Home | View by Topics

23. What Surprises Me in Taiwan?

Let me begin by saying, honestly, I  never have a certified Information about Taiwan; otherwise, I abused this aphorism: "I heard that," in despite of the enormous contributions of Taiwan on the main activities related to the development of my country home (Haiti) and I think anyone in my home country is conscious of this reality. So, in short, I lived in almost total ignorance of the country (Taiwan) model of development.  

Speaking entirely of my surprise in Taiwan would be for all eternity because it is a culture somewhat different from mine and very exciting too. In fact, I would like to talk briefly about the Chinese New Year in Taiwan; it’s my biggest surprise so I had never imagined a new year so important and interesting in February. And it is also one of my best moments in Taiwan.

Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in Taiwan. It is a very jubilant occasion mainly because it is the time when people take a break from work to get together with family and friends. My Chinese professor said that the origin of Chinese New Year was itself centuries old and gained significance because of several myths and traditions. And a friend of mine living in Taipei explained to me carefully one of the most famous legends related to this date.  Nian, was an extremely cruel and ferocious beast that the ancients believed would devour people on New Year’s Eve. To keep Nian away, red-paper couplets were pasted on doors, torches were lit, and firecrackers were set off throughout the night, because Nian was said to fear the color red, the light of fire, and loud noises. Early the next morning, as feelings of triumph and renewal filled the air at successfully keeping Nian away for another year, the most popular greeting heard was gong xi, or “congradulations.”

There are a million and one things that surprise me in Taiwan. That of course is not counting all the strange things that I have seen. But I think I will just focus on one of them…dogs. I like animals and I can appreciate anyone who likes animals as well. From the time I came to Taiwan I have seen some of the most fascinating dogs in my life.

The first dog I ever saw in Taiwan was a husky. I remember telling a friend I was with at the time that I thought the dog looked very healthy and that its hair looked rich. In reply she told me that Taiwanese liked dogs. So I said ok and I thought that was the end of the story. But one night while walking though Shilin Night market, a man passed by with a partially green dog. At the time it was the first time I was drinking a type of Taiwanese tea, so I put the tea down and said to myself “this tea is definitely not for me”. I took a second look at the dog (cause the man had stopped to get something to drink as well). I was certain that the dog had been spray painted. I was curious as to why someone would go about spray painting a dog green; and not just any green, a bright green, like the owner was celebrating earth day (in September). That day I said to myself this is just one Taiwanese and I must keep an open mind. In the weeks that followed my open mind was tested, I saw striped dogs and multi colored dogs. I think after about three weeks I was immune to the shock. (I am still not sure if that’s a good thing).

Having been in Taiwan for close to eight months, there are so many things that surprise me. It ranges from their friendly people, to the night markets, and even their customs. However, I have to say that for me, what makes Taiwan so special is its people and their attitude. Every day Taiwanese people continue to surprise me.  I still remember the first day I arrived in Taiwan.  A friend and I were looking for a store because we wanted to buy some shampoo.  We were walking around for a while when we decided that the best thing would be to ask someone for directions.  We saw a Taiwanese girl and asked her if she could help us out.  At the beginning, I was just expecting her to point us in the right direction, but instead, she told us that she would take us to the store.  This surprised me a lot because it seemed like she was in a rush but she still took the time to make sure that we could find the store.  Not only did she take us to the store, but she told us that she would like to stay in touch with us; she gave us her phone number and asked us to contact her if we ever had any questions or just wanted to hang out.  This experience left me with a very good impression of Taiwanese people and every day I’m surprised by how welcoming, helpful, friendly, and nice they are.

Actually, all Taiwan country has been a surprise for me, because I didn’t expect to be in a wonderful place like this, especially Pingtung, with a lot of nature, kind and friendly people and its beautiful campus. My first surprise was Taipei of course, when we arrived; I was surprised about the city, the people, the food and different traditions and perspectives of Taiwanese. I have been at Kaohsiung and other cities and let me say that Kaohsiung is a beautiful city with its love river along the channel, the 85 skyscraper and the ferry make this city a wonderful place. One of my favorite field trips was the National Aquarium near from Kenting.  It’s a wonderful exciting and surprising place for visitors, where you can see different fish and birds around this park, and of course Kenting has beautiful beaches and a very good environment. I haven’t been in many places but I have heard about Tarocco and other places that I am willing to go there at least once during this year.  I think Taiwan has a lot to offer for tourists and the world. Its technology and amazing people make this country incredible. So I just want to say for foreigners that Taiwan is magic and we have to enjoy it. And Taiwan is a surprise in its all content.

Taiwan has a lot to offer in many ways besides the friendly people, unpredictable weather conditions, frequent earthquake tremors, not to mention the unique and natural features the island offers. Business seems to be the dominant force in Taiwan as a source of income generation. It is a land of entrepreneurs and everyone seems to be their own boss. Taiwanese are hard working, creative and industrious in nature.  Food, for instance can be found anywhere and at anytime, in all varieties and flavors. For any foreigner coming to Taiwan food is a critical issue and is usually one of the ‘culture shocks’ one must face in adapting to the culture and Taiwan in a whole.  The cuisines, however, isn’t what surprises me, what does is how the food vendors and other businesses are located. A walk down almost any street will take you past shop after shop where food vendors work together next to each other in harmony, a characteristic of the Taiwan family value system. This leads and relates to another surprise on how family ties means a lot to Taiwanese. Whichever situation or event it may be, family value is a high priority. You can go anywhere in Taiwan and it’s likely that you will see the sequential arrangements of businesses. Competition doesn’t seem to be a problem, and even if it is, the relationship seems to be peaceful between the merchants involved. I’ve had several experiences when purchasing food at times of not knowing where to go or who to choose from; probably it’s because of my cool nature of not wanting to disappoint anyone, something I brought with me from home.  Sometimes it’s difficult to pass a food vendor from whom I purchased food before and not stopping by again to get something or even  showing a friendly smile. After couple months in Taiwan, I began to learn the nature of such attitudes.

As the sun sets over many Taiwanese Towns and cities, people everywhere head for the market known as “Night Market,” which usually operates from 6 pm to after midnight. These collections of street stalls, sidewalk vendors, and small canteens are a major part of the Taiwanese social scene. As an African from The Gambia, local markets similar to the night market operate during the day; it was quite amazing a few days after my arrival in Taiwan when I was invited by friends to join them for an evening outing to the Shilin night market in Taipei. I have seen them joining friends to be part of the amusement and socialization in other night markets in Kaohsiung city, Liouho and Hsinshing Night Markets. Some of Taiwan's more famous night markets include Shilin Night Market, Rao He Night Market, and Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market in Taipei, Fengjia Night Market in Taichung, Siaobei Night Market in Tainan, Liouhe Night Market in Kaohsiung, and Miaokou (Temple Gate) Night Market in Keelung. Unlike our day markets, which have all forms of goods on display ranging from food to consumer products, the Night market in Taiwan is an excellent environment for shopping, eating and hanging out with friends in the cool of the evening.

The larger Night Market take place in built market places while smaller or more informal ones tend to occupy streets or roads that are normal thoroughfares by day. The atmosphere is usually crowded and noisy with hawkers shouting and fast paced music playing over loud speaker. They are mostly frequented by youths dressed in popular fashion outfits. Night markets have a wide range of goods for sale ranging from fresh food, fruits, clothing, electronics, etc. but they are famous for their “xiaochi ” (finger foods) severed as carry over. Some night markets have only food for sale especially traditional Taiwanese food, while bigger ones have a mixture of food and consumer goods. Another surprising activity in the Night Market is the variety of carnival style games with all types of prices to win.

 It is with great pleasure to be given the chance to write about my surprises in Taiwan. Well to be honest and fair, I have not been in Taiwan for a long time but in my seven months of being here I have seen a lot of things which have surprised me academically and non-academically. Non-academically:

Ø  Honestly, first and foremost I should point it out that I have never seen people in my 28 years of life who are so friendly and always smiling like the Taiwanese people. The moment I arrived in Taiwan I was welcomed with smiles from the airport attendants in Taoyuan International airport up until I arrived in my school.

Ø  Taiwanese people are so generous and big-hearted. The students and non-students are always willing to share and assist whenever you ask for help from them. The first question you get to be asked by Taiwanese is: “What can I do for you?”

Ø  I have been surprised to note that in Taiwan the physically disable people are well catered for in a way that each and every building in Taiwan has a pathway for easy entry of physically disabled persons.

What surprises me the most about Taiwan is how science and its byproduct, technology, are deeply entrenched in Taiwanese academia, agriculture and businesses’ thinking and practices. This year I had the memorable opportunity to visit twice the Taiwan International Orchid Show (TIOS), celebrated in Tainan in March 2010. During my visits, I witnessed the most beautiful and well-cared orchids I have ever seen in my life. The show demonstrated to me how a synergy of private industries, government agencies, research centers, and academic centers had worked together to develop a successful orchid-industry in Taiwan. I was amazed by the large amount orchids displayed, and the lovely arrangements made by Taiwanese individuals and companies’ expositors.

TIOS-2010: a complete show that displays how Taiwan applies science and technology to orchid’s production. The show gave me the opportunity to walk through the production facilities; learn about Taiwan’s orchid history; appreciate the potting process; interact with breeders; bargain with retailers; and, take pictures to almost every specie displayed. Certainly I had many surprises while I was in the exposition.

I was surprised and thrilled because this was the first time in my life that I have seen so many different types of Phalaenopsis, Doritaenopsis, Oncidums, and many others species just in one place.

Science and technology were everywhere in TIOS-2010, in the growing media or orchids; in the multiplication process; in the greenhouse conditions; in the irrigation and fertilization; in the blooming inducement; in the harvest and shipping process; and in the market analyses. All the “know-how” developed through research in Taiwan made the species look vigorous, bright and attractive.

I’m sure most of the people have ever heard about Taiwan as one of the most prosperous countries in Southeast Asia and also about its high density population in urban areas; well, this general knowledge about this island was not wide enough for me to imagine the multiple transportation options that residents of Taiwan could have.

During my first day going around Taipei everything seemed to be as I expected, like others international cities in the world, full of commerce, government and culture. But my big surprise happened while waiting at the red light when I noticed just how many scooters were on the road, actually not only on the road but also thousands of them that were parked along the sidewalks.

By that time I was not aware of the fact that there are around 10 millions scooters throughout Taiwan. But even though traffic jam could get heavy during rush hours, everyone basically knows what’s going on, and so long as people remain predictable in their motions and even in their speed, traffic actually flows pretty well.

What surprise me in Taiwan? I already answer to this question as soon as I arrived to Taoyuan airport eight month ago. It happened when I was looking for a trash can and it was kind of hard to find one.

Nevertheless, there was no trash anywhere, so I was thinking if it was because there are a lot of people cleaning.

Now, after some months here, I know that there are a few trash cans not only in the airport, but everywhere; however, the cities always look clean.

I also comment on this to my friends back home since the first few days after my arrival to Formosa, but there’s also more about this, like the recycling system.

It is amazing to see how clean the streets look without “enough” trashcans and how locals are really used to this.

Me and other foreigners I know still complain sometimes when we are eating something from a bag and we cannot find a place to litter, because it is uncomfortable to carry with something you are not using anymore like the bags from the fried chicken in night markets, the plastic cups from the milk tea shops, or the little sticks from the sausages.