First off, I love Taiwan, so before all you Negative Nancies get started, have a look at my list of 10 Things That Taiwan Does Right, and please don’t be mortally offended by my list of things Taiwan does wrong. As far as I’m concerned, life in Taiwan is pretty sweet.
Things Taiwan Does Wrong
If you’ve spent any time at all in Taiwan, you’ve likely noticed that road signs and addresses never make sense. You’ll find signs with places that are spelled three different ways, and don’t get me started on street addresses! Being given an address to get to in Taiwan can turn into a mess really quickly. Addresses can be next to impossible to decipher; maps don’t make sense, and building numbers can jump magically to the other side of the street or end abruptly.
This makes getting around extremely confusing, even for expats who have been here for years.
Misspelled labels on packages and menus are a pretty common occurrence in Taiwan as well.
2. Umbrella Etiquette
People don’t seem to know how to use umbrellas in Taiwan. And that’s saying something because this little island gets a lot of rain.
And I mean A LOT!
There’s no point in walking down the street during a rain storm, and it’s not because you’ll get wet. It’s more likely that you’ll have an eye poked out. Umbrellas are held low, on angles, and generally at eye level on crowded streets. Furthermore, most folks are too busy looking at their phones to care about who is in front of them or behind them.
3. Bureaucracy and Following Rules
As business owners in Taiwan, this is probably one of the most frustrating aspects of life in Taiwan for us.
Dealing with banks in Taiwan is nothing short of a labor of love. It doesn’t matter if we go in with our company chop, bank books, permanent residence cards, passports, and a bunch of utility bills to prove our identities. We still end up waiting for ages while they patiently photocopy all the documents mentioned above, even though all those documents have already been photocopied and saved a million times before!
Despite the fact that we earned our permanent residency several years ago, not to mention that we employ local Taiwanese workers and pay our taxes diligently, we are still treated like outsiders in Taiwan.
Why do banks need to collect all of this documentation over and over all?
Because these are the rules!
What is the point of photocopying everything again when the teller already has a book of your photocopies open on the desk in front of her?
Because these the rules!
God forbid if you’re missing one of those above-mentioned documents. You might as well give up and go home. Come back another day, and make sure you’ve got everything. Ni mingbai ma?
This doesn’t just happen with banks though. It also happens at hospitals, tax offices, visa offices, and the like.
They’re called sidewalks for a reason. Sidewalks are meant to be walked on. They’re not for parking your scooter or your car, they’re not where you set up your family carwash; they’re not where you keep your outdoor patio set, where you park your food cart, or where you should set up your kid’s baby pool!
Further to this, sidewalks are supposed to be straight and flat. They shouldn’t involve a hodgepodge of steps and planks, and they should be kept clean.
5. Cake and Bread
Cake in Taiwan = WRONG. Taiwanese cakes often have the taste and consistency of cardboard, and most of them also have a thick layer or two of pudding too. I’s not the soft, velvety pudding like we get in North America, though. No, this pudding has a hard, gelatin-consistency to it. It’s just weird.
With that said, there are a growing number of bakeries in Taiwan that are starting to get cake right, and cupcake shops in Taiwan are really starting to take off, which really makes me happy. (VVG and Black as Chocolate offer great cakes, and the ice cream cakes at Cold Stone Creamery are also pretty good!)
Bread in Taiwan is usually sweet and it’s generally stuffed with things like red bean paste and pork floss. To make matters worse, you can pick up a perfectly wonderful looking loaf of what looks like French bread only to get it home and discover it’s filled with sweet mayonnaise and green onions. Blech.
6. Private English Schools
There are good schools in Taiwan, but this post isn’t about the good schools or improvements that I’ve noticed in Taiwan’s private school system over the past years. Nope, this is about three things that REALLY drive me crazy about private English schools in Taiwan.
1. There are loads of private schools in Taiwan, for instance, that don’t care that their text books were published in the 80s and haven’t been changed or updated since.
2. Teachers are not given enough time to make an impact with their students because they’re too busy trying to cram everything into their classes to ensure students receiving a passing grade. A great number of private schools in Taiwan have a pass rate of 80-85%.
3. Lack of organization and communication seem to be the norm at most private schools in Taiwan.
4. School managers. Oops, that’s four, which kind of leads me to my next point…
7. Taiwanese managers
Most Taiwanese managers seem really tough to work for. They’re overworked, underpaid, and many of them don’t receive proper training or support. They’re also expected to work ridiculous hours, and they don’t often have any kind of cultural understanding of their foreign staff. (Not that any of this is their fault.)
That is a massive generalization to make, I know, but I bet there are quite a few of you reading this article right now and nodding your head in agreement. (I’m sure many of you who are agreeing with me right now would probably also agree that lots of people come to Taiwan without having any cultural understanding of the work culture in Taiwan. It goes both ways.)
I know some really great people in management that are just awful people to work with because of the stress their bosses put them under. Furthermore, the norm here is to ‘take it’ and not ask for more. The harder you work, the more work you get. It’s a no-win situation.
Now that I think about it, this is management in general.
8. Heating and Air Conditioning
There is no such thing as central indoor heating in Taiwan, and since most buildings are made out of cement, it’s often colder inside than outside during winter months. Let’s not forget about the humidity in Taiwan, which makes for a cold, damp winter all around.
“In general, winter in Taiwan pretty much sucks,” says the Canadian (me).
To make matters worse, many companies and schools run the air conditioning full blast throughout the winter. This means that you have to commit to full work days dressed in your winter coat with hats, mitts and scarf, and a blanket to avoid getting sick.
Winter in Taiwan (to me) means staying bundled up next to an electric heater and dancing around in the cold when you shower or get out of bed in the morning. On the plus side, winter means hot spring season! (OH YEAH!)
9. Traffic and Safety
Does anyone actually follow traffic rules in Taiwan? Considering that most drivers pay no attention to anything when they’re out on the road, you’d be surprised by the number of parents who drive their kids around on scooters with no helmets. It still blows my mind every time I see it.
10. Credit Cards
One really annoying aspect of living in Taiwan is not being able to get a local credit card (not that I want one). We used to get approached by those Costco credit card folks every time we shopped there, but they don’t bother us anymore.
Post amendment (October 31, 2014) – Apparently Standard Chartered banks in Taiwan offer credit cards to expats in Taiwan. I’m not sure what the application process is like, but if it’s anything like what I’ve outlined in Point 3, make sure you take EVERYTHING with you when you go to apply for one.
When we set up our business in Taiwan, we wondered if we should get a local card then, but that’s when we were told that the only way we could get a credit card was through the business. The bank would not issue personal credit cards to us, and so we decided we weren’t going to get local cards at all.
I’ve heard from friends who have married locally that you can get a credit card if your Taiwanese spouse acts as a co-signer, but then you might have to wait for your spouse to approve your credit transactions.
This makes absolutely no sense to me. For one, expats in Taiwan tend to make good money, so the excuse that we can’t pay our bills doesn’t fly. We’ve also been told that we’re a flight risk. I don’t know how eight years in Taiwan equals a flight risk, but I stopped trying to figure out how these things work ages ago. Now I just like to bitch about it.
So that’s it, folks. This is my list of 10 things that Taiwan does wrong. Can you think of any that you’d like to add?