Most Common Questions a Foreigner Might Ask in Taiwan

So one of the newspapers ran a list of top questions a foreigner might ask in Taiwan, and as this type of bullshit generally rolls down hill, the other day my boss asked me to write a bunch of answers – which I did, without comment or complaint.

A few of the questions were in the ballpark of reality; however, most of them were queer, as in, odd. For instance, never at any time during my eight years in this country have I ever even considered asking someone if there was any “delicious food around here.”

Anyway, the list came back to me today for proofreading, which was the point where I turned to my boss and said, “Where the fuck did you get these questions?” He replied that they came from a newspaper; he didn’t say which one. Then he asked, “Why, are they…?” The ellipsis being rhetorical…

Rather than launch into any sort of deferential commentary, I said, “Look, the first question a motherfucker is going to ask when he rolls off the plane is: ‘Where can I buy a SIM card for my cell phone?’ He’s probably going to need some cash, so he’ll be looking for a currency exchange. He’ll want to know which bus goes to Taipei Main Station. How much is a taxi to Taipei City?” E-T-C.

I can’t say with certainty because I don’t know your life, but I’d be willing to bet that most of you have never asked, “What can I do if I lose something?” I’m even more confident the statement would be more like, “Jesus fuck! I think I left my cell phone in that taxi. What now?”

All of the typical foreigner questions are going to be explicitly practical – and 99% are readily answered by Lonely Planet, et al. Moreover, you might need to ask where the bathroom is, but you’re far more likely to ask if a place has a goddamn bathroom. Or more specifically, one might be inclined to ask why there is a trash bin full of wadded up, festering shit tickets next to the toilet? Don’t people know how to flush around here?

So I started thinking about all the questions I was asking when I first arrived. I remember asking a lot of people to write shit down in Chinese for me, particularly addresses, which was helpful until I learned how to speak Taxicab Mandarin. I probably asked if anybody spoke English a hundred times – it was actually one of the first phrases I learned in Mandarin. The SIM card question, of course, and I would reckon that the majority of my questions started with, “Could you [do something] for me?” And I know I once approached a cop on the street with a beer in my paw and asked, “Are you sure it’s alright for me to be drinking this right here?”

Otherwise, I didn’t have a lot of questions that I couldn’t figure out on my own. Where’s a fucking night market? Look at a map, asshole. Where is the nearest bus stop? Come on! No disrespect to the visually-impaired, but you gotta be fucking blind not to see the bus stops.

Now, there was this one time on Tonghua Street when I was approached by a couple of Dutch tourists who asked where the MRT station was; but they were fucking lost. Like, holding the map upside-down lost. And that’s totally understandable in this ramshackle, caddy-whompus town. Remember the first time you looked at an MRT map and saw the North arrow pointing toward the floor? I had one question. “What the fuck is wrong with these people?”

The foreigner question deal dredged up some long-neglected feelings and thoughts. First of all, there’s a reason most Taiwanese think all foreigners are completely retarded. If these are the types of questions they think we ask, then it’s true: We’re fucking stupid. Of course, I’m generalizing. There are a lot of foreigners who come here on business for a couple of nights and they don’t know the first fucking thing about the joint. They roll out of the Far Eastern Shangri-la in their pressed denim and long-sleeved shirts in the middle of July like children left alone in a chemical factory. Everything about them screams, “I have no idea where I am, and quite frankly, I’m a bit overwhelmed. Thank God the hotel concierge recommended Carnegie’s!”

Anyway, thanks for sloughing through all of that to get to this – the audience participation segment of the program.

My question(s) to the peanut gallery is (are): What questions did you ask upon arrival in Taiwan? What do you think are the most common questions a foreigner might ask?

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Why is there a hole in the bathroom where the toilet should be?

Common Questions

In Taipei for (insert time interval), what should I do?
Visiting and going around Taiwan for 7-10 days in (insert month),
is that enough time to see all sights? What should I pack?
How do I buy a train ticket online?
Cockroaches can fly?!?!?!?!?!?

How this lunar calendar thing works?
Do I really need to learn how to use chopsticks?
Is it possible for a foreigner to drive in Taiwan?
What if I don’t want to teach English?
Where can I get a Easy Card?

Where are the trash cans?

Which banks ATMs can withdraw cash from using my foreign visa card?

Where is the nearest toilet?

I would think that "How I do I get to “… would be a common one.
How do I use the bus?”
Where can I exchange money after leaving the airport?
Where is a good beach in Taiwan?
Where can I buy over the counter medicine?
What do I do if I need to see a doctor?
Why did that scooter almost hit me?

[quote=“GooseEgg, post:2, topic:154561, full:true”] Why is there a hole in the bathroom where the toilet should be?
[/quote]

That’s old school crocodile. I have one buddy who was here during the “Why are there numerous dead bodies in the Tamsui River?” era. Another claims to have visited in the early 80s when the streets were open sewers. Taipei has certainly come a long way since then.

I think you covered most of the most commonly asked questions, but some other ones that I get are:

  • In Taipei for (insert time interval), what should I do?

  • Visiting and going around Taiwan for 7-10 days in (insert month), is that enough time to see all sights? What should I pack?

  • How do I buy a train ticket online?

  • Cockroaches can fly?!?!?!?!?!?

All of those except the last one would be best asked in an online forum such as this one, and probably not something I would ask a local. I would certainly ask you those questions though. I don’t even know you and I trust you more than some kid on the street. Anyway, buying the train ticket online almost requires the assistance of a local, so that’s actually a good one. On that tip, “How the fuck does this iBon fucker work and why doesn’t it accept my ARC or passport number as a suitable identifier so I can print out the ticket I just bought online?”

Two I hear a lot are

"What the hell is super_lucky’s avvie any ways?

and

“Has that GooseEgg fella always been so devilishly handsome??”

I only know the answer to one, but I ain’t saying which.

Where are the trash cans?

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Which banks ATMs can withdraw cash from using my foreign visa card?

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I have been here almost 20 years. I have been unable to perform task number 3 by myself.

Same for friggin ibon and company.

I had a friend that had been here for 12 years and also cannot operate or knows how to buy a ticket online through the TRA website. I ended up helping him with booking AND picking up at via ibon. They really should get an English version on those kiosks.

Chinese is not that much of a challenge. It is the out of order steps, they keep messing up with me. Very not intuitive/logical/user friendly.

I mean, after you go to the station to pick up the tickets at the machine, you still have to go to te counter it says. Can’t remember what for. All messed up. And I can speak Chinese, I always wonder what people who can’t read nor speak do in that kind of situation. Sit down and weep?

Stay home.

How this lunar calendar thing works?
Do I really need to learn how to use chopsticks?
Is it possible for a foreigner to drive in Taiwan?
What if I don’t want to teach english?
Where can I get a Easy Card?

I was thinking more like this: where just the questions are posted here so a new reader to this topic can quickly scan for a question.

This way people can jump down if they are interested in reading the questions (and answers?). Or the post with the question might have a Continuation Link to a new topic that discusses that question in more depth

Got it!
I guess we should start writing some answers then :smile:

Wouldn’t it be odd to reply and answer your own question though? Haha :smile:

I can imagine that. But I can also imagine that for many of us who have been here a while, we asked the question (when we first arrived) and we learned the answers (often the hard way)

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Maybe we can make a Taiwan FAQ.:stuck_out_tongue:

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How this lunar calendar thing works?
Lunar calendar lets us know some holiday or birthday correctly.

Do I really need to learn how to use chopsticks?
I don’t think so. There is always fork and spoon.

Is it possible for a foreigner to drive in Taiwan?
Yes.

What if I don’t want to teach english?
I think you can run a restaurant or something, not sure.

Where can I get a Easy Card?
MRT Station.