The First Impression: Taiwan

Looking at Taiwan from an outsiders point of view, as an exchange student, for a good month now, I have a lot to tell you. Taiwan is a special place where you can find a mix of different Asian cultures. Yes, in a way Taiwan is similar to China, but it definitely has some unique characteristics. 

Let’s start with the most obvious one: humidity. The air’s very moist, humid and hot. Summer lasts here longer, and from Finnish point of view, Taiwanese fall is like Finnish summer. Temperature is around 24–26 degrees Celsius in fall and on sunny summer days, it is 29–35 degrees Celsius. The one not so pleasant surprise is that mold grows very easily. The Taiwanese don’t take it that seriously because it is so common. To keep your things clean is a must. 

                                                                          Picture from Shifen

Affordability. As you can imagine, a student living aboard needs to find cheap options for eating. Luckily Taiwan is a country for eating out. Yes! It’s much cheaper to get food from restaurants, and local 7/11 convenience stores are cheaper than getting supermarket ingredients. At best you can get a proper lunch and dinner for around 30NT, which is about 1 euro, although a more common price is about 70NT. Also, Asian-style food is usually cheaper than Western food, so stick to local goods to save money. 

Taiwanese have a healthy lifestyle. In convenience stores, there are more tea options, like tea in a bottle, than sugary sodas. A common snack to have is rice triangle with fish filling and seaweed. The Taiwanese eat a lot of vegetables as side dishes, and meals, in general, are rich in veggies. There’s pork everywhere, but vegetarian or at least pescetarian options are available. Because of the humid and hot weather, the time for exercise’s in the evening when the sun has set (at least for Taiwanese runners who prefer to run outside). Biking is a popular way to commute, especially among students. People, in general, seem to be in good shape.  

Nature’s magnificent. All the big trees, flowers, mountains, waterfalls, sea… It’s like living in a fairytale. Many plants that Finns would have in a pot are here in nature. What surprised me the most was the amount of greenery in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Even in big cities, there are huge trees, plants and grass. Compared to Japan’s metropolitan area, Taipei city is a garden. Outside those bigger cities, nature is even greener and more magnificent. 

                                                                     Picture form Yehliu Geopark

Atmosphere. Taiwanese people are relaxed. Maybe because of warmer weather and living on an island; the European metropolitans are remarkably different. People walk at a relaxed pace, there’s no rush, at least if you’re not a student late for school. People don’t seem to be extremely stressed. It’s also visible in outer appearance. Caring about how you look isn’t that important, not that the Taiwanese are unfashionable or anything, but at least in the university the style’s relaxed. School logo t-shirts and shorts are so common that it feels like a university uniform.  

Friendliness. The Taiwanese are friendly. If you look even a little lost at a train station, someone will come to you and help you. Their generous help and pieces of advice can at times feel a bit too much, but it’s just them showing that they care about you.

                                                                           Picture from Jiufen

Language. Everything’s written in Chinese, so it doesn’t hurt to learn a few characters. English speaking skills vary a lot. Younger generations have usually more knowledge of the English language, but I’ve met some older people whose English was also very good, and university students who could barely speak it. It really depends on the individual. And if they don’t speak any English, pointing with your finger and using Google translator are a great help. 

Sightseeing. Taiwan’s full of rich culture and places you must visit. Starting from nature, the biggest waterfall is found in Shifen, a couple of hours from Taipei. Another must-see place for the fans of the Japanese film Spirited Away is Jiufen. The tiny village in the mountain area inspired the director Hayao Miyazaki. The film’s scenery and Jiufen’s streets and buildings resemble each other visibly. The Geopark in Yehliu is famous for the eroded rock “Queen's head” which basically looks like the Queen’s head from the right angle. 

Taiwan is definitely worth visiting!


Article photos by Krista Karppinen