Moving from Beijing to Taipei: is it WORTH it?

Hello Forumosans,
please share your insights and advice on the following dilemma. Our family lived in Beijing for one year. I am Caucasian, hubby is Taiwanese, we have a small child (under 2 y.o.). The whole year in Beijing I felt like I was doing a life sentence in a penitentiary. I do not speak Chinese and had no way to learn (staying at home & taking care of the baby 24/7). We live in an area not rich in expats, so I have had zero social life for the whole year. A few issues (listed below) have surfaced during the year, so now we are considering, in order to keep my sanity and to allow hubby finish his Beijing work contract, to move me & baby to Taipei. Please help figure out if the following issues will be resolved (and in what degree) by our possible move to Taipei:

[ul][li]Smog & air quality. Beijing’s air is horrible beyond description, the air reeks and smog is there every day. Better in Taipei, y/n?[/li]
[li]Being stared at by locals. I hate mainland Chinese. They make me feel like I’m a white elephant walking the streets of Beijing. They have to stop, turn around and stare at me and the baby. They have to say “hello” to me, or “piaoliang” or “meimei” to my daughter. Why can’t they leave us alone, for Confucius’ sake? Is the situation better in Taipei?[/li]
[li]Expats & western culture. So OK, I am not good at adapting to the Asian culture. Can I have a normal French/Italian/Whatever-not-stirfried meal in Taipei? How difficult is it to meet other expat families? Can I talk in ENGLISH not CHINGLISH?[/li]
[li]Smoking in public and in restaurants. Beijingers are clueless about secondhand smoke, they smoke around their own children, and in restaurants the “no smoking” policy is not enforced should someone choose to light up. How is the situation in Taipei?[/li]
[li]Dishwashers & ovens in the kitchen. Are these even heard of in Taipei? Where/how to find an apt that has them? While I appreciate the importance of stir-frying and cooking using natural gas in Chinese cuisine, not having an oven and doing dishes by hand is getting the best of me already. I want my western comforts.[/li][/ul]
Please help me figure out if moving to Taipei will solve some of these issues, and if yes, which ones. Mucho appreciado.

OK, here’s my take:

Smog & air quality: Better here, not great but not the nasty Beijing smog.
Being stared at by locals: Better here; you’ll still get stared at some; but at least they’ll stare in English. :sunglasses:
Expats & western culture: Plenty of that; we got more expats than you can shake a stick at and cafes, bars, the works. Sounds like you might want to live in Tianmou since its where expats live apparently. Might even have mother’s coffee mornings and the like.
Smoking in public and in restaurants: Zero smoking in restaurants. Not much in public these days except outside office buildings.
Dishwashers & ovens in the kitchen: Unless you is loaded; forget it. Apartments do not have either unless you buy a top-end one.

Basically Taipei will be a 67% improvement on Beijing, but it does depend on how much you can afford for rent and where you choose to live.

[quote=“renwein”]
[ul][li]Smog & air quality. Beijing’s air is horrible beyond description, the air reeks and smog is there every day. Better in Taipei, y/n?[/li]
[li]Being stared at by locals. I hate mainland Chinese. They make me feel like I’m a white elephant walking the streets of Beijing. They have to stop, turn around and stare at me and the baby. They have to say “hello” to me, or “piaoliang” or “meimei” to my daughter. Why can’t they leave us alone, for Confucius’ sake? Is the situation better in Taipei?[/li]
[li]Expats & western culture. So OK, I am not good at adapting to the Asian culture. Can I have a normal French/Italian/Whatever-not-stirfried meal in Taipei? How difficult is it to meet other expat families? Can I talk in ENGLISH not CHINGLISH?[/li]
[li]Smoking in public and in restaurants. Beijingers are clueless about secondhand smoke, they smoke around their own children, and in restaurants the “no smoking” policy is not enforced should someone choose to light up. How is the situation in Taipei?[/li]
[li]Dishwashers & ovens in the kitchen. Are these even heard of in Taipei? Where/how to find an apt that has them? While I appreciate the importance of stir-frying and cooking using natural gas in Chinese cuisine, not having an oven and doing dishes by hand is getting the best of me already. I want my western comforts.[/li][/ul]
Please help me figure out if moving to Taipei will solve some of these issues, and if yes, which ones. Mucho appreciado.[/quote]

I haven’t been to Beijing, but I have lots of experience living amongst and working with Mainland Chinese from my days in Wengehua (Vancouver, BC). There is a noticeable difference between how Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese people interact with you.

You will be stared at occasionally, but usually by a small child. Westerners are quite common - especially in Taipei where there are a lot of English teachers, international students, and working expats. I am ignored 98% of the time. The Taiwanese love Italian food so you will find lots of options. There are lots of other Western options as well, and a good smattering of Indian, Mexican, and other ethic restaurants.

It will help to know a few phrases here - please give me that, how much, etc. But, if you’re not able or interesting in learning more of the language, you can get by okay. Most people know a bit of English and can jump in and help if you look completely bewildered. Taiwanese people are extremely kind and helpful, from my experience. The only time I ever felt unwelcome was when I held up the line at a busy food stall. Their reaction was understandable.

I hate smoking because it triggers my asthma. You’ll be very happy with the smoke-free restaurants and stores. The only time you’ll experience smoke is on the sidewalk, or if a neighbour is particularly addicted. Apparently the smog is worst in Taipei during summer. I haven’t suffered through my first summer yet, so can’t speak to how bad it is. But, based on pollution levels I’ve experienced so far, I’m not too worried about it.

Full kitchens are hard to find. Dishwashers are probably only available in high-end apartments, but a lot of places have dish drying thingies that can hold a few plates and small pots and pans. Another thing to keep in mind is that most places don’t have dryers, just washing machines. Everyone hangs their laundry to dry outside, on the roof, inside, etc.

You should definitely give Taiwan a try for a bit. Are your partner’s parents here? If not, there are reasonably cheap short-stay hotels available. There is apparently a large contingent of American expats in Tienmu (a suburb of Taipei), so you might try to check that area out first. It’s less cramped than downtown Taipei, with more green space, so that might appeal as well.

Good luck!

  • R

They are quite different cities in scale. Beijing is omnipresent and absolutely massive with massive streets. Taipei City and environs are packed into a smaller space, the streets are smaller, and these days more walkable from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. The MRT would be a nicer system than the subway in Beijing even if it is not as widespread.

Taipei is more of a mix of Chinese and Japanese and South East Asian (well native Taiwanese and aboriginal influences) and Western influences. It is not really anything like Beijing and in fact it is more like a city in Japan in many ways, except for the scooters!

Having visited Beijing many times I can tell you Taipei is a lot easier to get around and there are more coffeeshops and tea houses and Western stuff like decent bakeries.

There are tonnes of things to do in and around Taipei, plenty of hiking and hot spring places, bike paths, it’s not like Beijing where you are pretty much stuck in the city and the weather here in Taiwan is very different, it never gets cold like Beijing. It can get hot and muggy in Summer but so are lots of places.

Smoking is illegal in restaurants and getting less and less common, a big plus compared to China.

Pollution wise Taipei is WAY better than Beijing, which is obviously one of the worst cities worldwide for air pollution.

People in Taiwan will stare sometimes but not as much as China, in Taipei less so as there are more foreigners in Taipei. There are not many foreign enclaves but the closest to a foreign community may be found in Tianmou but it costs a lot to live there.

There are plenty of decent Western restaurants in Taipei and amazing food of all types, a great place to eat if that’s your thing.

There are lots of choices in terms of neighbourhoods linked by pretty good MRT and bus routes. It depends if you want to be in the hustle and bustle or a bit farther out from the action.

I’d say make the move and take it from there, as your husband is from Taiwan it’ll help you get settled faster too.

ADVICE WARNING:
I’m going to give you some unsolicited advice. There are reasons why people don’t have machines like dishwashers etc, due to small space of apartments and people eat out more and sanitation etc. You are probably going to think I am arrogant but you don’t need a dishwasher for three people. Try not to focus on the differences, and try going with the flow a bit more. I’m here over 12 years and I switch between chopsticks and forks and knives naturally according to how I feel. I wash dishes by hand and never even think about it, in fact it’s better as I’m not breeding cockroaches and mould in the dishwasher! I enjoy the traditional tea places, the Western coffeehouses and my Chinese food. I have the best of both worlds!

STRONG RECOMMENDATION: Make some time to go to Chinese lessons part-time, learning Chinese can really be fun. Honestly! Don’t depend on the hubby who probably has no clue or time to teach you Chinese. It’ll get you out there meeting people and enjoying your day more and allowing you to do so much more stuff.

It’s easier if you can make a few friends and have a few laughs and you will not focus on the differences so much but start to enjoy some new things too.

+1 to all the comments above. I can’t comprehend why anyone would choose to live in Beijing, unless the gov’t is forcibly restraining you from leaving. Come to Taiwan. You’ll like it.

Incidentally, you won’t need a dishwasher because it’s usually cheaper/easier to eat out or buy takeaways. If you’ve got a 2-year-old I’m sure you’d prefer to avoid the extra hassle anyway. Taipei is so convenient la!

One quick point that others haven’t brought up yet: I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to find other expat mothers. There are plenty of expats around, but I get the sense that most of those are expat men married to Taiwanese women. There are certainly some around, but you’ll probably need to be in Tianmu or perhaps the Neihu/Dazhi area to find them. You may want to check the forum Taiwanease.com (with apologies to Forumosa!) - I seem to see more mothers posting there.

Also note that, if you’re an expat walking around with a child, you are going to get more attention. I’m sure it’s going to be better than in Beijing, but while a foreign man or woman walking around on their own won’t get much attention, adding a child will change the situation.

But basically, for the stuff that seems to be driving you crazy, Taipei is much better.

And to thefool above, on summer pollution: I don’t know what the pollution counts are like in summer, but actually that’s when Taipei’s skies are the most consistently gorgeous - lovely blue. You wake up in your air conditioned room and think “What a great day to go outside!” Then you open the door, are smothered by the wall of heat, and collapse.

Err…muy agradecido…

If Beijing is straight bourbon and you hate the taste of whiskey, then Taipei is like a scotch and 7 with some lime. You’ll still taste the whiskey, but it won’t be enough to make you gag. After you drink it long enough you might vomit though, especially after some undercooked dumplings

I just need to chime in to let you know that there are a LOT of expat moms here…and it seems like more every year. And many of us live in areas besides the traditional ‘western’ area of TienMu - at least those of us with younger kids. DaAn, XinYi, DaZhi, and NeiHu are all quite popular with families - local & expat - and along the metro line which has saved my sanity more than once raising kids in a foreign land.

Good luck with your decision. I would be wary of leaving my husband in China to live in Taiwan but can understand some of your current frustrations (although I do think that some of them are just part of the territory of being a mom to young kids).

I have a full size dishwasher and I don’t live in Tienmou…The amenities are here, they’re just bloody expensive. Few kitchens have the space for them.

Yes. Taipei will be a major improvement over Beijing on all the points you raise. I recommend Bosch dishwashers. The problems you’ll face here will be cost of housing, Taipei’s rainy, overcast weather, kamikaze scooter riders, and sidewalk encroachment but they’re all surmountable problems.

I once bent over…knelt and reached out my fist towards an oncoming baby stroller. Lil foreign kid not older than 1 yr old comes creeping out and BUMP.

I felt awesome.

I’ve lived in Beijing for 5 years. And although only in Taipei now for 3 weeks I’ll tell you what I know.

Beijing has way more foreigners than Taipei. Go to Sanlitun or the Village on a weekend, (or these days anytime) and the whole area is at least 30-40% lao wai. Western food? As long as you aren’t in the boonies it’s also all over. You get amazing French, Spanish Tapas, Italian, Sushi, Tappanyaki, micro breweries, pizza, pub food, decent Thai and Indian, brazilian bbq… Not sure why you’re finding it difficult to locate these places. I’ll try to do a point by point based on your criteria:

•Smog & air quality. Beijing BLOWS. Taipei feels and is multitudes better. I have lung issues and had a persistant cough in Beijing. It’s much worse this year I hear.

•Being stared at by locals. You shouldn’t hate the Taiwanese like you do the mainlanders, but they aren’t that much different than those in North Beijing. They are more polite, and will line up a bit more, and don’t spit. You will still get attention similar to the levels in the developed areas of Beijing.

•Expats & western culture. Again, tons of this in Beijing. If you are on a tight budget go to Wudaokou in Beijing. Lots of cheaper western, Japanese and Korean places. Coffee shops, baleries, and non Chinese people. If you’re on a larger budget, try Sanlitun. You can’t swing a cat without smacking into great western restaurants. If you want specific restaurant and eatery recommendations PM me.

•Smoking in public and in restaurants. Restaurants here enforce it.

•Dishwashers & ovens in the kitchen. No oven, but I do have a dishwasher and dryer. They are pretty rare. If you guys move into a house you will get that. Or else a higher end apartment.

A few other things to note. Taxis in Taipei are much more expensive than Beijing. So you may want to look into transport (car or scooter), or take the subway more than you might be doing in Beijing. The subway is uber convenient and not that crowded though which is a plus. It is 3 times the cost of Beijings subway though :slight_smile:.

Tianmu in Taipei seems to get a lot of flack for being an expat ghetto, however I don’t feel it’s even close to as expatty as Shun Yi or Sanlitun in Beijing. And from your post, I think you would prefer Tianmu to some of the other areas I’ve seen as it’s wide streets, clean air, less people, mountains, and more western equipped/styled apartments.

Taiwanese food is way better than Beijing food, so maybe you’ll rething your stance once you try it here.

For your babies health I suggest the move. The air in Beijing is beyond reasonable now. Good luck!

OP I happen to know lots of expat mothers and families in Taipei, most of them not in Tianmu, lots of Italian restaurants (from splurge to relatively economical) AND a fee places where to buy an oven and a dishwasher (this last one because my gf had the same requirements). I disagree that you need to be loaded to afford an apartment with kitchen. Even modest places have small kitchen areas sometimes. You might need to do some remodeling, like I did, but that will hardly set you back more than 500 USD (or way less than that if you DIY). I have a minuscule kitchen but with some strategically placed shelves and a bit of work I found space for the oven, a hood and a dishwasher (which is not there yet, but it will soon). Unfortunately there is no way I csn fit more than two fires in there (would love to have three or four).

As for eating outside, it is true that it can be very convenient and cheap, but I personally do not believe it is particularly healthy. Of course preparing your meals yourself can be anything from an hassle to an hobby depending on how much you enjoy cooking and/or baking. I am at at the point where I bake my own biscuits and cookies :slight_smile:

Hope we’ll hear from you again when and if you move to Taipei!

[quote=“thefool”]
You should definitely give Taiwan a try for a bit. Are your partner’s parents here? If not, there are reasonably cheap short-stay hotels available.[/quote]

The in-laws live about 1.5 hrs south of Taipei by car. We’ve already picked a long-stay hotel and will be giving Taipei a try for a while. It encourages me to see all the positive things about the city that you and other posters have pointed out, thank you.

Very well put! I have the same impression of Beijing after being here the whole year. It is a city that sprawls in all directions and eventually will collapse under its own weight. Thank you for the informative post. Years of Taiwan experience do show in your writing :slight_smile:

[quote=“lostinasia”]One quick point that others haven’t brought up yet: I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to find other expat mothers. There are plenty of expats around, but I get the sense that most of those are expat men married to Taiwanese women. There are certainly some around, but you’ll probably need to be in Tianmu or perhaps the Neihu/Dazhi area to find them. You may want to check the forum Taiwanease.com (with apologies to Forumosa!) - I seem to see more mothers posting there.

[/quote]

There are several women’s groups, playgroups, etc in Taipei. I know some of the people who organize and participate in them. Most of the women are from other countries, but TW moms are welcome. The OP can PM me if she can’t locate them on Facebook or elsewhere, and I’ll connect her to the right people.

I travel to BJ on business quite a bit, just returned from a trip Tuesday night. Beijing is okay for a few days, but if I had to live there, I’d need a ton of money to justify such a sacrifice in my health and quality of life. It isn’t a city set up for quality of life, and the problems aren’t primarily with the infrastructure, though traffic is ridiculous and air quality is insane.

OP, I think you find that Taipei is a place populated by people whose ancestors come from China, but who are generally gentle, polite, and helpful. I rarely get any comments on my foreignness, and I am a very tall, big person who goes about yammering in fluent Mandarin.

[quote=“TK1”]I’ve lived in Beijing for 5 years. And although only in Taipei now for 3 weeks I’ll tell you what I know.
Beijing has way more foreigners than Taipei. Go to Sanlitun or the Village on a weekend, (or these days anytime) and the whole area is at least 30-40% lao wai. Western food? As long as you aren’t in the boonies it’s also all over. [/quote]

We actually do live in the boonies of Beijing, between the fifth and sixth ring roads. Most of the time I am the only foreigner on the street, although I saw a few others here and there.
I have never been to Sanlitun, Wudaokou, Shunyi (God forbid), or other laowai places of Beijing, as for us it means an hour by car just to get there. Wouldn’t take the subway to go there either, as traveling by Beijing subway with a small child is a nightmare for both of us.

Oh, and did I mention that Beijing does not have day cares for children under 2 years of age? In Beijing, my only options for social life are expat-run playgroups, but to get there I would have to make my active toddler suffer through hours in the car. So I choose to sacrifice the expat hangouts in favor of my toddler having enough time to run on the local playground or go to a baby class nearby (100% Chinese moms and me, ha).

From yours and other informative posts, I have seen what I needed to see: Taipei is smaller, easier to get around, there are expat families that live throughout the city and not only in Tianmu, and, first and foremost, the air is better. We’re going! :thumbsup:

The other great thing about Taipei is the medical system. Universal coverage and very good quality. Most doctors speak at least some English. Can get in to see specialists usually the same day.

We expect you to keep the good news about Taipei on the downlow though or we’re going to be overrun with refugees from crumbling empires far and wide.