Studying Mandarin Chinese in Taipei, Taiwan
Life in Taipei is easy – the cost of living is really inexpensive, delicious food is around every corner, and public transportation is convenient. The Taiwanese people are very friendly to foreigners and if you can speak some Chinese, they are eager to help you learn and tell you all about Taiwan. The downside of Taipei living is the extreme summertime heat. Geographically, Taipei sits in a basin surrounded by mountains and humidity tends to get trapped there, leading the locals to complain about being “Xiaolongbao” (steamed dumplings) all summer. Relief from the 97 degree 100 percent humidity days comes from summer typhoons. Strong winds and rain push the accumulated heat, humidity, and pollution out of Taipei and Taiwan’s pre-typhoon skies make for the most cool, clear, and beautiful summer days.
Biggest lesson you took away from this experience?
In the Security Studies Program we study history’s greatest strategic thinkers, debate what makes wars just, examine the fine lines of deterrence, analyze America’s role in a post-Cold War world, come to grips with the fact that most of our questions don’t really have answers and form conclusions that will shape our personal views on security issues for the rest of our careers. For me, being in Taiwan has put a face (many faces) on the often nebulous concept of East Asian security and the ability American has to shape this fluid environment. After talking to many Taiwanese, for who the island’s security issues are ever present and widely discussed, I have a much clearer picture of what is expected from the U.S. from our democratic allies in the region. I have gained insight I could never have learned from a book or in the classroom and the human element of the security decisions America has to make in East Asia have come alive for me.
Two interesting things the average person doesn’t know.
In Taiwan, trash collection is an epic, daily ordeal. By law, you must sort your trash into recycling, regular trash, and food waste and buy special bags issued by the government in order to have your trash collected. In order to force population compliance on this issue, there are no trash dumpsters and very few public trashcans. The trash collection truck comes to your neighborhood 5 nights a week, two times a night, and announces its arrival by playing an interesting version of Fur Elise. When people hear the music they come pouring out onto the street to throw their trash bags onto the truck- it is one of the stranger things I have witnessed here.
Many Taiwanese people have more than five umbrellas at home. I have some friends who tell me that they have more than a dozen. They are so useful here, I have already accumulated three myself. Women use them when it’s extra sunny out and everyone uses them for the 4-5 times a week summer afternoon downpours. If they happen to forget to bring their umbrella with them in the morning, it’s very common to see Taiwanese in convenience stores debating whether to buy their eighth umbrella or wait inside until the rain stops.
Show us a picture of your favorite meal. What is it?
When people think of Taiwan, the first foods that come to mind are probably bubble tea and stinky tofu (the former being much more appetizing than the latter to this foreigner). But, my favorite Taiwanese meal is Beef Noodles. Though I make it a habit to never eat hot foods when it’s above 100 degrees outside, I have eaten countless bowls of piping hot Beef Noodles. I never regret sweating my way through a bowl of these noodles.