When my younger sister was very young, she had a couple of imaginary friends who lived in the front closet and she named them Shawn and Mindy. Many years later, I now have an “imaginary fan” named “Jennifer”. She sent me an email a few days ago from the closet (Wow! Someone actually reads this stuff?) with questions about moving to Taiwan. My imaginary fan is an American woman planning to start over in Taiwan in the next few years and her questions made me realize that there may be other “imaginary fans” in a closet who have the same “Why Taiwan?” questions.
When I left the US to start over somewhere in Asia, Taiwan was not even a consideration. I had never been to Taiwan and knew nothing about it. My first choice, Vietnam, was great for a few months. It allowed me to volunteer teaching English while I did my online TEFL course, but I didn’t want to stay longer. Korea was also an option, until I found out I was too old. Then I spent 6 weeks floating around Thailand, wondering “Maybe Thailand?”
I briefly considered China, until my good friend Jossda (born in Hong Kong) told me to forget that stupid idea and suggested Taiwan or Hong Kong instead. So I began asking the question “Why Taiwan?”
The first good reason I found – jobs teaching English to adults. After my experience teaching kids in Vietnam, the idea of teaching adults sounded appealing. I applied for an “adults” job, had a Skype interview and was hired immediately. In the interview my new boss explained “we like to hire mature people with life experience.” Mature? Ummm…not really, but I’ve definitely got the life experience! And after the age discrimination I faced in Korea, her perspective was a welcome change!
So, for “Jennifer” and others who may be asking “Why Taiwan?”… here’s why:
1.) Sinus infection? Broken finger? No problem! (Great medical care.)
A few months after I arrived in Taiwan, I got an ugly sinus infection. I have a health insurance card so I stopped by a local clinic to get some medication. I waited just a few minutes, got in to see the doctor, explained my diagnosis and requested some drugs. He listened patiently and then said (in perfect English), “Well, this is an orthopedic clinic, like broken bones and stuff. You need a different clinic for your problem.” When I looked disappointed, he continued…”but that’s OK. I’ve got some antibiotics. Here you go.” So simple! Even though I was too ignorant to go to the right clinic!
(A friend of mine once accidentally went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat clinic for hemorrhoids. I felt better after hearing his humiliating story…)
Taiwan’s health care system is among the highest-rated in the world and National Health Insurance (NHI) is a requirement. My employer provides coverage and I pay only $29/month for my share of full medical / dental coverage.
A few months later I went back to that orthopedic guy – this time with a possible broken finger. I waited for about 3 minutes to see the doctor, had a consultation, got an x-ray and the results, and was out the door in about 10 minutes. Total cost: $150NTD ($5USD). American medicine could learn a few things from the Taiwanese!
2.) Paying too much for housing and cell phone? Not here! (Low cost of living.)
Salaries for English Teachers in Taiwan are a bit lower than Japan or Korea, but the cost of living in Taiwan is also much lower. I rent a beautiful, fully-furnished apartment for just $10,000NTD per month (a little over $300USD), on the edge of town and just minutes from work. My monthly cell phone bill is about $24USD, a huge savings over the ridiculous $103USD I was paying in the US. I drive a scooter and can fill up my gas tank for $100NTD (about $3USD), which gets me through a week.
3.) Need a hug? (Friendly people.)
Taiwanese people are just so nice! Although Taiwan and China have a shared history and a common language, the people are drastically different. Taiwanese people often refer to the Chinese tourists as “China people”, emphasizing the big difference between people of Chinese descent and those from mainland China, who often lack basic manners. The Taiwanese truly are very kind and welcoming to foreigners – although they’re really not big on hugging.
4.) Hungry? Food is an obsession here! (Amazing food.)
Many articles have been written recently, touting the wonderful Taiwanese food. Although I was a little slow to embrace the food in Taiwan, it’s grown on me and I’ve finally learned to understand the Taiwanese food obsession. The food is a mixture of Chinese, Japanese, Singaporean, and also includes indigenous Hakka flavors. (I’m still exploring this topic and will be doing a “research trip” to Tainan soon!)
5.) Wanderluster? (Easy travel.)
In recent years, the number of low-cost airlines flying out of Taipei has increased dramatically. Taiwan is centrally located within Asia, a 4-5 hour flight from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, and other interesting places. Low cost airlines like Air Asia, Scoot, NOK Air, V Air, and Tiger Air provide cheap and convenient flights all over Asia making it very easy to wander around.
6.) Need some nature? You’ll find it here! (Nature therapy.)
After three months living in the urban chaos of Hanoi, I craved some quiet. When I started asking “Why Taiwan?”, I briefly considered Taipei but thought it might be a little too busy. I’ve settled in Hsinchu, a smaller city located just minutes from the mountains, an area great for scooter rides along quiet mountain roads. This island is stunningly beautiful with great hiking, hot springs, and beautiful beaches on the southern coast.
7.) Like variety? (Modern mix.)
Taiwan offers a good balance of modern convenience sprinkled with traditional Chinese flavoring. Taipei is a very modern city with impressive museums and urban nightlife. Hsinchu is less urban yet has many of the conveniences, except the metro and some of the wild nightlife. In contrast, smaller villages like Jiu Fen or Beipu feel like ancient Chinese villages with old temples and traditional markets. It’s a nice mix of old and new and always interesting.
8.) Got a creepy stalker? Always looking over your shoulder? Not here! (Safety.)
With the possible exception of driving a scooter during rush hour, Taiwan is a very safe country. Guns are illegal, there is very little crime, and Taiwan is often ranked among the safest countries in the world. My next door neighbor is from South Africa and left there to escape the escalating crime in his home country. I often go for long walks at night, never looking over my shoulder, feeling very safe.
9.) Not qualified to do anything else? Try teaching English! (Job market.)
Before moving to Taiwan I had very little teaching experience – only 3 months volunteering in Hanoi. While doing my volunteer gig, I spent time completing an online TEFL certification class. It was a good mix of “book learning” and real life, trying stuff out on the Hanoi High School students, so I had much more confidence going into a real classroom. It also allowed me to get over my serious fear of public speaking.
When I started in Taiwan, I taught both kids classes and adult Business English classes. It quickly became clear that I’m not a “kid person” and luckily (for the kids!) I now teach only adults – a mixture of general conversation classes and more specific business English classes. And since Hsinchu is considered the “Silicon Valley” of Taiwan, English teachers are in high demand, especially “mature” teachers with life experience!
So, for Jennifer or anyone else considering making a drastic move in life, take a chance on Taiwan. You’ll be warmly welcomed, well-fed and well-paid, and safe from creepy stalkers. One final tip: if you do come down with any “personal” medical issues, don’t be shy; ask a Taiwanese person for directions to the right clinic!
Any other questions? Feel free to ask!