One of the things you will notice exceptionally quickly after arriving in Taiwan is how ubiquitous 7-11 (and its cousin Family Mart) is. These stores are the pinnacle of Taiwanese convenience, and if you spend any time in Taiwan, they will quickly become as important a part of your life as they are in locals’ lives.
When we first arrived at our hotel in Tainan’s West Central District, our local 7-11 served as our polestar to help us orient ourselves in the dizzying new world of bustling streets and size. In classic Taiwanese fashion, our local 7-11 was also themed after a cute character. It was covered wall to wall in Snoopy decor, with row-upon-row of cute merchandise to buy. Funnily enough, a Family Mart sits directly across the road so that you can choose your fighter of choice.
7-11s appear to us as a kind of dairy on steroids. They are supremely reliable, open 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and stock a vast range of products at affordable prices. Like dairies in Aotearoa, they stock a range of snack food and drinks (albeit a broader range). However, unlike our dairies, they stock much more niche products – skincare, alcohol and more.
Paying at a Taiwanese convenience store is also a breeze. You can buy a smart card – the most common being a 悠遊卡 (yōu-yóu kǎ)/EasyCard. These come in various fun designs and forms, such as mine, which is themed after a Hello Kitty character. An EasyCard is a sort of hybrid between an AT Hop Card, a Bee Card, a Snapper Card and a debit card. These cards can be loaded with money that can pay for public transport across the island and purchases at dairies, some supermarkets and other stores. Taiwan is, in many ways, still a cash-based society where debit cards aren’t as widely accepted as they are at home, so these cards help take away a lot of the fiddle-faddle which comes with cash.
As I alluded to earlier, these stores have been a valuable asset in our travels. When you are tired from a long day of study, you know you can rely on them to be open and offer everything from a quick snack to a dinner substitute. Our language buddies tell us it is a regular facet of student life to have 7-11 dinners when you are under the pump. Their convenience and cute theming to me serve as a quintessential reflection of Taiwan, which would be difficult to adequately put into words.