Newbie in Taiwan?

  1. Money: New Taiwanese Dollars is the current currency. What I did was to take out cash (enough for a month) from an ATM at the airport with my Revolut card. I find it very useful when travelling, specially in Europe. It is a banking app based in the UK that allows you to have accounts for 24 currencies (at the moment) AND exchange money between these accounts without any fees. It does not have NTD, but it allows you to extract certain amount of money without any fee. If you are interested, you can check it out clicking here.
  2. Easy Card: This magnetic card will save you time and money when travelling in Taiwan. It costs 100 NTD and you can top it up with any amount you think necessary. It is for the MTR (underground/subway) but also for buses and trains. The best thing about it is that in some places (7/11 and specific restaurants), it is accepted as a form of payment, so you can basically use it as a credit card for certain places.
  3. SIM card: I went through a lot of emotions trying to get a SIM card to get internet on my phone. In the airport there are places where they will sell you a SIM for 1000 NTD per month (unlimited internet and x amount of SMS and minute calls). This is not a normal price, it’s the price for foreigners. Taiwanese people pay, generally, about 400 NTD per month, as I learned later on. When I asked, there was not even an option for lower internet allowance or a way that it could be cheaper. I was asked for my passport and I signed a document, all in Chinese, which I did not understand (but I needed the SIM card and internet on my phone).
  4. Internet: There is a public Wi-Fi network called iTaiwan, in which you register (free) and you get free Wi-Fi in Wi-Fi hotspots. In my experience, it works quite well in city centres (except Tainan) and in train stations.
  5. Accommodation: during my two months here, I stayed mainly in one Airbnb and in hostels. How did I find these hostels? Through booking.com. I look for:
    1. Price
    2. Location
    3. Beds: Are there curtains? How many people in one room? Are there lockers and how safe do they look? Does the mattress look comfortable?
    4. Breakfast: Is it included?
    5. Opinions: The last but most important thing.
    6. Depending on your travel plans: Is it a party hostel? Are there activities? Is there a cool common area to socialise/work on your computer should you need to? If you do need to work, how is the internet?
  6. Food: I would highly recommend to go where the locals go. More often than not, this means low-cost furniture and all Chinese menu. If it smells good, ask what it is. Sometimes they have an English menu and sometimes they will take show you what they are cooking. In my opinion, it is the best way to interact with the locals and to try new food. It is also cheaper. Win, win if you ask me!
  7. Cultural differences: Even if you don’t speak the language, smile and be patient. Taiwanese people are kind and willing to help. If there is miscommunication, know that they are trying their best to make you feel at home.

PS: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on some of the links, I’ll receive a small commission.

Aboriginal Culture in Taiwan

This is a topic I find fascinating, so I thought I would share what I know and what I’ve discovered. I’ve done some research online and but I also hace been to museums and asked people.

 Years before any other civilisation went to Taiwan, there were Austronesian tribes already living there. They had their own linguistic and genetic from Polynesian groups and people from the Philippines.

Throughout Taiwan’s complicated history, the many different aboriginal tribes and groups have been slowly homogenised. To different degrees, they have been assimilated with Chinese culture and other colonial countries (most notably Holland, Portugal, France and Spain).

Right now, 14 tribes are recognised and they still live in the mountains in small groups. Taiwan’s ethnic minorities speak languages that belong to the Indonesian group of the Malay-Polynesian language family. The differences between the languages from the different groups and subgroups is quite big. This means that the groups generally can’t communicate with each other using their own languages.

From friends, I have learned that tribes generally speak their own language, no English or even Chinese. They will learn Taiwanese if they have a stand in a night market or have a job within Taiwan’s contemporary society. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult for them to integrate. All Formosan languages are slowly being replaced by the culturally dominant Mandarin. In recent decades the government started an aboriginal re-appreciation program that included the reintroduction of Formosan mother tongue education in Taiwanese schools. However, the results of this initiative have been disappointing. 

The Amis language is the most widely spoken aboriginal language. The government estimates put the number of Amis people at a little over 200.000. However, the number of people who speak Amis as their first language is lower than 10.000. Amis has appeared in some mainstream popular music. Other significant indigenous languages includes Atayal, Paiwan, and Bunun. In addition to the recognised languages, there are around 10 to 12 groups of Taiwanese Plains Indigenous Peoples with their respective languages. Some indigenous people and languages are recognised by local governments. These include Siraya, Makatao and Taivoan.

Aboriginal people face many economic and social barriers in comparison to the ethnic group from Han Chinese people. For many years, the government have either ignore or force aborigines to change their way of living. These past 50 years, however, the government is increasingly taking them into account and integrating them into Taiwan’s society. They still have a lower education quality and there is a language and cultural barrier. 

These past few years, there has been an increase in the touristic attraction that have aboriginal culture as a centre. For instance. Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, Orchid Island, Museum of Prehistory in Taitung or Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines in Taipei. However, there are also people who think of aboriginal people as “poster children” for doing politics. Right now, it’s “mainstream” and it’s cool to be aboriginal. Nevertheless, there are double standards in Taiwan’s society for someone who was born in a tribe versus someone who was not.

In recent years, since the democratisation of Taiwan, aboriginal groups have been reviving their traditional cultures and sharing their distinct musical style and talent with the world. Aboriginals have also found success in athletics, with many participating in both Summer and Winter Olympics, as well as local sports franchises. In an effort to achieve higher political self-determination and increase economic development in local communities, tourism and ecotourism have become major industries in aboriginal communities. 

The religious beliefs of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are complicated and include elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity. Several kinds of religions have developed among the different Taiwan’s ethnic minorities groups. Deities worshipped by Taiwan’s ethnic minorities vary from place to place and group to group, but include a heaven deity, universe-creating deity, nature deity, Sili deity and some other spirits and ghosts.

Sacrifices include agriculture sacrifices (cultivation sacrifice, sowing sacrifice, weeding sacrifice, harvest sacrifice), hunting sacrifices, fishing sacrifices, and sacrifices and offerings to ancestors. Shamanism and folk religion are still strong in some places. Methods of fortunetelling, soothsaying and divining include bird-fortunetelling, dream-fortunetelling, water-fortunetelling, and rice-fortunetelling.

The aboriginal people also create literature and legends which are something similar to Tolkien’s books. I found a list and there are more online, but they are all heart warming and beautiful, and I don’t want to have to choose, so in your own time, feel free to give them a read here.

Links:
https://guidetotaipei.com/article/who-are-the-taiwanese-aboriginals
http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20110930-tribal-culture-survives-in-taiwan
https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/first-nations-taiwan-special-report-taiwans-indigenous
https://www.taichung.guide/taiwanese-aborigines/
http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Taiwan/sub5_1b/entry-3820.html
https://english.moc.gov.tw/information_207_76924.html
http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2012/10/31/2003546511
https://www.taiwandc.org/folk.htm


Special thanks to all my Taiwanese friends and all the people I have had conversations about this topic. Thank you for sharing your point of view with me and educating me in your culture.

Cultural Shock – Taiwanese Edition

As a Spaniard going to Asia for the first time, you are bound to encounter not only a different scenery or food, but also another culture. Even though I had studied Chinese at university and knew stuff about Taiwanese culture, I had quite a few moments where I felt really alien to the rest of the people surrounding me. These are things that I personally found weird or different to my own culture. It does not mean that I think it is wrong, just not the same as where I come from, so i thought I would share it here.

  • Respect for people

If you catch someone’s eye accidentally, they generally don’t shy away or look at you defiantly. Instead, Taiwanese people give you a slight nod with their head and usually also a little smile and a “hello”. When I go buy something at the supermarket or give money to people in the street market, they take it with two hands and give me another nod. It might have to do with the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, but whatever the reason I find it endearing. It reminds me of the fact that we are all humans at the end of the day and that we should treat each other with respect.

  • Spitting

It is commonly known that Chinese people spit in the street and it is a normal thing for them. I have seen people doing it in Spain or Europe, but it is frowned upon. People here, though… They prepare the spit, with the radio tuning noise, for a good minute. And then they spit. Apparently it is because they believe having something in your throat area is unhealthy, so it has to go out. It does not matter whether you are in the street, next to a store, in the toilet, washing your teeth. If you gotta do it, you do it.

  • Care in everything they do
Taiwanese coffee

I have been witness on several occasions on how much care and attention they put into making food or beverages. This might also have to do with the Japanese occupation, but again, it is endearing and I love seeing Taiwanese people being immerse in their craft. It is mesmerising. Particularly I have seen it in coffee shops.

  • Hygiene in restaurants/food establishments

On my first night in Taiwan, I went to a night market. Now, coming from living in London and working in restaurants the past 2 years, I know the standards and the safety and health laws by heart. I was surprised to see motorbikes next to food stands or the state of the water they used to boil dumplings. The Taiwanese night market I went to, in particular, had a “new” underground market where the floor was apparently (I say apparently because I did not put my shoe in there) flooded with liquids from the food cooked in the stands.

  • Temples

There are a trillion temples in Taiwan. Young people only go on the marked days and for tradition, but I find them really beautiful and peaceful. Some are for people of all sorts of different religions. The most practiced religions are Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Catholicism. I love to get into a random temple in the corner of a road and ask for the dragon or phoenix or whatever little figure they have in there for good luck for me and my loved ones. If you are interested in spiritual stuff, you can check out what I’ve written about this topic here.

  • Garbage truck

In Taiwan, there are not a lot of rubbish bins. Instead, there is a garbage truck. This vehicle blasts a specific melody and Taiwanese people go out their establishments and throw their garbage into the truck. There is a different truck and melody for recycled garbage.

  • Chinese signs

This is an obvious one, but one thing is imagining it and another to actually live it for yourself. Having to catch a train and having no idea what the signs say or which platform to go. This being said, they usually have the English version in big cities for a 2 second timeframe. So after those 2 seconds I was fine. Also, in restaurants, I’m like “eenie minie miny mo”, or I have to socialise. Another option is to look around to people’s plates and ask for another one not knowing what it is or the price.

  • The toilet

Now, there are the “normal” ones (European sitting WC) and the ones that are close to the floor (Turkish style). That was a given, sure. But what struck me was the fact that usually there is a sign explaining not to put your feet up the seat in the toilet. As well as that, they have another sing saying not to throw the toilet paper to the small rubbish. Now this makes more sense if you think that in the other toilets there is no paper, only a hose. Is it more sanitary? Maybe, but definitely different to the toilets I am used to.

  • Nature everywhere

I knew Taiwan had a lot of nature but I didn’t realise how much. Even in Taipei, 15 minute bus/tube away, you can find yourself in nature after a short hike. When you take the train and start exploring the whole island you see green and sea everywhere. It was a pleasant surprise coming from Madrid or London, where there are parks, sure, but for a hike you need to go to Scotland or something (maybe I haven’t actively looked for hikes as well, will give you that).

  • Food

Hunger is won’t be a thing in Taiwan. Every few steps, no matter where you are there is going to be a stand with food. If not, there will be a 7/11, or a bubble tea place, or a night market. Since coming here, I eat less but more often. Best of all, it is really cheap.

Taiwanese Night Market
  • 7/11

It is amazing how convenient this place is. In Taiwanese 7/11s, you can literally do anything here. Buy noodles and have them there, buy food, have it heated in the microwave and eat it there or take it to go, you can buy (questionable) coffee, you can buy first necessities, drinks… You will be reading like… well, like a supermarket, right? WRONG! You can also do your laundry, buy train tickets, pay your taxes, take money out of the ATM and a long etc.


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