Taiwan // What to expect: Language, Culture and Eatery
Dreaming of an exciting trip to Taiwan, but have no idea how to start planning for your trip? Here are some helpful reviews and real experiences that may help you enjoy your time in Taiwan to the fullest!
// Traveler Profile: Aki
Nationality: Southeast Asian
Resident Country: Tokyo, Japan
Occupation: 4th-year university student + part-timer
Trip Preference: Culture Experience
Main trip theme: Art, Creativity, Cuisine, Culture, Photography (with a phone, yes!)
Activities Pace: Fast (approx 10 hours/day on the road)
Travel Budget: 27,000 NTD = approx 800 USD
The local language of Taiwanese is Mandarin Chinese.
Originally, I’m from Vietnam, and I speak three languages fluently – Vietnamese, Japanese, English. In case you do not know, both Vietnamese and Japanese bear a significant resemblance to Chinese, in terms of wording, pronunciation, and meaning, due to constant historical conflicts. Also, we have English as the universal language of the world nowadays. Just from this, you may see I have no difficulty in visiting Taiwan and communicating with the local people at all.
Unfortunately, I am not one of those who love the touristy corners on earth.
I may give a thumb-up of endorsement to all prior foreign travelers in Taiwan. Even though places may have signs, menus, labels in English, the majority of the local people do not speak English or other languages, even at the conversational level. Only destinations that are popular with tourists, like Jiufen Old Town, Taipei 101, Din Tai Fung and international tour companies may have English-speaking staffs.
If you would like to speak English, especially when you go off the beaten path, I may say that it’s okay but expect misunderstanding to happen from time to time. Restauranteurs, information desk, service providers may ask you lots of things in Chinese without hesitation, no matter how different your appearance is from theirs.
It is said that ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do!’, right? Coming to a new country, we are supposed to explore the country’s culture, aren’t we? So why not let loose and mingle with the locals to learn something new? Just make sure you don’t get startled and stay resilient no matter what situation you are in. The local people are really nice and welcoming, they will do their best to cater to your needs at their own capacity!
On the other hand, we are obviously living in a world where high technology is evolving so hard (aren’t we?!). We are given various options of language translating/interpreting software that the previous generations couldn’t have, such as Google Translate. So!! Internet, a smartphone, and a little bit of courage and motivation, you are all set to express yourself and have some fun ice-breaking conversations with Taiwanese people.
Save your phone battery as you may need your phone to communicate with people anytime.
Here are some easy sentences you may want to know beforehand: ‘Nǐ hǎo’ – Hello and ‘Xièxiè nǐ’ – Thank you! 🙂
- Dutch and Spanish settlers established bases in Taiwan in the early 17th century.
- Around 1.2 million people relocated from China to Taiwan along with the Republic of China (Taiwan) government in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
- Personal Thoughts:
Looking from the outside, Taiwan looks no different from a particular Chinese country. Tons of flickering LED signs brightening the long dark streets at night, old buildings full of memories and stories standing side by side with all the modern-looking skyscrapers, and the clamorous sound of people talking on the road.
For the very first moments when I was walking down the narrow alleys and the old shopping streets in Taiwan, the nostalgia of the-early-2000s Vietnam rushed back to my mind. I felt like I got back to my childhood period, in which everything was still taking its time to recover from the war from decades ago. Taiwan may look like a bit rusty with all the messy old brick houses, but to me, the country is the land of historic tales, rich cultures, art, and hustling people.
It’s the first time I have been to a Chinese-spoken region, but listening to people speaking Chinese is not a new thing to me. It’s loud, strong, and passively aggressive sometimes, which many may consider being rude. To some extent, I would not deny the stereotype of Chinese people being noisy, and inconsiderate at all.
However, going deep into local restaurants, public transportations, people’s homes, I got to observe so much how Taiwanese people actually live their life. I can’t exactly describe how it is in Taiwan. Having been living for 4 years in a country in which politeness and individualism have been the core values of its culture, Japan, I see a similarity between Taiwanese and Japanese people. I would say that the Taiwanese may speak Chinese and spend the life of a usual Chinese person, but they do that with the soul and behaviors of a Japanese. 50 years of Japanese occupation has had a hybrid culture run deep inside Taiwanese society. They speak Chinese with a tone of politeness, patience, and depth. It can be loud somehow but it’s only because of the feature of their language’s accent and pronunciation.
Besides, growing up with the motto of not bothering people for assistance unless things are completely beyond my control, I got startled so many times by how willing the Taiwanese are to give me a hand on the streets even without me asking for help. They do it for nothing. What’s more, the words I got to hear countless times in this one week traveling the country, it was ‘Xièxiè nǐ’ – Thank you, and ‘Duìbùqǐ’ – ‘I’m sorry’. Admit it, you would not say every country in the world could have their people say these two sentences so often, right?
I did not expect myself to say this but I love Taiwanese people and their working culture. They are hard-working and passionate about what they do in life. No matter where or when I saw, Taiwanese people always work with the fullest energy. When you come to the country, you will be able to see many family restaurants which are the main sources of local delicacies. There are full of people going in and out, but either the owners or staffs have even the slightest complaints and work non-stop to cater to their customers’ needs. There is no word to describe my respect for Taiwanese people.
Small note: As the local businesses, especially restaurants, in Taiwan are mainly operated by families themselves, the serving attitudes can be a bit straightforward and not sophisticated enough. It does not mean any disrespect to the customers, it’s just how things work out in Taiwan or in Chinese culture in general.
I may be overtalking about the cultural side of Taiwan (obviously because I love their culture so much). If you look at other posts I wrote about my Taiwan trip, you may see a lot of artistic destinations included in my itinerary. The reason behind this is that Taiwan is a country with 5000 years of culture, which nurtured and cultivated multifaceted manifestations of art, historical stories, and society.
Taiwan not only treasures traditional values but also confines huge attention to fostering contemporary creativity within the local community. Evidently, Taipei is the home to many famous museums and art galleries, meanwhile, each city in Taiwan has its own culture and creativity park, such as Taichung Heritage Park or Tainan Creative Park.
Coming to Taiwan, it would be of regret for anyone who misses visiting these authentic museums and magnificent art exhibitions.
Even though I call myself a gourmet, I’m not yet a culinary expert in any aspect. Before the trip to Taiwan came true, I spent a lot of time doing my homework to find out the specialty of the island country, as well as their culinary culture. It was to make sure that I would not miss anything I should try on the trip myself.
Due to the historic and demographic factors of Taiwan, the country’s culinary culture bears the mark of multiple cultural groups, which are the Hakka people, the indigenous Austronesians – Taiwanese aborigines, the Chinese immigrants from Fujian, the Japanese and, lastly, the American. Throughout time, diversity is an indispensable element of Taiwanese cuisines. We got the salting and slow-cooking from the Taiwanese aborigines, the umami, mochi desserts from the Japanese, or the strong basil-based soups from the Hakka people. That’s how Taiwanese food is like.
Considering the diversity of food Taiwan got to offer, it’s quite a challenge to try all the dishes as they all look so irresistible. It’s really easy to find all the dishes that YouTubers, Eatery Writers, and Influencers promoted so much on their channels. Yet, wandering all the old streets of Taiwan on foot every day actually gave me more opportunities to blend in deeper into the eating atmosphere of the local people. It was a duck restaurant in Tainan, a hustling breakfast shop at Yongkang street in Taipei and a homemade dumpling restaurant in Taichung.
I’m not sure if it’s due to my tastebuds got strongly affected by a long time living in Japan. With the soy-sauce based, strongly flavorful feature, Japanese food is quite on the opposite side of Taiwanese food. Personally, I think Taiwanese food, despite the fine texture, fresh ingredient, and herbal flavors, is quite bland. Luckily, Taiwanese restaurants provide various types of side sauce for different dishes, such as black vinegar, soy sauce, chilly sauce, chilly flake. The tricky part here is how you season the dishes will produce different flavors 😉 It would be best for us to ask the local people advice on how to eat the right way, shall we?!! Anyway, good luck with all the seasoning!!
One last thing that no one would ever EVER leave aside, regarding Taiwanese food, is the bubble tea – the goddess!! I’m not much into bubble tea due to my lactose intolerance, however, whoever would say no to a cup of refreshing tea with chewy bubbles?!
Taiwan is one of the biggest tea producers and exporters in the world. It’s no joke when it comes to the quality of tea and tea products in Taiwan. Different kinds of Taiwanese tea have their own magical signature aroma, some of which have a fruity touch while the others create a light florally sweet aftertaste.
Enjoying some tea/bubble tea, getting tea souvenirs for your friends and family, and you are good to go 😉 !!
That’s the end of this article, hope you guys enjoyed it!
Stay tuned for the next posts about the Taiwan travel series:
Taiwan // What to expect: Planning the trip & Reviews
Taiwan // A full-on 6-day solo itinerary in Taiwan
Taiwan // A full-on 6-day solo itinerary in Taiwan – Day 1
Taiwan // A full-on 6-day solo itinerary in Taiwan – Day 2
Taiwan // A full-on 6-day solo itinerary in Taiwan – Day 3
Taiwan // A full-on 6-day solo itinerary in Taiwan – Day 4 – Stay tuned
Taiwan // A full-on 6-day solo itinerary in Taiwan – Day 5 – Stay tuned