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"So how's the Thai food?"
It was the number one question we received while living in Taiwan. The first few times the misnomer occurred, we graciously explained that Thailand and Taiwan are two different places entirely, the latter having its own unique-and delectable-cuisine. But eventually the questions about easy Thailand living began to grow old, and our once polite response transformed into a fake smile and smart: "I wouldn't know."
It was an innocent mix-up of two soft rhyming words, but the common error illuminated a larger problem: few people seemed to know anything at all about this place called Taiwan, let alone what it must be like to live there. But after two years of experience calling the small island home, I can now say with certainty that Taiwan is a fantastically underrated gem in the East-and not at all like the misconceptions that precede it.
Taiwan is just like China
Entire books have been written about the complicated relationship between Taiwan and China. But despite the politics of it all, Taiwan and China remain two distinct places, each with their own history, culture, government, people and food.
During our time in Taiwan, we sampled scrumptious local specialties like Beef Noodle Soup, Pearl Milk Tea (Bubble Tea) and Pineapple Cakes-along with the infamous (and slightly less delectable) Stinky Tofu.
We discovered a friendly and hospitable culture influenced by the Chinese, but also by Japanese, European, American and local Aboriginal cultures. We cheered on the National Taiwan Baseball Team in a riveting and passionate game that would put even the most fervent baseball fans to shame.
We tried to pick up conversational Mandarin Chinese, but I also took a stab at learning a few phrases in Taiwanese.
PHOTO: Taiwanese Flag at the World Baseball Classic
While we're certain that many aspects of the Taiwanese way of life also hold true in China, it is not to say that the two places are "practically the same thing." Those travelers who choose to live or visit Taiwan will be rewarded with a rich, dynamic and one-of-a-kind experience that is not replicable anywhere else in the world.
Taiwan is small, and small means boring
Yes, Taiwan is small. It's only a little larger than Delaware and Maryland combined (or, for a European reference, just slightly smaller than the Netherlands). But what it lacks for in size it makes up for with activity-Taiwan is jam-packed with things to do and places to see. Whether you're searching for cosmopolitan cities, ancient temples, beautiful beaches, lush mountains, or dramatic river gorges, Taiwan has it all… and then some.
PHOTO: Hiking in Taiwan
We arrived in Taiwan with a one-year plan. It seemed like such a commitment at the time, and like many others, we too wondered if we would quickly grow tired of such a small place. But one year came and went, and we immediately realized we were going to need more time if we were to even scratch the surface of the dynamic culture and abounding natural attractions. So we stayed for one more year, and still we were only able to make a dent in our Taiwan bucket list.
Living in Taiwan is what you make of it. It's all too easy to spend every weekend cooped up in your apartment watching re-runs of your favorite TV show. But if you're willing to go out and explore, you'll be rewarded with an overabundance of once-in-a-lifetime memories and experiences.
Taiwan is a hard place to live
Moving abroad is never easy. As an expat, you'll face unique challenges on a daily basis that will push you and challenge you in ways you never thought possible. In between chasing the garbage truck down the street and figuring out how to eat rice with chopsticks and attempting to navigate a Taiwanese night market, there will definitely be moments when you question your sanity and wonder why you ever left the confines of your creature comforts back home.
So Taiwan is a difficult place to live then? Well, yes and no-the answer to that question depends entirely upon the individual. You might not like the food or the smells or the crowds or the driving, but that doesn't mean that life in Taiwan always has to be hard.
And compared to many other countries around the world, Taiwan is actually a very easy place to live. For example, Taiwanese are unbelievably friendly. They will go above and beyond to assist you, sometimes before you even know you need assistance. Taiwan is also a very modern place, and though you might have to pay more for it, you'll be able to find just about any Western commodity you're craving.
Worried that you don't know how to speak Chinese? Neither did we, but we got by just fine with charades, Pictionary and humility.
If you arrive in Taiwan with an intrepid soul, an open mind and plenty of friendliness and politeness, then you'll find living in Taiwan to be gratifying-and sometimes even quite an easy-experience.
PHOTO: Mist covers the mountains in Toroko Gorge National Park
If you're eager to live abroad but not sure where to start, Taiwan is without a doubt a great option to entertain. We're eternally grateful that we didn't let our own and others' misconceptions stop us from getting to know this dynamic and underrated Asian destination. But you'll never really know what it's like until you take the step to see for yourself.
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