When crash landing into a new culture, I’ve always found that today’s novelty is tomorrow’s normal.
Live in another country for a while, and you’ll experience this feeling. Many things that once felt strange and foreign will fade into the background. Not that you’ve fully assimilated into the new culture — you’ve just carved out your niche, and made the necessary mental adaptations.
I felt quite a bit of this when I was in South Korea. After living there for three years, I actually have a lot of trouble answering general questions such as “How was Korea?”, because it’s difficult for me to find a reference point to begin describing the country to someone who’s never been there. (Ask me more specific questions, and I do much better!)
Because I’m not sure how long I’ll stay in Taiwan, I want to note a few things that struck me right away, before I’ve had time to acclimate to them. These aren’t deep cultural observations — rather, think of them as the first things you might notice when you get off the airplane.
1) Taipei 101 is EPIC
Until 2010, when Burj Khalifa opened in Dubai, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building. And Bruce Almighty, is it massive! On a clear day, you can see it from nearly anywhere in Taipei.
It’s a marvel to behold from up close, as well. If you want a neckbreaking experience, walk to the base of the tower and try to look upward toward the top floor. Your neck will beg for mercy!
2) Toilet paper is dispensed facial tissue style
That’s not a box, by the way — just a thin plastic bag, puffed out into a rectangular shape.
3) Taiwanese never fail to hand you a receipt
Never in my life have I experienced a barrage of receipts like this before. Don’t get me wrong — in the United States and most countries I’ve visited, receipts aren’t uncommon. It’s just that here, I feel like they fill my pockets faster than I can throw them away. Some of the convenience store clerks here practically insist that you take the receipt, i.e., they call you back if you try to walk away without taking it.
Taiwanese also use receipts on buses — when you get on, the bus driver hands you a ticket, which you’re supposed to return when you get off. This happens even on buses that use prepaid bus cards that you swipe both when you board and disembark the bus. I suspect this practice is the relic of a bygone era.
4) A plethora of beautiful womenfolk live in Taiwan
I don’t want to be crude and lewd, but as an eligible bachelor I gotta say that there is no shortage of lovely ladies in Taiwan. (And how could I pass on the opportunity to use both plethora and womenfolk in a sentence!)
They dress well, too. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d say Taiwanese fashion is similar to Japanese fashion, with a southern twist thanks to the warmer climate. Lots of color!
5) Taiwan is forever green
This might not impress my readers who live in warm places, but as a guy from Wisconsin who’s spent 99% of my life in places where it snows in winter, it’s strange to be surrounded by green in the middle of March.
I especially noticed this when I went for a hike earlier this week. Climbing mountains was one of my favorite past times in South Korea — were I in Korea now, I would still find plenty of snow and ice along the mountain trails. In Taiwan? Lots of greeeeeeeeeeen!
I’ll always love the sight of falling snow, but there’s something to be said for the feeling of calm that accompanies warm weather and lush vegetation.
That’s five, right? After spending nearly a week in Taipei, yesterday I hopped on a train down to Kaohsiung, which is on the southern end of the island. I’ll write a bit more about that in my weekly mailing list update on Sunday, so stay tuned (or sign up, if you haven’t already!)