Monday, 29 April 2013

Adjusting to Life in Taiwan

I met a compatriot the other day (hello Peter! if you're reading this) who reminded me of a post I wrote what feels like a long time ago now, about my son's attitude to living in Taiwan. This got me thinking about how we've adjusted to life here - what's better, worse, or different from living in the UK, and about our general day-to-day life.

In many ways we have things easy compared to other expats. Neither I nor my husband work for Taiwanese companies and we're married to fellow Westerners, so we're never in a position where we're forced to endure culture shock. If living in another culture ever gets too much, we can just stay home, watch an English language film and indulge in some Western junk food. We can step in and out of life in Taiwan whenever we choose.

We're also lucky to have some lovely Taiwanese friends who are always more than willing to help us with any difficulties we have due to language barriers. I'm looking forward to going on some trips with them over the holiday season. As well as the pleasure of travelling with friends, local people often know much more about an area than is obvious to strangers. In particular, food! I've had so many varied, interesting and delicious meals with friends. They've allowed me access to the great Taiwanese tradition of large groups of friends and relatives sitting down together to dine on numerous dishes of well-cooked, fresh and tasty local produce.

Daily life has settled into a comfortable and pleasant rhythm. Our son's school is five minutes' walk away and the free sports centre with swimming pool is even closer. And, as I find myself telling everyone I meet, a well-stocked supermarket makes up the first floor of our apartment block. This has made us incredibly lazy, and we squabble about whose turn it is to take the 30 second trip in the elevator to buy cat food. I often go for breakfast at the local shop around the corner, where the owner makes me the off-menu green tea he knows I like and my standard breakfast meal of dangao (a kind of pancake with an egg in it). I'm supposed to practise reading Chinese but I spend more time watching the world go by.

Moving from a large village in the UK to a metropolis has brought predictable differences to our lives. Many places, such as museums and restaurants, are a lot more accessible via very cheap public transport. We have no car here because we haven't felt the need for one. Where there isn't a bus or train, we can take a taxi cheaply. On the other hand, life is definitely noisier and, in the inner city, the air is more polluted. The greatest pleasure I've found from moving here is peculiar to Taipei - there aren't many cities in the world where long mountain walks in cool, green shade begin on your doorstep.

Although in many ways our lives are different, some things are constant. We have each other, our cats and our daily habits. These haven't altered significantly from the UK, although our son definitely spends more time on homework than he would back home. (A time commitment that will only increase over the next few years.) I think we expected to be more influenced in by Taiwanese culture in what we eat and do, but instead we seem to have found a balance where we're comfortable.

The worst thing about living in Taiwan is nothing whatsoever to do with Taiwan or Taiwanese culture: it's missing family and friends, a feeling that definitely worsens as time goes by. Skype, Facebook and emails make contact easy these days, but it isn't the same as seeing people face to face. To a certain extent, we make up for this with new friends here, both Taiwanese and fellow expats, such as the great gang over at Parents Place in Neihu and the disparate crowd on Forumosa. But we still miss old friends and relations very much.

Life goes on. Due to a number of different factors, including our privileged position, the extreme convenience of Taipei-living and the warmth and friendliness of Taiwanese people, adjusting to living in Taiwan hasn't felt like much of an adjustment at all. I'm looking forward to our next few years here, and I expect what passes for normality in this house to continue.

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