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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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? Nope! You can also do your laundry, buy train tickets, pay your taxes, take money out of the ATM and a long etc.