Oh Taiwan, how you’ve surprised me so. I’ve never spent so long in one country, always hopping around to the next destination. However an entire month in Taiwan was an eye-opener for me, as settling in one place for so long & working with locals every day really opened my eyes to the cultural nuances and way of life of the Taiwanese. Growing up as an Australian born Chinese in Melbourne, I’ve always considered myself pretty Asian. I have rice every day, speak Mandarin and Shanghainese and generally live in an Asian cultured household. I thought I knew much about Asian culture and could assimilate within a blink of an eye however after a week in Taiwan, I found myself desperately craving a sandwich, smoothie and salad.
Whilst I could easily be mistaken for a local, I had no idea what tapioca was when I was ordering bubble tea and when it came to reading sale signs in Watsons, I had the reading capability worse than my 9 year old cousin in Taipei – I can only read simplified Chinese and not traditional. But after travelling with the Fun Taiwan crew, chatting with them on our long drives out to our filming locations and bantering during breaks, I picked up a few really interesting things about Taiwan that really made me appreciate the country and what made it unique, exciting and also kinda cute (see #3). Read below for your quick guide to Taiwanese culture and life.
1) TAIWAN’S CULTURE IS UNIQUE AND VERY JAPANESE INFLUENCED
I didn’t do much research before arriving in Taiwan as I wanted to be surprised and not spoil myself from knowing too much before we started filming. So bless my ignorant soul but I always thought that because of its historical connection with China, that it would resemble a mini China. However, I was positively surprised when my weeks in Taiwan started to show that it really had its own distinct culture. Whilst of course, there’s some Chinese influence in Taiwan, what especially surprised me was the fact that it was actually also very Japanese influenced due to its historical ties with Japan which I actually had no idea about. Until about 1950, Japan occupied Taiwan and as Taiwan was its first modern colony, Japan really invested in the country’s infrastructure and economy and as a result, there has always been a good relationship between the two countries (#longstorycutshort).
So what does that mean? Japanese influence can be seen everywhere here in terms of social etiquette, culture and especially food – the latter of which happily surprised me the most as there is just so much sushi here. Can you imagine? Some of the elderly Taiwanese people still can speak fluent Japanese because of this too.
The other thing I learnt here was that the way they speak mandarin is different to the way I speak Mandarin – there’s different slang and phrases used. Taiwanese people collectively seem to love to say 真的假的 ／超 & 超级 in everyday speak. The amount of times someone said 超 & 超级 in particular was astonishing. Every time I heard the word I lost track of what was being said as I had no idea what it meant until I finally asked. Know these phrases and you’ll understand it all.
Also, the population here (especially those who work in retail / hospitality) are extremely patient and hospitable and treat you like you’re family. They are super hardworking here and work very long hours (as Taiwan is one of those places that never sleep).
Above: the Sushi Express menu | Below: Addiction Aquatic
2) SUSHI IS CHEAP AND FOOD IS IN ABUNDANCE
There is one thing I can’t get over in Taiwan and that is the price of sushi at Sushi Express. During our off days we stayed in Taipei next to a Sushi Express joint – a sushi train chain. We were completely shocked at the price here – a plate of two nigiri pieces is only 30NTD (~$1.20AUD) and this includes salmon belly, octopus, sea urchin and all sorts of other exotic things that are generally much more expensive in Australia. All four of us bloggers loved it so much that we basically had it every day. And then the locals told us that Sushi Express was considered bad sushi – the ‘MacDonalds’ of sushi, they would say. And we were blown away that such good sushi was rated so low. Think about the possibilities if we ventured further out! At the end of filming, Janet (the TV host) took us to Addiction Aquatic where we got a taste of even better sushi. Even better, it was. Go give it a go.
Oh and wasabi is in everything. From that teriyaki sandwich in Starbucks to restaurant salad dishes to wasabi flavoured cashews (oh, the burn) and wasabi coconut flakes.. you can most definitely get your wasabi fix here.
Sushi aside, the other thing that is popular here is stinky tofu. It smells like extremely concentrated piles of dog poo and whilst my uncle assures me it tastes scrumptious, I didn’t get the chance to try it to confirm his promise.
Lastly, there are just so many eateries in Taiwan. My uncle tells me it’s definitely one of those countries where locals often eat their meals out because food is so accessible and reasonably priced that lots of people don’t bother to cook.
3) THE RUBBISH TRUCK SINGS TO YOU
Okay hands down the cutest thing about Taiwan is the rubbish trucks. The rubbish trucks sings the EXACT same song the ice-cream trucks in Australia sings and the first time I heard this whilst filming in TaiTung, I literally turned around and shouted ‘ice-cream?!’ Yeah it’s pretty cute of them to play such a cheery song whilst collecting the trash. This guy’s video shows just how adorable this all this.
4) 7/11 IS EVERYWHERE & IT’S YOUR ONE STOP SHOP FOR EVERYTHING
7/11s (or affectionately known as ‘Seven’ to locals) is everywhere and you can do absolutely everything here including buying tickets, topping up your phone, buying ready-made food (porridge, sushi, rice and meat dishes, fried noodles, etc) which they will then heat up for you, buying face masks, fresh fruit, using the ATM, passport photos, paying bills, using the toilet, sitting on the tables & chairs outside, etc. You can even buy meat buns here.. It’s Taiwan’s ultimate convenience store and there’s about 5000 of them on the tiny island / AKA literally one on every corner.
Face sheet masks.. all the rage in Asia!
5) KOREAN/JAPANESE/TAIWANESE SKINCARE IS HUGE
Forget western brands because you barely see them in Taiwan. In drugstores here it’s all about the Korean and Japanese stuff and there are also a heap of popular Taiwanese brands such as Dr Wu, For Beloved One, My Beauty Diary, Neogence.. list really goes on. I was most positively swayed by the pretty packaging, previously unheard of brands and the newly acquired knowledge of the Korean skincare routine that I just couldn’t stop myself from picking some stuff up. My upcoming Taiwan skincare haul posts will be up next – there will be two parts because it got a little out of hand..
6) TRY THE BUBBLE TEA, TAIWAN IS WHERE IT CAME FROM
Fast fact: bubble tea originated from Taiwan and I embarrassingly had no idea. I have always avoided them in Australia as I really didn’t understand what I was drinking but now I do and I just loved the ones I had in Taiwan! As I’m lactose intolerant, I skip the popular milk tea but love ordering fruit infused green teas. They’re a super refreshing drink after a long day out and only cost around $2AUD.
7) KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS: THEY DOUBLE UP AS A LOTTERY TICKET
If you do a fair bit of shopping, you’ll realise that a lot of your receipts look the same, even though they’re from different stores. That’s because Taiwan has this thing called the Uniform Invoice Lottery and for consumers, this means that every two months the government draws out a number of winning numbers and if you check your receipts from those months, you might just find that you’ve won yourself a cash prize!
8) THE SOCIAL CHAT APP OF CHOICE IS ‘LINE’
Once again, this goes on the list of things I’ve never heard of. Everyone uses LINE in Taiwan and it’s so popular that UNIQLO has a collection of t-shirts dedicated to the character emojis which are found in the app! They were so cute I caved and bought some. I’ll show you why soon..! Download it if you ever need to stay in touch with a local. Oh and watch this little clip about the characters you find in the app.
9) IT’S A ROAD TRIP STATE
From what I hear, Taiwan is a place one road trips a lot. There are few domestic flights between cities. As I was sitting in the car heading back to Taipei, the Fun Taiwan production manager told me that there’s not even a direct flight between Taipei and Taichung – two of the biggest cities in Taiwan! So when it comes to travelling most people rely on the high speed trains or large amounts of highway roads available to transit between the big cities. The highways are dotted with resting centres along the way so you can stop and eat at massive food courts before continuing your journey. And road trip you should! There’s so much more to Taiwan than just Taipei. I actually spent most of my time outside Taipei – the rest of the island is just as beautiful and really quite diverse.
10) NIGHT TIME IS LIKE DAY TIME
The last thing I wanted to share about Taiwan is that Taiwan is a city that never sleeps. Nightlife is insane and everything stays open until very late – especially in Taipei. Even if you’re out 11:30pm at night, it will still be bustling, full of lights and really quite safe. I remember shopping at a 24hour Watsons (a pharmacy) at around midnight and it basically felt like day time with the amount of people out and about.
Next up, my Taiwan skincare & beauty hauls.. I think! Stay tuned :)
Photography: Myself via iPhone + Canon EOS 7D Mark II