My first week in Tainan. Taiwan has been an eye-opening experience, to say the least! Every day I discover more differences between the way of life here and ours back in New Zealand, which I did not expect before coming and makes my experience here even better.
A critical piece of information: a pedestrian crossing in Tainan is definitely not the same as it is in New Zealand – a lot of us found that out the hard way. The many moped and bike drivers will not slow down if they see people waiting at the crossings; instead, pedestrians are expected to cross when they deem it safe, and drivers will weave between those walking. My tip is to cross when locals cross, as they clearly know what they’re doing!
I had always been told that the food in Taiwan was amazing (and it 100% is!), but it is the cost that still shocks me. At many street food vendors, you can buy meals for as little as 4 NZD, sometimes even less. I’m a big bubble tea lover, and Taiwan is where it originated from, so that has been my go-to here, and let me say that I don’t think bubble tea in New Zealand could ever compare. Night markets are also a must in Tainan, with hundreds of local dishes and drinks sold in one place, which are all cheap, delicious, and made fresh in front of you – what more could you want?! And, of course, we can’t forget 7/11, the Taiwanese staple with stores on every street and my go-to for any snacks or drinks.
When I learned that our classes would be taught in traditional characters and that the teachers would not speak English to us, I was terrified. In New Zealand, we have only learnt simplified characters, and what if I didn’t know what the teacher was saying and I missed a big assignment? However, now I have such a big appreciation for the ‘mandarin only’ rule as it forces you to practice your speaking skills; even if my classmates or I don’t know how to say a word or say something wrong, our teachers will help you to figure out what it is you want to say. Even the traditional characters – while they do take longer to write, I now enjoy having this opportunity to use them.
Lastly, the generosity of the locals also surprised me. We all know the stereotypes: if you’re in a foreign country attempting to speak their language, locals will detect your accent and talk to you in English. However, a lot of the time in Tainan, it’s the opposite! Vendors encourage your use of the language, suggest what you should order and make us feel very welcome! The other day my roommate Simonah and I were trying to find laundry detergent in a supermarket, and another customer, whom we had never met before, overheard our confusion and showed us which aisle to go to, which one we should buy, and how to spot deals. It was a wholesome interaction that made us feel very at home here!
While we have got some funny looks from locals and been asked, “are your eyes real?” or received exclamations of how tall we are, it’s simply because the locals are just as interested in us and our culture as we are in theirs!
I can’t wait for all the new cultural differences that I discover and learn about, and hopefully, by the end of the trip, if a vendor asks if I need an English menu, I can say no!