Most Common Questions a Foreigner Might Ask in Taiwan

Where are the trash cans?
Home, or some streets walkway, restrooms.

I think some of those answers need vetting

my mum recently came here for a holiday so i defiantly got a bit of a newbie perspective.

the first thing seems to be where are the rubbish bins? this really made taiwan seem like some backwater retard country, especially when we were walking around danshui which has some night markety streets and there are literally piles of rubbish and shit on the streets because nobody put any bins there. we eventually found one after moving a street away from the river and it was overflowing with trash. its a joke.

toilets were another one. i kind of know to look in 7 11’s and temples to find them but i guess most new people won’t know this.

other than that i noticed that taiwan has a lot more tourists than i first realised. they really need to add more english. even for other asian tourists english is going to be more commonly used than chinese, other than with mainlanders but they are less numerous now.

the MRT map rotation is indeed dumbassery to the fullest.

I think some of those answers need vetting

such as?

If you’re saying the map inside the MRT (usually before the turnstiles) that shows what’s around the station and doesn’t point north, there’s a thread about that somewhere. Some of us also think it’s stupid.

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[quote=“ulaiwan, post:20, topic:154561, full:true”]
How this lunar calendar thing works?
Lunar calendar lets us know some holiday or birthday correctly.[/quote]

That’s not an answer

[quote=“ulaiwan, post:20, topic:154561, full:true”]
Do I really need to learn how to use chopsticks?
I don’t think so. There is always fork and spoon.[/quote]

There are hundreds of places where they don’t have Western cutlery. I suppose some of them have spoons for people with babies.

As for the public garbage facilities, perhaps it would be helpful to explain why there are so few.

I think some people are confusing ignorance with stupidity. We do have calendars in our strange barbarian lands and we’re already aware of the eating irons as an alternative to chopsticks. Admittedly some of these are difficult to answer with one-line but some of the answers border on facetious.

Also, with the toilet thing, it’s not like tourists are walking around assuming that Taiwan is a place with very few toilets. It’s more that they’re not aware that it’s perfectly acceptable to use the toilets in the places you’ve listed and that no-one’s really going to bat an eyelid about it. Where I’m from it’s not really the done thing to walk off the street into a convenience store (and most convenience stores wouldn’t have them anyway), restaurant or hotel lobby and use their facilities. A fast food place…maybe…if it’s busy you’d try and get away with it. Department stores are fine, I guess places where there’s more anonymity are ok. Of course some people have no qualms at all about it but for a lot of people they’d prefer not to risk the embarrassment of being frowned at and tutted at by someone.

The OP mentioned that there’s a bit of a disconnect between the sort of questions that foreigners are likely to ask and the questions that Taiwanese people would generally expect them to ask. If you reversed the situation and did the same exercise about Taiwanese people going to US or Europe for example then there would probably be a similar disconnect. This sort of comes through with the answers as well. I find that sometimes I ask Taiwanese people simple questions and get (what I think are) very strange elliptical answers, other times when I’m asking a question trying to understand something a bit more complex I get a straightforward answer delivered in a slow and patient way as though I’m a complete moron.

I think that to give decent answers you need to understand or think about why foreigners might be asking them. In some cases that might mean simply giving foreigners the facts but in a lot of cases it’s going to be more of an explanation of some (for example) social convention that’s different from where they come from but, once they understand it, will help them get by.

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Very much so.
Good point about the public/non-public facilities, considering that in lots and lots of places in N. America you have to get the key to use the bog in Starbuck’s

or even worse, in london you need to pay basically everywhere to use the toilet.

i’ve never used restaurants, hotels or fast food places for the toilets. it might be ok to do so here but i would rather not if i am not eating there. i know taiwanese don’t really give a flying fuck about this sort of thing. while i was in starbucks a couple of weeks ago i saw a teenager come in, buy nothing, watch some things on his phone with his hand down his pants then leave like half an hour later. i would rather not contribute to this sort of behaviour, i find it pretty annoying and antisocial.
department stores and MRT stations go without saying. but the convenience shops and temples are definitely something unknown for newbs. the fact that places don’t always have toilet paper is another detail i think is worth knowing for noobies too.

some night markets do have bins, i was quite surprised than there were none at danshui. there is no excuse for it. there is no excuse for the lack of bins everywhere infact.

Yes, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit Taiwan!

Perhaps the question may be, “Is it OK to use your bathroom?” or “May I use your restroom?” And it may be applicable in places where you’re not a customer, for instance a random hotel.

Using the material posted by @ranlee

Most convenient stores - This is becoming increasingly common, though not ubiquitous. What I would want people to know is you don’t have to ask. Look for the red or green indicator on the door.

Most restaurants and even hole in the walls may have them - Here’s where you ask, particularly if you’re not a customer.

Every fast food restaurant - Don’t even ask. Walk in like you own the joint.

Every MRT station - True, but in some places, the bathrooms are behind the fare gate. Rare, but I’ve seen it recently on the burnt orange line.

Every department store - Same as fast food joint.

Every major tourist attraction - Should go without saying, but…

Every major park and riverside park - Ditto, but…are there permanent restrooms at Dajia Riverside Park? I remember Port-a-Potties.

Every hotel lobby - You gotta have a little bit on the ball for this one. At least look like you might be staying at the joint.

Also, it should be noted that it’s still perfectly acceptable for a male to duck back behind a bush or into the corner of an alley and take a piss, pretty much day or night. Someone might ask, “Hey, I just saw some dude pissing behind the blue truck. Is that OK?” Yeah, it is. Unfortunately…or fortunately, depending how you look at it.


Meanwhile, more questions:

Where can I buy some deodorant?
Answer: Watson’s or Cosmed. Wellcome, PX Mart, etc. are hit-or-miss. In fact, go to Watson’s for all your personal hygiene needs.

What’s with the fucking garbage trucks?
Answer: Click here [hypothetical link].

How do I sign up for/to use Ubike?
Answer: First, you need a cell number; then you need an Easy Card. After that, you can do it at the kiosk, right?

Do I really need to lock my Ubike?
Answer: I can’t imagine why you would, but yeah, probably.

Where can I find clothing and shoes in larger sizes?
Answer: Good question. Anybody know?

Where is it not OK to smoke?
Answer: Basically anywhere indoors you don’t see other people smoking.

Can I drink the tap water?
Answer: YMMV, but I do in very limited quantities, usually while brushing teeth. Local opinion is mixed.

Do buses stop at every stop?
Answer: Not always. If you want to get off, always hit the button.

Is there any public transportation after midnight?
Answer: I’m almost certain but not a hundred percent the answer is no. It’s taxi or private livery.

Do taxi drivers expect a tip. No, wait. Who am I supposed to tip?
Answer: AFAIK, nobody expects a tip in Taiwan. Taxi drivers appreciate it, but they don’t expect it. I dunno. Service charges at finer dining establishments pretty much make tipping obsolete in that arena. Foreigner bars, yeah, I guess.

OK, so these are the good beaches. How do I get there?
Answer: That depends, but you’re looking at one of three methods (or a combination thereof): bus, train, taxi (or private vehicle). Look at a map. Google it. Wear sunscreen if you’re on the pale end of the spectrum; sun is pretty fierce from May to October.

Can foreigners own pets?
Answer: Yes, but… How long you gonna be here, sport? And whatcha plan on doing with Spike the tabby cat when you leave?

Do I really need to learn Chinese to get along in Taiwan?
Answer: No, but your quality of life will rise exponentially with every word or phrase you learn. But be careful. There’s a threshold of acquisition; don’t get greedy. Just learn the shit you’re gonna need on a daily basis and tune out the rest. You’ll be better off. Meanwhile, it should go without saying that the further out of Taipei you may venture, the less English will be spoken.

Which of the high-profile tourist destinations in Taipei are actually worth a look-see?
Answer: That depends on you. I recommend you see all of them and formulate your own opinion.

Which hospital would you recommend?
Answer: NTU, Renai, and Cathay, but those are the only ones I know.

Will someone at the hospital speak English?
Answer: Sometimes yes; sometimes no.

Does my NHI cover dental work?
Answer: Mine does up to a certain point. Dunno about anybody else.

Is it common for people to be drinking Taiwan Beer on the sidewalk at 9:00 a.m.?
Answer: Only construction workers and foreigners who’ve long since given up the ghost.

I live in a high rise apartment building. Why are all the fire extinguishers in a hallway off the lobby?
Answer: This is one of those questions you’re better off (A) not asking and (B) not knowing the answer.

Does concrete burn?
Answer: Pretty much anything will burn if you put enough heat to it.

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[quote]Is there any public transportation after midnight?
Answer: I’m almost certain but not a hundred percent the answer is no. It’s taxi or private livery.[/quote].
Long-distance transport operates well after midnight. So if you’re coming into the airport at 2am, the chances are the buses are still running. MRT shuts down anywhere between 12:30 and 1ish, depending on where you’re going to or from.

[quote]Does concrete burn?
Answer: Pretty much anything will burn if you put enough heat to it.[/quote]
In a house fire, it fractures at the surface, with bits shooting off into the rooms. Don’t worry, the smoke will get you long before that happens.

The toilets thing (the fact that you can walk into pretty much anywhere and ask to use the toilet - or just use it and know that it won’t look like somebody just disemboweled a month-old corpse in there) is one of the things I really like about Taiwan. Not so much because it’s “convenient”, but because it says something about the people. In the UK, stores don’t let random strangers use the toilets because so many random strangers are either psychopaths, drug addicts, or idiots who have not yet been toilet-trained, and will perhaps lie on the floor and deliver a geyser of shit up the walls. Apparently, this happens almost never in Taiwan. Or perhaps they’re just really good at keeping the toilets clean. Either way, it seems to me that the quality and accessibility of public toilets is the hallmark of civilisation.

As for bins, it seems to me that people have (fairly recently) cottoned on to the idea that if there isn’t a bin nearby, you take your trash home. This definitely wasn’t the case 15 years ago, but I think the spotless streets speak for themselves. Taiwan does have street-cleaners, but not that many.

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[quote=“finley, post:32, topic:154561, full:true”]

[quote]Is there any public transportation after midnight?
Answer: I’m almost certain but not a hundred percent the answer is no. It’s taxi or private livery.[/quote].
Long-distance transport operates well after midnight. So if you’re coming into the airport at 2am, the chances are the buses are still running. MRT shuts down anywhere between 12:30 and 1ish, depending on where you’re going to or from.[/quote]

Correct. Kuo-Kuang 1819 to Taipei Main Station runs all night. But whatcha gonna do at Main Station at 3:00 a.m., right? Unless it’s “catch a late-night sleeper to Kaohsiung” - which I just pulled out of thin air; I don’t know if such a thing exists - you’re gonna be looking for a taxi.

Link to TPE bus schedules: http://www.taoyuan-airport.com/english/Buses/

Generally and comparatively speaking, the public facilities here are delightful. I think you’re right about diligence and cleanliness. Even the picnic pavilion on the free side of Fulong Beach has a dude who comes and cleans the toilets every day.

…And then you have that one local friend and you go to their pad and you’re mortified at what’s going on in their bathroom. Or work in an office environment with uni-sex bathrooms and a janitor who’s lazy as a bear. I have a private bathroom in the office that I’m pretty cool about letting people use for more advanced applications, but I have to constantly stay on top of it. And goddamn, there are a few people in this joint who - fuck - I cannot believe they’ve gotten this far in life without knowing the absolute basics of personal hygiene and common sense. And I’m not talking about not flushing toilet paper, either.

Here’s what I’ve found, based on trial and error, at various ATMs near me. Using a Visa debit card:

Gave me money

  1. Cathay United Bank - these are the ones in the Taipei MRT stations so probably most convenient for foreign tourists in Taipei/Xinbei
  2. Taipei Fubon Bank
  3. HSBC - these are few and far between though
  4. E.Sun Bank - in a Carrefour store and, although it worked, it only let me withdraw NT$1000 so is really not worth the transaction charge

Rejected

  1. First Bank - although this worked fine up until 6-months ago so perhaps this is just an issue for me/at my local branch
  2. China Trust
  3. Hua Nan Bank
  4. ATMs in the convenience stores 7-11, FamilyMart and HiLife

Compared to port-a-potties in the states, the ones scattered around Dajia are the Rolls Royce of port-a-potties.

I think Taipei City/New Taipei are slowly rolling out the Rolls Royce potties on the riverside parks and getting rid of those old grimey/nasty ones.

@super_lucky if I ever lose my memory and find myself stuck on this island, that FAQ/Q&A is what I will live by. Except I don’t need to know if concrete burns or not.

[quote=“ranlee, post:35, topic:154561, full:true”]
@super_lucky if I ever lose my memory and find myself stuck on this island, that FAQ/Q&A is what I will live by.[/quote]

Listen, that’s nothing.
You should have seen his stuff before he went away to the Army.
Since he came back, Colonel Tom only lets him do lousy Hollywood posts.

Afaik there are no public waste bins because people would dispose their household trash there.

Then you have a cockroach and rat breeding station instead of a waste bin for small items.
It would be expensive and a major hassle to keep it clean.

Of all things to moan about the public toilet situation is NOT one of them. Taiwan is fricking awesome compared to 99% of places out there. In some so called civilized countries they try and make you pay to pee!

As for the rubbish bins, yeah there is a lack of them but most streets are really clean these days. Interesting isn’t it?

I’m new here. Where can I make some friends?
Answer: Generally speaking, everywhere. Both locals and other foreigners alike; many of them may appear stern, sullen, hopeless, defeated, despondent, and dead from the inside out, but all you gotta do is approach them and give them a chance to be your pal. Seriously, it’s that easy. I’m not suggesting you walk up to just anybody on the street and ask for directions in English, even though a healthy number of people of will bend over backwards to get you headed where you’re going; I’m saying you need to be an opportunist, or at least be willing to make an effort, put yourself out a lil’ bit. There’s thread upon thread on this subject. FWIW, the people who ask this question tend to be people who had trouble finding or making friends where they’re from.

Are there particular places foreigners tend to congregate on a regular basis?
Answer: Yes. They’re called bars, gyms, universities, parks, beaches, festivals, restaurants, supermarkets, night markets, and shopping malls. To name but a few. For specifics, you must also be specific; that’s my rule.

I don’t have great social skills. Is there any other way to meet people besides leaving the safety of my 6-ping studio apartment in Wenshan?
Answer: I’m told people use the Internet to forge relationships. You could try that. No, seriously. It won’t be easy for you at first, but walking up to people and saying, “Hello, my name is Rocket. Can we be friends?” has worked for at least one cat I know.

I’mma stick around Taiwan for a while. What’s the best long-term cellular carrier?
Answer: Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Chunghua Telecom and FarEastone both get my $$$.

I’m not happy with the Internet service in my crib. Can I get my own hotspot?
Answer: Of course. FarEastone offers a 4G hotspot for NT$775 a month. It’s fast and reliable.

Is Taiwan safe?
Answer: From what? In terms of any type of crime that might affect the average foreigner, incredibly safe. Food, housing, infrastructure, utilities, and transportation – or just simply crossing the street? You’re rolling the fucking dice every day.

Is there anything I shouldn’t do – culturally or socially speaking – in Taiwan?
Answer: Try not to be a dick unless absolutely necessary. Don’t get visibly angry with a non-cooperative vendor; don’t push people out of the way in the night market; don’t talk to me like I’m on the other side of a bus terminal. Otherwise, you don’t have to worry about all the rubbish:
Chopsticks in rice bowls or what-have-you. As a foreigner, you get a free pass on just about everything. Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. DO NOT tell a local to go fuck themselves. That’s a major no-no. I repeat, with emphasis. DO NOT tell anybody to go fuck themselves. And no middle finger, either.

Is there anything in particular I should know about shopping in Taiwan, specifically Taipei?
Answer: Yeah, we kinda-sorta have this “street system”. Aside from the larger department stores we have “streets” or areas that feature almost nothing but one particular item. Off the top of my head, we got streets for shoes, wedding dresses, eyeglasses, jewelry, flowers, furniture, cameras, audio equipment, computers – an entire city block dedicated to cheap clothing from sweat shops. Where there is one bed linen vendor, there’s at least one more in the immediate vicinity. Ditto: luggage, sunglasses, etc.

The zipper on my jacket has come loose. Where can I get someone to fix it?
Answer: Go to the nearest dry cleaner, and just show it to them. They’ve got a tailor in the neighborhood who handles that shit.

I need a new pair of jeans, but it seems like everything is sold by waist-size and ignores the inseam. What gives?
Answer: When you buy the jeans, the clerk will measure you on the spot and tell you it’s 50NT to have their tailor adjust the cuff length. Done.

Can I have someone send me prescription medicine from overseas?
Answer: Hardcore gray area you’re walking into, pal. I’m not telling anybody how to live their lives, but I’m pretty sure if it gets stopped by customs, you gotta post up and answer some questions or something, I dunno.

Why are there unattended schoolchildren on the MRT at 11:30 p.m.?
Answer: Because the Taiwanese education system, that’s why.

Does anybody ever win any money in the receipt lottery?
Answer: All the fucking time. Listen, I’m NT$1,400 richer this month, thanks to a trio of receipts from May and June.

Hey, it looks like I won some dough in the receipt lottery. How can I collect it?
Answer: As the numbers are announced on the 25th, they don’t pay out until the 5th of the next month. So take thereceipt and your ARC (or passport) down to the post office. Go to the banking counter. They usually have an old lady posted up to help people with the fapiao deal, but extra-generally speaking, write your name, address, ARC number on the back of the receipt. Get paid. Or you could just click on this TEALIT link that walks you through the whole she-bang.

[Note: If collecting your winnings, make sure you have some coins on you. They pinch you for a couple of kuai on the backend. It was NT$5 on the $1,400, and IIRC, they got me for something like NT$18 when I hit the NT$4,000 (five digits, pretty sweet!.]

Why does it seem like all the other foreigners I see on the street are so damn unfriendly?
Answer: You’ve only been here how long, a week, and you’ve already noticed that? Right on. Look, the long-term expats – the crocodiles – are no longer rocking that Personal Asian Experience program. You might as well be in downtown Baltimore, you’re just another person to me. Do I smile at every average person I see on my way to the supermarket? No. Unless you’re clearly in need of assistance, or we meet at any one of the abovementioned foreigner-covergence zones, I see you, but I don’t.

What’s with the clerks giving me colorful stickers after purchases at convenience stores?
Answer: Oh, that. Collect a certain number of stickers and get some inane discount or toy.

Is it cheaper to eat out or cook at home?
Answer: People go round and round about this – ask a local, most will say “eat out” – but I’ve done both for extended periods of time, and I think it’s a wash. However, I’m only one person in Taipei. With my family at home in a different country, we save some dough by eating at home. When I’m here, I’ve got it down to a very manageable system – a routine. If you’re willing to put some effort into it, you’d probably save money by eating at home. Now, if you’re lazy, here’s what the average three-a-day will run you:

  • Breakfast: “Egg McMuffin” from local breakfast shop, includes iced coffee – NT$95
  • Early snack: Four bananas from local fruit vendor – NT$70-80 (Bananas are hella expensive these days)
  • Lunch: Soupy pasta garbage set meal from local joint with Italian name but the only dago in the joint is me – NT$150-220
  • Second snack: Two small tubs of yogurt from 7-11, orange-something flavor – NT$58; second iced coffee of the day – NT$45
  • Dinner: Lamb hotpot at local joint (includes tea) – NT$250

NO MORE FOOD FOR YOU, FATTY!
Now, you see, we’ve spent somewhere around NT$600-700, and the sweet nectar of alcohol has yet to touch our lips. Let’s say you’re six-pack-a-night type, that’s anywhere from NT$200 drinking Taiwan Shit Beer to almost NT$300 for aristocrats drinking Asahi. Let’s call it NT$30,000 a month to eat outside – no splurging, no late night snacks. If most reasonable people think they could do it for much less at home, including the booze, I think they’re right.

I love the weather, but goddamn, I’m sweating like a slave for eight months out of a year.
Answer: “Get used to it” doesn’t fly here. I wish I could help you.

Why don’t people know how to conduct themselves with consideration at the gym?
Answer: Consideration for others is not a priority in society.

What’s that smell?
Answer: Durian, stinky tofu, carbon emissions, incense, burning paper, antiquated plumbing system, status quo mediocrity as an art form, trash bin next to the toilet, fried fish, rancid oil, the local version of kimchi. You want something like mountain dew or fresh air, you’re in the wrong part of the world.

Do bars and clubs still get raided on a regular basis?
Answer: Probably.

How big of a deal is a DUI?
Answer: How big of a deal is lighting a match to a minimum of NT$40,000, not to mention possible contingencies not limited to license suspension, jail time, and maybe deportation? The key is to not drink and drive.

Why does the selection of random items vary from one Wellcome to the next three Wellcomes in a 500m radius? I mean, the Jasons Markets aren’t even consistent. Everything is so willy-nilly. Why?
Answer: That’s a good fucking question. Suppliers? Managers?

I forgot to file my taxes for last year.
Answer: Go do it tomorrow. The fine is minimal; the store is open year-round.

What’s the level of trust for a local who casually starts talking to you in public?
Answer: You mean, should I be concerned if a stranger on the MRT seems really casual and familiar, and just started speaking to me in English? [Wince.] Generally, 5/10 on the trust factor. Lotta harmless oddballs bouncing around town, could be one of them. This is where your own instinct will come into play. I’ve been vaguely approached by a few no-goodniks over the years, possibly because I was poking around somewhere I shouldn’t have been, I dunno. MRT is a crapshoot. Moreover, the question is: Are there a lot of scammers in Taiwan, and I would say not on the street level per se. This would bring us to discussions of employers and landlords and significant others and…

I’m having issues with my landlord. He/She’s trying fuck me in [insert position/way].
Answer: Search the forums for reference. No two fuckings are exactly alike.

NT$1300 for a taxi to/from TPE seems a bit much.
Answer: It’s not. Until the Airport MRT link opens, you have three options to the airport: first class (taxi), economy (bus), and amusement park (MRT/shuttle bus combo). One costs approximately 9 times the other, for good reasons.

NT$500 for a 20-minute foot massage?
Answer: Lotta history in Chinese reflexology and whatnot. They believe you can resolve psoriasis but rubbing your Achilles heel…or something.

Does acupuncture work?
Answer: Do you believe it might be effective? Try it. Go to any mid-range traditional clinic (PM me for the joints I’ve been to), preferably with a local but on your own is fine, too. Play charades until they understand you have chronic lower back pain. Mime the needle routine. Try the cupping, too. And the mudpack deal. Does it work? Pain is pain, man.

I need to take a comprehensive STD test and it’s not related to my ARC.
Answer: Go down to any hospital and tell them what you just told me.

Where can I find some Rolaids or Tums?
Answer: Hard to find. You find some, you let me know. However, you can get heartburn/antacid tablets OTC at any pharmacy. Our own @jimipresley mentioned this in 2010: “Omeprazole (Omelon). One capsule per day and you NEVER get heartburn. Available OTC from most pharmacies in Taiwan. Ranitidine (Zantac): Taiwan brand name : Vesyca.”

My co-workers have invited me to KTV this Friday after work. What can I expect?
Answer: [Sucking of air through teeth] Uh…I’d need to know your co-workers but have you ever been to or supervised a teenage girl sleepover? Add drunk dudes. Partyworld? Fuckin’ people coming in and out of the room, you don’t know. Serious KTV with the ladies? PM me, for real. Ain’t talking about that shit here.

My co-workers have invited me to have dinner this Friday after work. What can I expect?
Answer: See above, adjusted for context.

A buddy invited me to his wedding. He’s marrying a Taiwanese girl. What’s the deal with the envelopes?
Answer: Ah, fuck. It’s something about threes…help me out, folks.

A good friend asked me to attend his mother-in-law’s funeral. What’s the deal with…that whole thing?
Answer: Go and do what they tell you.

I hate my job but I’m under contract for another nine months.
Answer: Leave. Find a new gig. Go home. I don’t care.

I lost my passport. What should I do?
Answer: Call [your embassy].

I’ve overstayed my visa by two days. How fucked am I?
Answer: You’re not. Call NIA or go to the airport.

11 Likes

Great post! It’s like some kind of split personality thing where you’ve got a newbie and a grizzled veteran in your head at the same time. Presumably they dictated the questions and the answers.