Had you asked me many moons ago on my study tour to Taiwan (this was about 14+ years ago)- if Taiwan would ever be a place that I would call “home”? I would have answered you, “Never in a thousand years”. But guess what? 14 years later and I have made it my “home” for the past 4 years and counting.
I was born and bred in South Africa and although outwardly I may look completely “native” to Taiwan being of Chinese ancestry and all, my heart is fully African and more specifically South African. Many have heard of the infamous ABC’s/ABT’s (American Born Chinese/American Born Taiwanese), but have you ever heard of an SABC (no not the infamous main television broadcaster of South Africa)- South African Born Chinese? I would not be surprised if you have pretty much never heard of such a person before especially here in Taiwan. Majority of Foreign English Teachers here in Taiwan, at least from my observations of the past 4 years living and working here in the ESL industry, are mostly from USA. So, I guess I am definitely one of the “unicorn” English teachers here, not only am I Asian/Taiwanese/Chinese in outward appearance but I am also an Asian from South Africa. Yes, I often confuse the native Taiwanese people with this fact, especially since I have an ok level of spoken Mandarin language ability.
I have been in International Education going on 12 years now, having taught in a very diverse (both culturally and geographically) number of countries such as South Korea, Sweden, Qatar and of course South Africa, but Taiwan just like all the others is an especially unique experience and I am loving every second of it, ok that is a lie can’t say I love every single second of it but I definitely am loving the life I have been able to garner here much more than I had imagined, I mean it has been the longest I have ever lived and worked in a single country outside of South Africa and don’t have much to complain about.
One aspect of life in Taiwan that is definitely one of its’ greatest assets in my opinion is its’ convenience. It is definitely one of the most convenient places I have ever lived in. I mean who would have ever thought that you could go to the convenience store (for example Family Mart, 7/11, Hi-Life etc) and pretty much be able to do just about everything from pay for bills, pay for fines, grab a bite to eat and drink (some even have beer on tap and yes you can get your draught in), send and receive mail/packages, buy airtime, top-up your yo-yo card (a card used for public transportation- MRT, bus, u-bike, etc), buy theatre tickets, train tickets, draw money, print, scan and a whole bunch of other things. And the best part- convenience stores are open 24/7 including public holidays and massive celebrations times such as Lunar New Year (when pretty much everything else is close).
Another aspect that adds to this convenience is that there are a dime a dozen night markets around the island where you can get some absolutely superb tasting food at a pretty cheap price, don’t get me wrong night market food is not the healthiest of foods but it is convenient, cheap and delicious.
Speaking about food, most households do not have kitchens as part of the apartment (especially the household where us young professionals live) because there are so many choices of food all over the place from cheap to super fancy Michelin star restaurants and you can have your pick of what you would be interested in eating not just from price point but also type of cuisine, and whilst we on this topic we cannot forget to mention the famous Bubble Teas you can get pretty much everywhere here. And it is all, for the most part, within a short MRT/Bus/Bike/Scooter/Car ride away. Did I mention “convenient”?
However, this is only the tip of the iceberg of all the amazing things that Taiwan has to offer. The next aspect we definitely cannot ignore about life in Taiwan is the sheer beauty of the landscapes of Taiwan. One has pretty much everything you can ask for from beautiful beaches, to amazing mountain ranges that you can hike (if you love hiking you will love it here), to amazing recreational forest parks, hot springs both natural and ones in a resort/hotel. Even for those of you who are Big City people, there is a place for you.
The longer I have live here in Taiwan, the more I have fallen in love with the sheer beauty and diversity of its’ landscape and it also has made me very thankful for stepping out of my comfort zone and going on nature walks and hikes (something I have never really ever done before in my life).
One of my most memorable and favourite adventures was a hike to Teapot Mountain, whilst hiking we were literally surrounded by a cloud, it was truly a once in a lifetime and first ever experience for me. Another truly memorable experience that I was lucky enough to have experienced with my flatmates at the time, was an island-hopping trip to Penghu, Green Island and parts of Kaohsuing and Taichung. In South Africa, I live in the inland part of the country far away from the coast and my family and I usually have our annual family trip to the coast of South Africa, don’t get me wrong I love the coast area of South Africa, but Taiwan and that trip was next level beautiful for me and everything seemed much more natural compared to South Africa and I guess that is why it’s left an extra special impression on me.
The last two things I would like to touch on for the purpose of this testimonial (lest I go on forever and ever at how wonderful it is to live in a Gem of a Country like Taiwan) is the abundant number of different activities one can get involved in, there is literally something for everyone here. And also the kindness and helpfulness of the people of this beautiful island country.
Let’s start with the activities as I briefly touched on one of the activities previously, which I experienced for the first time ever (i.e. hiking). If you are an outdoorsy person then this is definitely the country for you, the number of hiking trails and out door activities both in water and on land that you can get involved in or experience is unbelievable. Hiking and camping are two of the massive hobbies of many of the Taiwanese people, there are so many different hiking trails for all levels of experience it gobsmacks me.
In fact they even have a big hiking challenge here called “Taipei Grand Hike” (I believe that is the name of it), which is a 92km route that covers some of the most scenic landscapes and and popular peaks around Taipei. Personally I have never done it but friend of mine that have done it say they loved every bit of it. This then brings me to a different set of activities that I have been able to participate in and try out also for the first time.
First off let’s talk water activities, I have always been somewhat of a “water baby” and loved water sports and activities, and although prior to coming to Taiwan I did try Surfing out a little bit when I did a trip to Spain, but here in Taiwan ever since that first time I got on a surfboard and was actually able to stand up (this happened in Kenting Taiwan), I got hooked to it and every opportunity I had to go surfing I grabbed at it. The next water activity which I had never ever tried before coming to Taiwan was SUP (Stand-up paddle boarding) and man, it was absolutely exhilarating and so much fun to do, if you have never done it before, I definitely suggest you try it out.
Lastly regarding water activities that got me completely hooked here was snorkelling, never used to be a big part of my life and nowadays every summer since I came to Taiwan, if I do not have at least one session of snorkelling during that break I feel I am missing something. The places you can snorkel and the things you can see are mind blowing. I can only imagine how much more there is to see if one gets into scuba diving and free diving (yes those are also more and more becoming a big thing here).
Onto the on-land activities you can get involved in besides hiking, there is something for everyone such as Cosplay, it is a huge thing here and at a place very close to where I live they often have massive Cosplay events. Furthermore the music scene here is very diverse and you can find something for every taste of music. The dance culture is also huge here with many teenagers and students (and sometime even much older people) getting involved in being part of different dance crews that do all types of group dances (mostly hip hop, k-pop, street dance inspired, but there is also traditional and cultural dance crews around). There are also the more “formal” dance groups that focus on Salsa, Ballroom, Latin American and Swing dance (pretty sure there are many more but I just personally do not know about them).
The art and theatre scene is also a pretty thriving scene here from what I have experienced, with everything from Modern Contemporary Art to Fine Arts to stage productions and also the stand-up comedy scene. Honestly no matter who you are and what you are looking for I am sure you will definitely find a group you can join.
And if you are a culture buff and are really eager to learn about the background and historical culture of Taiwan and the people of Taiwan, there are loads of museums around that can give you that insight as well as loads of beautiful temples around which also gives you a much clearer insight into the culture of Taiwan and its people and of course we cannot forget about the Taiwanese aboriginal villages that are all over Taiwan (mostly in mountainous areas) that for the most part welcome visitors with open arms and love sharing all about their traditions and cultural norms from food to clothing to art to hunting, it is all you can ever ask for if that is where your heart lies.
Which now brings me to the final aspect of why I love my life here in Taiwan and why it truly is a Gem of Asia. And that is the people of Taiwan, they are some of the kindest and most caring and helpful people I have ever come across in my many years of doing international teaching in so many different countries. They are also some of the most honest and trusting people in the world in my opinion. If you have ever lost anything in other countries you know that those valuables are pretty much lost for life. Whereas here, if a Taiwanese person picks up a lost wallet, they take it to the police station or a lost and found place immediately and not a single thing will be taken from it. It has happened to a few of my friends here, and coming from a country like South Africa this is unheard of, if you have lost your wallet, you know that all that was in the wallet including the wallet itself is definitely “gone, never to be seen again”. So far in my 4 years in Taiwan, I have never experienced or heard of a friends who lost something like their wallet and was unable to retrieve it including all that was in it at the time.
Taiwan is definitely a hidden Gem of Asia, and if ever you have had the urge to come and visit here, I definitely recommend you come, you will not regret it at all in my opinion.