into a 7-ELEVEN, or when walking through a park by yourself, locals will usually strike a conversation. However, it was in the Taipei Zoo MRT Station I saw the amalgamation of this courtesy concentrated into one sign. Here it is.

14359190_1185998554774707_2592976519537937067_n  I needed to use the bathroom, after all drinking 2-3 liters of water a day has to go somewhere. When you walk into the station you are greeted by a staircase which leads to the Station bathrooms. As you walk up the stairs, you come face to face with this sign. It is telling you that in case you get lost up this one flight of stairs, here is a sign that tells you it is 10 meters away. There is no need for this sign. There is already a myriad of signs directing you to this staircase, you can’t get lost if you tried. Even if you jumped off the railing, you would still end up right where you started with a scraped knee. This to me represents the courtesy in Taiwan. It’s really nice, welcome and sometimes a bit much, but hey, better to be overly courteous that to be rude.

This is probably an extreme case of the level of courtesy I have seen here, but it is still apt to convey the point that Taiwan is a country that is quite easy to settle into. I have never lived anywhere else that I have been able to settle in as fast as i have here. Although my commute to college in 1 hour, I couldn’t care less. It’s a nice journey by the MRT where I can read my book, listen to music, but not drink coffee or listen to someone’s conversation on the phone about the cyst that has formed on their body. My lecturer for Civic Journalism wants myself and classmates to Tweet a weekly picture of something to do with Civic journalism. I think I might use this picture and explain that Taiwan is a country that is overly courteous to a near fault, but a fault that is worth going to. Might have something to do with the fact Taiwan is on a fault line.

 If you enjoyed this blog, make sure to have a look at my other website ‘That Mossy Guy’ for some of my lighter stuff.

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