6 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went To Taiwan

April 10, 2017

Squat Toilets Aren't That Bad

My first week in Taiwan, I was determined not to use a squat toilet. I'd never seen one in America, and they look pretty intimidating. However, on my first day of class I realized that every single toilet in my school building was a squat toilet (I later did find 2 secret Western toilets though). They looked clean enough so I used one...and it wasn't actually that bad! In the stall I found myself Googling which direction to face when squatting, but that's what Google is for, right? Some places have very nasty bathrooms with only squat toilets but I just got used to it. At least that way, I didn't have to actually touch a nasty toilet, just hover over a squat toilet, so in some ways it felt cleaner. I always preferred a Western toilet if one was available (and clean), but soon enough I became a pro at the squat toilet.

The Chinese Language Doesn't Have Sarcasm

Sarcasm is so common in English that I just figured all languages had a form of sarcasm. Turns out, that's not true! My Chinese isn't the best, but it's good enough to where I can crack jokes sometimes. (People laugh, but maybe not in the way I intend!) Once while chatting with some older Taiwanese men, they asked in Chinese, "You aren't from here, are you?" With a deadpan face and my white person accent, in Chinese I replied, "Yes I am, I'm Taiwanese," thinking it was really funny because obviously I'm not from Taiwan. They apologized and said they were sorry and didn't know. I had to tell them I was joking and they seemed confused. Sometimes my host family's son (who's fluent in English and had lived in the states for 10 years) and I would hang out with my Japanese roommate. The host family's son and I are people who joke around a lot, and whenever we were sarcastic to my Japanese roommate, she would believe us and wouldn't understand that we were just being sarcastic. She would ask us why it was a joke when we were being serious when we said it. Later I Googled if the Chinese language has sarcasm, and turns out, they don't have the same type of sarcasm we do! Lesson learned.

Trash is a Complicated Matter

Here in America, I'm used to trash either going to the recycling bin, or going into the trash can. Then I take it to the dumpster or recycling center and I'm done with it. However, in Taiwan, it's a very complicated subject, and even moreso when your host family dad is explaining it in Chinese! Everything that can get recycled, gets recycled. Food goes into a separate trash can than non-food, because it's so humid that it will go rancid and stink up the place in one day, and there are a lot of cockroaches and gnats that are attracted to trash. Trash that has touched food, needs to be washed very well, because you DO NOT want to attract giant flying cockroaches into your apartment! There are separate color-coded trash bags for recycling and regular trash. Then, instead of taking it to a dumpster, a musical trash truck comes around at night and the whole neighborhood comes out with their trash to put it in the truck. Yes really, the truck is actually musical, and plays Beethoven! The trash truck comes at different times depending on your neighborhood. And some days are only recycling or trash, but some days are both. I was there for three months and I still don't understand it all!

Stinky Tofu is Delicious

I'd heard about stinky tofu before arriving in Taiwan, but the first time I smelled it in a night market, I thought I was smelling raw sewage. I waited an entire month to try it, until a Taiwanese friend bought me boiled stinky tofu at a night market. (I didn't know that boiled stinky tofu is one of the most potent ways to cook it!) I tried it, and to my surprise, it tastes SO GOOD! I can only describe the flavor as very savory with a lot of umami. After eating it, the smell started to smell good, instead of like raw sewage. Also, if you're a foreigner who enjoys stinky tofu, your Taiwanese friends will call you 厲害 (awesome) and a 很特別的外國人 (very special foreigner) and a 真的台灣人 (true Taiwanese person).

"No Shoes in the House" Has a Practical Reason

I learned that here in America that we're big weirdos because it's common to wear shoes in the house. I knew that in Asia you never wear shoes in the house, but figured it was just a cultural thing. Nope! Squat toilets (where pee might be on the ground) is one reason. Since the cities are more dense, and most people walk everywhere, the sidewalks are nasty. They don't look that dirty, but the bottoms of your shoes quickly become black. There's not as much grass, so people let their dogs poop on the sidewalk before picking it up. Around markets I commonly saw blood on the sidewalk. Taiwanese people keep separate house slippers they wear indoors, but I always wore socks and that was okay too. Some museums even had little house slippers you had to wear indoors.

No Matter How Much You Miss Home, You'll Miss Taiwan More

Once my 3 months were up and summer was over, I was ready to come back to America. I missed my family and friends, cheese, cookie dough, and the relative lack of mosquitos and humidity. However, only 2 weeks after coming home, I already missed Taiwan more than I had missed America. Every day I remember something from Taiwan I miss. I still miss it so much I feel homesick, even though it's about as far away from my home as possible.

Questions? Comments? Don't hesitate to contact me!