Don’t get the title wrong, we consider ourselves as rookies, too. We got to Taipei one and half weeks ago. It was cold, we were carrying our stuff with us, people seemed to have no clue what I was saying to them and our AirBnb apartment was scary and cold and totally what you’d get here for that little amount of money. And now we are in love.
Since the past ten days have been about organizing things, we’ve been through some bureaucratic training in different offices. As far as making things happen, I was used to the “fixer” system in Beijing; you’d have someone local or long time resident take care of all your official and unofficial needs to make things go smoother. It’s a different time now, I admit, and the internet has been a great help, but I was still very very surprised how relatively smoothly everything has gone.
To help you and your future travels to Taipei, here is a list of things we’ve done so far, and how we made them happen. If you spot a mistake, or know a better way to handle said things, please let us know. I admit, some things may have been lost in translation (my Chinese is just a bit above the cat, dog, one, two, three level now), and had we been here longer, and had we had a fixer, we might have had all these done the first week we were here. But, with the enginerd looking things up online, and me looking certain vocabulary up before needing it (things like to “open a bank account”, “ID number”, “visa”, “passport”, etc.), we’ve got pretty far!
- EasyCard: This one can be bought in 7Eleven, FamilyMart, HiLife and many other places. The cashiers use both the English name, the Chinese name (Youyouka) or a combination of the two (Easy ka). Purchasing one can totally be done without speaking Chinese, although it does help. The 500 NT$ we put on each card seems to last for a couple of weeks, if just used it for public transportation. It is a valid payment method in a lot of places, too, just look for the icon at the check out on a door of a store. Vocabulary needed: To buy, EasyCard, how much is it?
- Topping up EasyCard: There’re machines at the MRT stations, where you can add money on your card. Just put the card on the sensor area, and follow the instructions, which are also in English. We haven’t done this at any of the small grocery stores yet, but I’d imagine it’s not much more difficult. We paid with cash, next we’ll see if we could do it with my brand new ATM card. Vocabulary needed: None
- SIM Card: Totally out of my language range, I thought we’d better off just finding a place where they can sell them to us in English. Of course, this did not happen. We walked to one phone store, where the ever so helpful lady told us they were out of SIM cards… Since it seems really unlikely in a big store, I can’t help but wonder if she just didn’t wanna serve us for either because we’re foreign, or because my Chinese is variable levels of crappy, and she just didn’t wanna go through the trouble? Nevertheless, we walked into the next store, and a nice young lady took care of our matter. Some Google translator was needed, sure, but she did go through the trouble, and we got 4G SIM cards. We even managed to get the type that is sold for longer period, not just the short term prepaid SIM they sell at the airport (at the airport they spoke perfect English, but we didn’t want the one month plan). Just remember to prepare two forms of ID, we used passports and our Finnish driving licenses. Vocabulary I should’ve looked up beforehand: Prepaid.
- ID number: This is super useful, and you cannot get yourself a bank account or many other official things without it. This is also very, very easy. You go to the National Immigration Agency, tell a lady at the door you’re there for an ID number, she gives you a form to fill and a waiting number, you go to the counter and get yourself an ID number. No Chinese needed, no unnecessary bureaucracy. Just prepare a copy of your passport, or just copy it for 2 dollars at the office. And naturally, bring your passport with you. We made the mistake of going to the Agency first on Monday after the New Year’s, so it was closed, as that day was, in fact, a bank holiday. Vocabulary needed: None, really. If you want to speak Chinese, the only one you’ll talk it to is the lady at the door. She guided us to our seats in Chinese, but her hand gestures did most of the talking. Vocabulary needed: Yes, okay, thank you.
- Apartment: We first got a place via AirBnb, which has been our go to website for years on our travels. Taipei is a surprisingly expensive city, and finding accommodation suitable for our budget seemed pretty challenging. After we saw our place (very good for the price we’re paying!), we decided we need ot get one closer to my school, and also you know, a bit nicer. We scored one surprisingly easily via Rentaltaiwan, and the process was smooth, convincing and in English. They agency we rented our apartment from, offers all the services from interpreting to giving advise on bank matters, for the cost half of your monthly rent (single time fee). The landlord wanted 2 months’ rent as a deposit, and one month’s rent in advance. All the paper work came in two pieces and in both Chinese and English. We’ll be moving in a couple of weeks, I’ll send you pictures, then. Only photos I’ve got so far are of all the bits and places broken in the apartment, so we can’t be accused for making them later. We paid some of the required expenses in cash, and got a receipt for it (which I also took a photo of). The agent handling our deal instructed us how we can pay the rest from my local bank account, so there’ll be no need to handle awkwardly large amount of cash anymore. Vocabulary needed: None.
- Bank account: As it turns out, you cannot get one here without the ID number. Since we got ours, we headed to the nearest bank. The first place we tried it at had no English speaking officers, and the guard at the door kindly explained to me we’ll need to bring a local friend with us, since it’d impossible to open an account without perfectly reading, writing and speaking Chinese. This, of course, was explained to me in Chinese, and I had no choice but to agree with him; I understood the conversation, but knew I wouldn’t be able to get through the opening process without English. So, the next day we headed to another bank (Bank of Taiwan), with my ID number, passport and an open mind. We found someone there who speaks English, but he was busy so we were in the end guided to a lady who didn’t. However, knowing we had all the right documents, I was able to open an account. The English speaking gentleman helped us to finish the procedure, and so we walked out, me with a brand new ATM card, a bank account and a ton of paper work in Chinese. Why did we open an account just for me? I’m officially about to be a student here, they kept on asking why we’re here, and they were writing it down somewhere. It seemed very unnecessary to start trying to open an account for the enginerd, since he has no Official reason, other than visiting, to be here. They also kept on asking about my visa, but took it very well when I said that coming from Finland, I don’t actually need one. Remember, you’ll need an ID number, passport and 1000 NT$ to do it, and you’ll only get an ATM card, which you cannot pay with. Opening the account was free, but they wanted me to deposit at least 1000 New Taiwanese Dollars. You can only withdraw 30000 NT$ per day. Vocabulary needed: All of it…
- Gym: We’re using our local sports center gym, and pay 50 NT$ each time we go there. I like practicing my Chinese, so I do try and speak it there, but there’s really no need since all the sings and everything is in English, too, and the staff mostly speaks it, as well. You can pay cash or with your EasyCard. Vocabulary needed: Gym, two people, one hour tickets, please. Also, there’s a lot of seniors going there (no difference between Finnish public swimming hall gyms and Taipei sports center gyms, like really none), so prepare to get into a conversation about… anything.
- Taxi: They’re yellow, the light is on if they’re free, you wave one down, you tell them the address, you go, you pay. That’s it. Vocabulary needed: It varies. I try and speak Chinese, but it seems all the drivers speak a level of English/Chinglish, and you either show them he address in writing (characters) or, just like in Beijing, expect to be told how to actually pronounce it. The best way to learn 😉
- MRT: You can find all the information you need here. Pay with an EasyCard or buy a ticket at the ticket booth or machine. No really any Chinese needed, since everything is in English. Vocabulary needed: None, but you’ll be learning characters and listening.
- Bus: Check the bus info here. We’ve taken it a couple of times now. It seems the schedule is a bit flexible, but they show times for the next buses at the bus stops. The displays inside tell the next stop both in Chinese and English. Press a stop button before you wanna get off. Don’t eat or drink, there’ll be a fine (same goes for the MRT). When you get on, either the front door or the back door opens. If it’s the front door, you punch your EasyCard (seriously, you need to get one, dude!!) when you get on, or if it’s the back door, you do when exiting. The doors will tell you. It’s also written on the displays. The system might also change in the middle of your ride, but don’t worry, just do what ever you were told to when you got on (that’s what we figured out, at least). Vocabulary needed: None, but it’s a great way to practice your reading and listening.
As some things here are very easy, while some just seem to be, it has to be remembered that there’re five things which have helped us to handle everything:
- Google. We, and especially the engineer, have spent hours on hours searching information, preparing and planning the trip. Although we do sometimes handle matters on “let’s just walk in there and see what happens” basis, most of the things we try are based on having read someone else’s notes on it.
- Speaking Chinese. I can read street signs, warnings, pronounce addresses, ask for things, buy things, use Pleco for looking up words, negotiate, bargain and yell in Chinese, ask for help and embarrass myself in Chinese. This helps enormously, since if the other person speaks English on the same level as I do Chinese, so far we’ve been able to handle everything. Yeah, my level of spoken Chinese is not what you’d expect from someone who’s been studying the language in Beijing for two and half years (I missed all the great learning opportunities and feel bad and sorry for that, since it didn’t only affect me), but gimme a break, it’s been over six and a half years since I moved back to Finland, and I’ve only spent all together 4 months and a week in China since then, in four sets. After a long and difficult process, I’m at least giving myself a break 😀
- Sheer lack of cultural shock. So far, none. I mean, I was expecting a China level Beijing, which is elite (in gaming terms… and my husband just called me a NOOB for asking him what’d be the best term here, thank you very much) but instead got a mixture of all that’s good in China, and all the things I missed while living there. Taiwan and especially Taipei offer all the Western services that my old Main land home town was missing, adding some Shanghai to it and mixing it with old as hell Taiwanese culture, some of the foods I loved in Beijing, and functionality of a well organised society. Yes, some things came as a negative surprise, like the air actually occasionally getting dangerously dirty, but since I have been following Taipei’s pollution levels for almost a year now and comparing them to Beijing, mostly it’s on same levels as you’d expect in Finland. The enginerd claims to lack any cultural shock, either, and I think he’ll e very fine.
- Savings: We saved for this adventure, and we saved a lot and for a long time. Don’t take me wrong, you can change your life for a lot less money, too, but for now, even after quitting our jobs, we have no worries for the next six months or so. I can concentrate on studying the language (again…), and the enginerd can nerd away, knowing that only next summer we will face the question of money, again. At the moment we have enough money for the deposit for our lively, new apartment, we could open a bank account since we actually have money to out there, and we could buy EasyCards, SIM cards and so much more.
- Having some local guides: Although they’ve been very busy, our Taiwanese friend and her Finnish husband have answered a ton of our drunken questions about Taipei and the language. Thank you, you know who you are ♥
Please, feel free to contact us if you think you’d like to add, ask or correct us on anything. We are still learning Taipei, and on daily basis wishing we had a fixer (too late now, though, since all is taken care of!). And why am I not adding Chinese vocabulary here? I’m still very shy on it, and worried to make a huge mistake to a bigger audience. Maybe later, okay? 😀