How to Survive Your First Day As an Expat in Taipei

Taipei Street in Ximen DistrictYou decided to move to Taiwan for two years, solely so that your daughter can learn the Chinese language and culture. At least that is what you tell everyone. The reality is that you have been feeling the wanderlust for quite some time and you just needed to experience something different. The dullness of your day-to-day routine was about to drive you insane. This is your first time to actually live outside of your native land. You have been planning this for four years and the day has finally arrived that you set foot as a resident, albeit a temporary one, in a foreign locale. Your wife and daughter have been in Taipei for over a month and have well-established daily routines and tasks. Your only task for the day is to fight your jet lag by staying awake until bedtime. So what do you do? You have to get out and explore the city. You’ve got all day to remain awake so you need to walk as much as possible. Luckily, even though your wife has to work, you’ve got a friend who loves to explore and is also new to the city. Together you both decide to explore the historic Ximen district of Taipei. Feeling a rush of energy from pushing through the groggy stage of fatigue, and possibly from the caffeine in the tea you just drank, you brave the oppressive heat and humidity to walk and explore. Taoist prayers with baoYour first stop is the Tian Ho temple. You do not know the proper etiquette there so you just try not to offend anyone while you take pictures of the statues of the Taoist gods and immortals. You watch people try to predict their future with the buay, red half-moon shaped wood blocks that they throw on the ground to receive divine answers to their questions, and look away when they scowl that they got a bad answer and look at you as if it is your fault. Next, you find an alley that is full of fresh produce for sale. You make your way through trying to identify exotic fruits and vegetables, finally purchasing a yellow watermelon that turns out to taste remarkably like the pink version. You find that if you are a drumstick fan, you can buy the whole leg, fresh and ready to cook, toenails and all. Chicken legsA quick check of Google Maps tells you that the Tamsui River is only a ten-minute walk away. It looks like there is a nice park there to explore. As you approach the river, you find that there is a huge elevated freeway between you and the park and no obvious way to traverse it. After walking along the base of the wall beneath the freeway, you and your companion see a nice set of stairs that look like will take you up to the top of the wall to at least view the river. At the top you discover that, yes, you can see the river beneath you, and yes there are some stairs there to access the beautiful green park. As you walk through the park, you and your companion talk about how stupid it is to build such a nice place, next to this wonderful river, and then make it almost impossible to visit. The park is deserted and to you it seems such a waste. Then you wander on in search of a way out of this paradise of solitude and find it in an enormous set of metal doors, which, luckily, are open, next to a sign telling you that you are in a flood zone and this wall and the giant doors are all that protect the city from a watery devastation in the event of a massive storm, of which there are many in this part of the world. You realize that it is you that is stupid and you silently praise the designers of this fantastic park. Taoist temple pillarHunger is now calling so you decide to start looking for a place to eat. You find some older men eating noodle soup that looks delicious at a table on the sidewalk outside a little hole in the wall restaurant. The lady doing the cooking does it right in front of you. She doesn’t speak a word of English, so she calls over her husband who says he speaks English, but in reality, he knows as much of it as you know of Mandarin. You are trying to tell them that you are allergic to pork, an ingredient in 73.8 percent of all Taiwanese food. They smile and nod and offer some soup. You find a group of high school kids who claim to know English, but do not seem to know what pork is. Finally a girl approaches who speaks fluent English. You can now safely order noodle soup with green onions and tofu. Then, feeling adventurous, you also order a separate dish of tofu and pickled eggs. The eggs are black, but your compadre, who ate this just a couple of days ago, assures you they are delicious. And they are. The lady who prepared your meal comes over to see if you like it. “Hung how,” you reply. Taoist temple statue“Hung how chi,” she corrects you, laughing. You eat everything and she is happy. You go and pay her $3 for both soups and the tofu eggs and you are happy. You wander on in search of something new to see and mainly just try to stay awake. You walk past a group of women who seem very interested in talking to you and your friend. You realize that they are prostitutes when one tries to take your hand. You smile and wave at them with the confidence of one who has been approached by prostitutes in a foreign country before and find comfort in the fact that at least this time they are female. You decide that you need to find your favorite teashop, 50 Orchids, to get an afternoon milk tea. You go and get directions from the clerk at the 7-Eleven, a friendly lady who, at first, seems to ignore you, but then provides you with exact directions. In the meantime, you are about to learn your first lesson about Taipei: never leave home without your umbrella, even if it looks like a gloriously sunny day. Vegetables for saleThe amount of rain that falls in the next two hours is about the annual amount of rainfall in your hometown of San Diego. You decide that an umbrella would be a wise investment. Your companion, who is smarter than you, has an umbrella with him, but soon discovers that his is not waterproof. It does, however, have a nifty button that, when pushed, pops the umbrella open. He also decides that a new umbrella would be a wise investment. He opts for one that does not have the nifty button, but is, in fact, waterproof. Armed with your brand-new umbrella, you can now go to find your afternoon tea, which provides just enough caffeine to keep you awake for the rest of the day so you can sleep at your normal bedtime, conquering jet lag, at least for the first day.
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