My wife and I have been here since January with our 8 month old daughter.
In terms of necessities, we seem to have everything covered… which basically boils down to diapers and Gerber/Hipp baby food.
Having a baby has been a real double-edged sword. On the one hand, she has been an ice-breaker and people who would not have spoken to us or given us the time of day, readily come up and say hello. We have met our best friends (tea shop owners) because they wanted to say hello to the baby. On the other hand, everyone is constantly coming up and saying hello, pointing, staring, and worst - touching. It’s one thing to feel like we are the feature exhibit at the zoo … it’s a complete different experience to feel like the lama at the petting part. Every grubby pawed kid, betel nut chewing resident park dweller, and lesioned janitor feels entitled to come grab the baby’s hand, rub her cheeks, or kiss her face while we’re changing her diaper. Hack, hack, cough, cough, rub a dub-dub. Motor scooters stop and back up to grab her as we cross the street, cart vendors and hair salon women coming running down the street after us, and the bus or MRT? - forget about it.
On a related note - doctors. I’m sure in the right ex-pat area of town everything is kosher. Here in Sinjhuang City I get a bit nervous. The day-to-day stuff seems fine. We got our 6 month injections here, and while the meds were not exactly the same as in the US, Dr. Tsai (btw, is it a good thing that she was trained in the Philippines? I’ve seen that come up a couple of times as a positive in internet posts.)reassured us they were fine, if not quite as strong as the US. The assistants were pretty slow between injections and had to keep walking back and forth to the medicine cabinet to get the next shot while the baby screamed, but everything seemed on the up and up. It is the less routine stuff that has us a bit stressed - and a lot of that probably has to do more with being new parents than the quality of medicine being practiced. For example, the baby has developed eczema over the last month of two. Is there a good dermetologist for an infant here? How do I find him/her. And since the medicines are less potent here, is it even worth it? And how much of her skin flare up is a product of the pollution?
Pollution - if your friends aren’t from a city get ready to learn to suck a little exhaust. The bus and moped motors sometimes feel like they are aimed at the baby’s face while she is in her stroller. And good luck finding a level sidewalk to push her around on. Again, I think location would be key and 30 minutes outside the city itself sounds great.
The pollution does not only affect the lungs, but also food. Our baby is still eating from the Gerber and Hipp baby food jars, but we are steadily transitioning away from that to well, more solid solids. We actually found a little organic lettuce the other day at Wellcome, but all I’ve read about is how toxic most of the veggies are here. Dioxin in the rice, heavy metals in the water. For us, eh, whatever … for her? Maybe a little bigger deal. Trying to provide a healthy nutritious diet for a youngster is difficult, even when cooking at home. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but it is difficult. Do we give her the green pepper and all it’s vitamins knowing it is also covered in pesticides? It’s like keeping the bath water more or less out of the baby’s mouth while she bathes … doable but difficult.
There are certainly positives to having a child here. 1) Can’t beat the exposure to a second language. 2) The Taiwanese seem to love babies and are very friendly - “so cute!” 3) Getting to experience another culture. 4) Lots of stimulation (over-stimulation?).
I would emphasize that location is paramount. We are in Sinjhuang City (Taipei County) and that has been difficult for us with baby. We do feel very isolated - even with a bit of a support network. Not being able to drive is frustrating and augments the sense of isolation. It feels a bit odd typing that, because at the same time we are always the center of attention. We often joke that it’s a good thing the baby’s so young or she’d be developing quite the ego (at McDonalds, out for tea, in the grocery milk isle, at the park, everywhere “oh ke I oh!”). I actually spend most of the time with the baby, but I’m sure my wife could add a lot.
We do like Taiwan, and have especially enjoyed getting to meet lots of people through the baby. But I would certainly do a “pro vs. cons” list. Not just professionally, but also for the kids. For us, we are here on a nine month grant and, quite frankly, knowing that we will be leaving makes most of the negatives for the baby bearable. On the other hand, perhaps if we had a longer commitment, maybe we’d do a better job of finding solutions to our issues.
Forumosa has been a real life saver for us and they should definitely check it out if they haven’t yet.
Anyway, just some thoughts from a noob (both parent and Taiwanese resident).