As most of you probably know by now, I am from Hungary and I have been studying in Taiwan for overall more than two years now. Since these two places are on the opposite sides of the world, the differences in culture and just the way of life are quite big. So today I would like to share some things with you I wish I knew before coming to Taiwan.
Coming to Taipei for the first time, transportation can get a little bit confusing, especially if one doesn’t speak Chinese. Luckily, in the MRT (metro rapid transport) they have everything in English as well – but sometimes buses are more convenient, or you might simply need one to get to the closest MRT station. However, the timetable and list of stops for the buses are usually only written in Chinese.
One way to get around would be writing the Chinese name of the stop where you live at on a piece of paper or in your phone, as well as the Chinese name of the stop that you’re going to and just trying to find them on these boards by the look.
Or a little more advanced way is to look it up on Google Maps in advance. Google maps is pretty good with the public transportation lines in Taipei, so you can rely on their guidance – the only thing is that it usually estimates way more time for the trip than what you actually need.
What I usually do if I go somewhere I am not familiar with is to check Google Maps first then use this app called Bus Tracker Taipei. The app is available in English (and even most locals use its Chinese version as well) and you can search for any of the buses, see the stops on the line and the remaining time for the bus to get to each stop. It is not always correct, but most of the times it is quite reliable and makes commuting by bus (which is much cheaper than the MRT!) so much more convenient.
The second thing I wish I knew that most of the menus at the restaurants will be only in Chinese. Obviously, if you eat in a Western restaurant (which is going to cost you a lot more than a local place) or maybe in a very touristy area, you have better chances for finding an English menu – but a lot of times you will have to deal with a Chinese menu and staff that doesn’t speak English. What to do then? Well, the most basic option if you don’t know Chinese at all, would be having the characters of some main foods/ingredients with you, so you at least more or less know what you are going to end up eating. I suggest looking for:
- 雞 / chicken
- 豬 / pork
- 牛 / beef
- 魚 / fish
- 飯 / rice
- 麵 / noodles
- 餃子 / dumplings
- 我吃素 / I am vegetarian.
If you do know some Chinese you will probably be able to find these, though I feel like menus can still be quite confusing. If you want to try to find out more about the dish before ordering, try drawing the characters in the app ‘Pleco’ and if that doesn’t help search for it on Google Images.
Thirdly, the weather. In Europe if you look out the window and it’s bright and sunny, it is safe to say you will not need an umbrella that day. But don’t let Taipei fool you! I learnt to always take an umbrella with me, because even if it’s nice and sunny in the morning, there is a very high chance that it will start raining at some point during the day. Of course, it is useful to check the weather forecast before heading out the door, but it’s still better to be safe than sorry – because Taiwanese rain can be super sudden and really heavy.
I also wish I knew that some cosmetics can cost waaay more than in Hungary. It is true that there are some Japanese and Korean brands available in Taiwan I have never even heard of here even though they are awesome, but the regular drugstore make-up brands like Maybelline, Rimmel or L’Oreal are much more expansive in Taiwan. Same goes for hair care. Furthermore, they have a very small selection of deodorants usually, and waxing tools and strips are almost impossible to find. So if you have some toiletry staples you cannot live without make sure to load up and take them with you.
I wish I knew more about the supermarkets. There are three main supermarket chains: PX-Mart, Wellcome and Jason’s. PX-Mart or 全聯 (Quanlian) is the most affordable, but also the most ‘local’. It has the least import stuff, though they have been improving quite a lot recently. So for basic things, I suggest you shop there, you can save lots of money. Wellcome is a little more expensive but still not too bad and has a much wider selection usually, including more import products and a fresh bakery section that PX-Mart lacks. Jason’s is where you can find the most import goods – they even sell Hungarian salami, but let’s not even talk about the price. Most things are really pricey here, though it is worth looking through their stores, because there are one or two things that are reasonably priced and sometimes can only be found here. Then last but not least, there is Carrefour, which is more like a hypermarket, selling everything you could possibly need, also including lots of import products. But again, for basic things it’s more expensive so if you don’t need anything special you better go to PX-Mart.
And last but not least, I wish I knew I won’t have real, nice bread in Taiwan. Every single pastry seems to be sweet and a little bit… hard to explain, but tacky consistency – and healthy, whole grain, dark rye breads and the like are almost non-existent. So brace yourself for not eating good bread for a while. Also, for outrageous dairy prices. One liter of milk is about 4x the price compared to Hungary – and a lot of times if you look at the label it’s actually milk powder and water, not even fresh milk. Sour cream is the worst, a bigger cup is usually above 200NT, which is about 10x the price of the Hungarian. It’s sad news for dairy lovers like me, but good news for vegans and lactose intolerant people, because in exchange, soy milk and other nut and plant based milks are pretty cheap. You can also get soy yoghurt and soy pudding (豆花) so there are lots of other options.
These things above are the not-so-positive or challenging things I wish I knew about Taiwan – but every coin has two sides, so I am also planning on writing a post about the things I love about this wonderful island. So stay tuned for that and if you have any questions regarding the life in Taiwan just leave it in the comment section below!