Curious Things About Life in Taipei

This guest blog is by Ava Apollo. When she’s not writing for MSW, she’s blogging about adventure travel at  

After attending University, I thought I’d pick up and move East.  No, not to New York City nor to Miami.  I’m talking far East.

I fancied myself a clever, smart, well-educated young girl at the time, so of course I’d have no problem flying to Taipei with no plans and just figuring sh*t out, right?


Now, moving to any new country takes a bit of getting used to for anyone.  I probably would have done myself a huge favor by actually researching a bit before getting to the island.  But, hey, since I’m the test dummy here, let my crash course serve as your study sheet should you ever plan to move to or simply visit Taipei.

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The following are my top most interesting discoveries upon making Taipei my home:

Is That an Ice Cream Truck?

Growing up, the sound of a monotone children’s song getting louder as it cruised down my suburban street was cause for celebration.  The ice cream man was coming!

Imagine my surprise when I heard this song outside my window in my little flat in Taipei!  Crazy, right?  The ice cream man comes in Taipei too.  Or so I thought.  Luckily, I had a local roommate who was used to having foreigners (yours truly) living with her, so she gently explained to me that it was actually the garbage truck that I was hearing.

Yes, the garbage truck plays monotone children’s tunes.

It does this because in Taiwan, there are certain days the trash man comes around, and you had better be ready for him with everything sorted and ready to go.  One can’t simply jumble everything together.  Everything must be sorted with foods, recyclables, and all else in separate, paid bags bought from 7-11 (which serves as the trash bill). Masses of people congregate on trash night waiting to hear this tune, so that they can give their trash to the trash man, and then go on their merry ways.

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Take a Number

Waiting in line is frustrating.  People always cut, save spots, push and shove.

This is not a problem in Taipei, where you simply take a number.  Lucky for us, they’ve extended this concept beyond ice cream stores. The visa office, bank, coffee shop, and many other places that are notorious for long lines are simplified.  Even better, numbers are universal, so one need not know Chinese perfectly in order to make sense of one’s spot in line.

Hi, I’m Foreign

Given my lanky, light brown haired, pretty-obviously-not-Asian looks, I was stared at quite a bit and heard “Wai-guo ren!” (foreigner) quite a lot as well – particularly at first.

I guess I can blame that on the fish-out-of-water aura I must have been exuding.

Initially, I took this all as a bit of an insult.  Of course, the word “foreigner” carries a lot more negative stigma to me, since I grew up in a place where such a word is more commonly used in a derogatory way.

I came to learn that in Taiwan, the the word “foreigner” is meant more as “guest”.  So that’s how I’d suggest taking the label.

You’re a guest at a fabulous party called Taipei, where there’s always something to do, something to eat, and people to see.

I stuck out as much as this guy (yes I randomly saw him walking down the street in Taipei - awesome.)

Umbrellas Everywhere!

I had to add this in after a conversation with a confused Canadian friend of mine in Taipei.  When he first moved there, he thought the umbrellas outside of shops were just there for the taking.  Each time he left a convenience store, if we was met with rain, (which is almost daily.  We’re talking about a tropical island here, you guys) he’d just grab an umbrella as he saw fit.

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I just about died laughing after explaining to him that there was no communist umbrella-sharing program in Taiwan.  Homeboy was stealing without even realizing it.

So, what I thought didn’t even need to be said clearly does need to be said: buy your own umbrella in Taiwan, folks.

I Can Do That at 7-11?!

7-11 at home is good for two things: buying expensive beer and buying expensive candy.  But in Taipei?  It’s used to pay bills, conduct transactions of monies, buy yummy tea eggs, and even those neat trash bags I explained in point number one.

How novel!

I Might Die in This Cab

Lastly, I’d like to touch on the scary, scary experience that is riding in a Taiwanese taxicab.  In a big city where vespas rule the road, painted lines on the street don’t seem to matter, and alleyways are barely big enough for two people to walk through, let alone a car, one can imagine that riding in cabs might be a terrifying experience.

A cheap one, but still terrifying.

Use the mass rapid transit system instead, folks.  It has won awards, and rightly so.

Or your feet.  Those work too.

Have some discoveries of your own?  Comment below, or tweet me, and we’ll share.

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3 thoughts on “Curious Things About Life in Taipei


    (September 28, 2010 - 9:22 am)

    Did you really move to a foreign country without any plan? Wow, that’s… brave 🙂

    Ava Apollo

    (September 28, 2010 - 3:31 pm)

    Slava, I booked a hotel room for three days when I got there. That was my time frame for finding a place to live and figuring everything out. I wouldn’t recommend going that route, however. It was just a little on the stressful side!

    Fred Reddy

    (September 28, 2010 - 11:59 pm)

    OMG, the trash truck song! I had the EXACT same experience when I visited Taiwan for the first time. I asked my friend, “Who buys ice cream at 7:00p.m.?”. He just stared at me and laughed.

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