I suppose that after four months of being in Taiwan, I’ve more than crossed the line between traveler and expatriate. At some point I’ll have to look at my passport, because I think I’ve been living here almost as long as I lived in Argentina. Living here for this long has given me the ability to really dig in and learn about the in’s-and-out’s of daily life in a small section of Taipei. Below are a series of observations and stories.
Nap Time in Taiwan
The word “siesta” is commonly known as a synonym for taking a midday nap. Although the word itself is associated with Spanish and Latin American culture (and rightfully so as most shops do shut down mid-day in places like Spain and Argentina), I’ve discovered that the Taiwanese people have integrated siesta time seamlessly into their culture. It’s quite common to see grown men and women walk into the various coffee shops around town, not order anything, pass out for an hour or so, and then leave. Since I’m not one to let a good photo-op go to waste, I’ve been sneaking cellphone pictures of people for the last month as it happens. Even right now as I write this, there’s a 20-something year old passed out on the other corner of this table. It’s 9PM – go home and sleep!
Christmas Time in Taiwan
In the United States, Christmas is the holiday that magically appears EVERYWHERE immediately after Thanksgiving. So, what’s a country to do about Christmas decorations without a tribe of natives to celebrate and slaughter? In Taiwan, the answer is to start putting up Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music around November 15th. The McDonalds I pass every day has had a tree up since then. Most of the Starbucks have had Christmas coffee, mugs, and holiday themed drinks for the last few weeks too.
“Christmas in Taiwan?” you may be asking. “Are they even Christian?” you might say to yourself. No. Taiwan’s population self-reports itself as 4% to 5% Christian, making this an entirely capitalistic holiday celebration. (Not unlike most countries…) Fortunately, the Taiwanese economy is entirely capitalist and export-driven, so not only are the people here completely participating in Christmas, but he majority of the crap you’re buying in the USA was manufactured and assembled here in Taiwan.
In fact, you could very easily make the argument that depending on what you’re buying for Christmas, that Santa’s workshop (and his small Asian elves) are right here in Taiwan. 37% of the world’s smartphones are manufactured in Taiwan. 80% of laptop design (and manufacturing) are outsourced to Taiwan. 12% of the products manufactured in Taiwan are directly exported to the United States, with 42% going to Hong Kong/Mainland China …and most likely getting to the USA indirectly. Based on combined import and export volume, Taiwan is actually the 9th largest trading partner for the United States. Acer, Asus, and HTC – all Taiwanese brands.
Lottery Time in Taiwan
Years ago (1950) Taiwan faced a challenge with collecting taxes related to revenue on products sold across the country. (Sales Tax) In short, a majority of the stores were under-reporting their sales in an effort to keep some of that money for themselves. What’s a government to do to encourage its people to be honest? Taiwan had the ingenious idea of creating a free to play national lottery and printing your lottery numbers on the receipt of the products you purchased. As a consumer, you now want to collect your receipt.
The way it works it quite simple. Every receipt will have an eight digit number printed at the very top of the paper. Receipts are collected for two month periods (Jan/Feb, March/April, ect) and on the 25th of the following month a series of winning numbers are drawn. What’s great is that winning isn’t limited to only matching the entire eight digit number. Simply matching the last THREE numbers will earn you a prize, and each additional number you match will increase the size of the prize payout. Prizes range from NT$200 ($6) for matching three digits, to NT$200,000 ($6,000) for matching all eight of the “First Prize” column. Match everything from the “Special” or “Grand” prize columns and you could win up to NT$2,000,000 ($60,000).
So why mention all of this? I won $18 playing the Taiwan lottery. I’m going to Disney World!
Garbage Time in Taiwan
In Taipei the garbage is collected six days a week, and on four of those days is collected twice an evening. While the collection times are consistent, the Taiwanese government has come up with a clever way to make sure you know the garbage truck is coming. You see, in Taiwan the garbage trucks play music! Beethoven to be exact. As I’ve discovered through some research, the reasoning behind this was to create ‘garbage time’ into a specific event so that the neighborhoods would personally deliver their garbage and not simply leave it out over the course of the day, which would typically attract vermin. It’s actually a wonderful idea.
Further complicating the process of garbage time, is the fact that there are three different types of garbage for you to track.
- Organic Matter
- Actual Garbage
Let me explain the need for the breakdown. First off – Organic Matter. There is a separate garbage truck that comes by to specifically collect anything that is or was ‘food’. This includes anything like chicken fat, leftover rice, and rotten vegetables. In what’s possibly the most forward thinking agricultural idea I’ve heard of, Taiwan collects all of the organic trash in order to convert it into food to be sold to local pig farmers. (It’s also worth mentioning that, in general, Taiwan is extremely forward thinking with its garbage and recycling policies. Perhaps it has something to do with being a small island with a limited amount of land…)
Second – Recyclables. It’s said that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” After extensively traveling the world over a number of trips, I think it’s safe to say that this is true in every country except for the USA. Only in the USA will you not find people waiting for you to show up with cardboard boxes, glass and plastic bottles, and anything else recyclable that can be converted into cash. In Buenos Aires you would see entire families come from the outer-limits of the city and spend the entire night picking through garbage bags looking for anything salvageable. In Ukraine people roamed the residential districts collecting bottles from dumpsters. Here in Taipei, there are roaming bands of people that follow the garbage trucks and meet you at your front door to gladly take your boxes, bottles, and cans for you.
Third – Actual Garbage. This is fairly self-explanatory, but the last category is whatever doesn’t fit into the two categories above.
Finally – what happens if you don’t take your garbage out every night? Surely those bits of chicken and rotting vegetables are going to start to smell, right? Yes! As a result, it’s fairly common that the freezer becomes a second garbage can. You can see our freezer in the picture below. The bag of the left is organic ‘stuff’, the bag on the right is actual trash that would start to smell if it were left out, and the remaining space is what’s left to actually freeze things.
Hiking Time in Taipei
I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a small mountain that overlooks the entire city of Taipei. You can see it ominously looking down on the city center from nearly everywhere in town. A few weekends ago the weather was predicted to be 80 and sunny, so I put on my shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt and went up the mountain for a hike. This is how everyone else was dressed at the very top of the mountain. Needless to say – yet again I regularly got stares from people up and down the mountain. It’s also possible that they were just jealous of the fact that I was jogging up the stairs past them as they were all winded and struggling to continue.
See the sun? Me neither? The mountain makes it’s own weather. Although it did eventually almost sorta clear, the cloud cover and mist was persistent throughout the entire day. Overall it really did make for some cool pictures.
One thought on “Expat Life in Taiwan”
Mike just an FYI, while you’ve been away it became appropriate to start playing Christmas carols and decorating the day after Halloween in the US! Maybe we’ll name it “Capitalism crawl” and see how long it takes to reach Labor day!