Taipei: 1 week in

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February 26, 2013TaiwanNo comments

A quick update on how things are going over here in Taipei….

When I arrived here last Wednesday I’d booked myself into Banana Hostel, more like an apartment than a hostel run by a lovely Taiwanese couple. Met some interesting people there. Mark from California, who told me I ought to be keep an eye out for abandoned bicycles around the city and grab one if it takes my fancy. Ben from Shanghai with whom I shared discussions on career, going travelling for long periods and general life outlook. And of course, I mustn’t forget the two Korean girls who stayed up till 3am playing cards with me.

In between all this fun I did lots of flat viewings. I’d responded to some adverts on Tealit (a popular classifieds and whatnot portal) whilst still in Hong Kong and had lined up viewings. My favourite one was one in 大安 (Da’an – Taipei central) where I’d be sharing the flat with 2 other people. Happily enough, I’d made a good enough impression to get the room. There were cheaper options on the table. You can get a decent room with a double bed in the Yonghe district (永和 – away from the centre of Tapei) for about 7000 NTD (£155) per month + bills. I’m paying 9000 NTD (£200) per month for a similar but slightly nicer-looking setup . Many of the students at MTC (where I’ll be studying) live in or around Shida night market, which is opposite the university. But I’m only about a 15 minute walk away over here. And once I get a bicycle that time will be down to 5.

For the first few days I had many moments of frustration. Ordering food isn’t easy when you don’t know what you’re looking at, the menu is entirely in Chinese, and the person behind the counter doesn’t speak any English! Part of the problem is my own shyness in asking people to tell me what something is called as well as not wanting to seem like a total newbie standing there translating characters on my phone. I partly feel embarrassed about my lacking language ability because it seems  that many of the foreigners here speak Mandarin. In fact it’s so prevalent and people seem to expect me to be able to speak Chinese so often that now whenever I see a foreigner I immediately assume that they can speak Mandarin. Such a situation sometimes makes one feel dumb, as if one is late to the party. When I’m feeling really frustrated about it (believe me there are moments) I even remind myself that I can speak 3 languages already so it’s not that I’m incapable. In calmer moments I can see that we all have to start somewhere and I know I’ll be a fast learner. It is getting better and I’m becoming more courageous in my attempts to speak. More confident deliveries now escape my mouth now vs. the mostly tentative whispers that were coming out before.

Class doesn’t start for another week so I haven’t met any other students yet. I did put up a “Language Exchange” ad on Tealit. I’d read that this was often used by some people as a way to find dates. I figured that would be a bonus if that happened – it hasn’t worked out yet (*sigh?*). But I have so far met a couple of very interesting people instead. A professor in Architecture who taught me a whole bunch of phrases and sentences in return for me teaching him correct and incorrect slang words in British English. And a lady who runs an online business with her husband and is currently looking to get a working VISA to Australia. Apparently her bloke has recently discovered a love of making pastries so wants to become a pastry chef. She said that people in Taiwan generally have to work long hours and even then finances aren’t easy – hence why many couples (at least in the cities) put off having children according to her. I guess I’ll learn more as I keep living here and meet more people. It’s more important to get more than one viewpoint on these sorts of things to know the real deal.

Went shopping in the supermarket today. Still haven’t found cheese like we get back home. I just want to a good block mature cheddar cheese. Own-brand will do. Butter is strange. They have the equivalent of Lurpak but it’s a thinner and longer block than what we get back home for some reason. Milk is available here in large litre cartons as well as small ones. I’m told that a lot of the so called 100% natural milk products are actually just made with milk powder, including them milk itself. I bought a small carton from 7-11 and it seemed ok. But it’s been a while since I’ve drank British milk so it’s hard to compare. It definitely doesn’t taste as good. And needless to say this stuff all seems to be a bit pricey. But spring onions and tofu are much much cheaper than back home. Makes sense I guess.

Now that I’m here for 3-6 months I find myself keeping a cheeky eye on my daily expenditures. I’m budgeting myself at £500 per month (that’s including rent and bills). This works out to £3,000 for 6 months, well within my current financial capability. I’ll probably end up spending a bit more than this (clothes, impromptu trips, unexpected expenses, etc.) but I’m hoping to mostly hit that ballpark. Food is generally quite cheap here. You can get a simple noodle dish for £1 and some special stuffed bread items for even less. Eating in restaurants costs more, as does any non-Chinese cuisine. Western food costs about the same (in £’s) as back home.

Now that I’m here and having to learn new Mandarin every day I find myself wanting to start using my app straight away to help me learn. It’s giving me even mor impetus to get it production ready. I can create the content to help me get on with life here, which means it will be well tailored for anyone who decides to visit China or Taiwan and wants to pick things up quickly. I’ve already got a couple of other ideas kicking around in my head, including one inspired by PostSecret – a website which puts up scans of postcards the author receives from people who want to reveal their secrets. It was my friend who led me to to it through a list of awesome TED videos. I particularly loved ImprovEverywhere’s high-five stint at the escalators (see the video to see what I mean!).