Living In Taiwan

Written By Shawn Funk

When I decided to go back to school for a so-called “enrichment” degree, I knew I better have a good story to tell those people who I knew were going to break my balls for spending thousands of dollars on what they deemed to be a “useless piece of paper.”

“English degree? What the hell are you gonna do with that?”

I wasn’t naive; I knew my decision wasn’t exactly a lucrative one. I had to drum up some respectable profession to justify myself, so I started to tell people that I would go and teach English abroad when I finished my degree, and I stuck to my story.

I landed in Taoyuan, Taiwan, on April 1, 2021. Stepping out of the Airbus and into the entry tunnel, I was met with a wall of hot wet air that soon soaked my mask and made my clothes stick to my skin. I was given a temporary phone card so the Center for Disease Control could contact me  during my quarantine. Then, I was privately shuttled to Taipei and put in a 16×12 capsule on the 8th floor of an old building for 15 days. 

Quarantine gave me time to adjust my sleep schedule; Taiwan is 15 hours ahead of ours. I settled on a routine that revolved around the meals I would receive at 7:30 am, 12:00 pm, and 6:00 pm. The meals were not too bad, and the food was new and exciting. However, after a bad batch of Japanese curry cleaned out the insides of everyone in my training group, the allure of all the strange and wonderful food we were receiving wore off and we started to get restless. My quarantine stay wasn’t all bad though; the window afforded a great view of the concrete building that stood three feet away. I could touch it with my hand.

After quarantine, I was required to complete the mandatory corporate training program in Taipei: team building exercises, group work, teaching demonstrations, that sort of thing. I got through it by holding my breath; many of our “trainers” were more akin to cardboard cut-outs than human beings. I guess when you tow the company line for so long, you tend to go a little flat. It was very apparent that they were using scripts and anecdotes that they had performed countless times before. It was very tedious, and it all felt very contrived. The upshot of all the boring training stuff was that the company that hired me paid for the quarantine hotel and the rest of the stay in Taipei, totalling 30 days.   

Despite the uninspired training in the capital, I had an amazing time hanging out with the other teachers. We laughed off the cheesy training exercises, poked fun at the trainers, suffered earthquakes, and drank legally in public, all while exploring the crowded streets of Taipei during our nights off. There is a drinking game that is played by the most obnoxious foreigners that visit Taiwan. I think it’s called the 7/11 drinking game. It’s easy, all you have to do is walk the streets, and when you come across any one of the 6000 or so 7/11s on the island, you have to buy a beer and, of course, drink it before you get to the next 7/11, which is likely on the next block. It’s no wonder why some foreigners get a bad rap over there.

Many people asked me why I wanted to move to Taiwan. It was actually a very easy decision. Taiwan had very little COVID at the time, and they were one of the few countries that were allowing foreigners into their country. My reasons for wanting to go abroad were a little different; I had become too comfortable in my environment and I needed to challenge myself. I wanted things to be hard. I wanted to struggle.

One of the trainers who had been in Taiwan for more than ten years made a comment that stuck with me mostly because I thought it was short-sighted. Before he said anything, the trainer’s eyes turned into swirling pools of black tar as they fixed themselves onto an undefined point in space. Then he said, “we are all here in Taiwan to escape something.” I thought about this comment as I stared into his blank, expressionless face, then I thought, “Wow! Who did you kill before you left home?” Then I decided that, in my case, his declaration just wasn’t true. Besides, you can’t escape yourself. Your problems here will quickly become your problems there. But, I wasn’t in Taiwan to escape my home, rather, I went to Taiwan so that my home could escape me. If you think you can leave your problems behind, you are wrong.

The biggest struggle that I had to accept was not knowing things. I was in a new country, new language, new people, new culture, and I hadn’t a clue what was going on around me much of the time. I had to trust those around me. All I knew for sure was that I was here to do a job. Everything else I let wash over me. If you are a total control freak, something like this is probably not for you. 

I was excited to be assigned to a branch in the old capital, Tainan, in the southern part of the island. The weather is hot and sunny for most of the year, except for the occasional typhoon and heavy rain. The crime rate is non-existent; I left my bike unlocked the entire time I was there. It is cheap to live in, my rent was about $325 CAD, and a nice hot meal cost $2-3 CAD. Teaching English, you can expect to make about four times the Taiwanese minimum wage. Foreigners also receive favourable tax exemptions. I found Taiwan to be a place where I could actually get ahead financially. 

While my time in Taiwan was a little subdued because of the COVID restrictions, I was still able to get out and see the country. Transit around the island is fast and cheap. There is a high-speed rail that connects all of the cities on the west coast, and there is also a snail train that circles the island. The high-speed rail reaches a top speed of 300km/h, which means it only takes about an hour and a half to skirt the entire west coast.

One thing you will read over and over again if you are researching Taiwan is how friendly the people are. It isn’t a lie. The biggest reason my trip was such a success was because of all the help that I received from the locals. I put a lot of trust in the people in my network, and I was never let down. Don’t be intimidated, It was very easy to make friends in Taiwan. I had friends in Tainan City before I had a place to live. They love Canadians. My point is that the Taiwanese are very hospitable, they want to help you, and they are very trustworthy. Of course, I am speaking in general terms here. Every nation has its assholes, but Taiwan surely ranks very low on that list.

If you are looking for something to do to get your parents off your back when you finish your degree, I recommend getting a teaching job somewhere overseas. The job itself amounts to a lot of hard work but  is also very rewarding. It is amazing to see the progress that your students make, and I am sure that I learned as much from them as they did from me. I know that I didn’t mention the name of the company I worked for or much about the actual job in this article, but if anyone has any questions about teaching in Taiwan, you can shoot me an email at shawn@themeliorist.ca.

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