There is something special about Taiwan I couldn’t really explain the first time I arrived. On my first trip to Taiwan, I couldn’t put words to this positive feeling I had when roaming around the city. It was a mix of relaxation, freedom, safety, friendliness, and convenience, everything all at once. I didn’t do much; I walked randomly in the city, worked in coffee shops, ate in random restaurants. I only stayed a week, but I knew I’d come again for a longer stay. That feeling stuck with me for a while, and I decided to leave Beijing for Taipei, to get a sense of whether that was a temporary feeling or if there was something more.
Fast forward, I stayed long enough - to get my permanent residence (APRC)1 - to put words to this feeling I enjoy so much: my alertness overhead is nonexistent when I am in Taiwan. Every day is literally a pleasure to wake up, put on my flip-flops, and head outside:
- I can walk to the nearest convenience store or coffee shop located within a 5-minute walk2 from anywhere I live.
- I don’t even need to change my pajamas or check what I look like in the mirror; people on the street don’t care.
- The convenience store clerk will greet you and go above and beyond to help you with anything you’d need3.
- In the street, I can pick any shared bike that will be amazingly maintained and available within a 5-minute walk from anywhere, for a ridiculous fee.
- I can have a 15-minute (sometimes 1-hour+) break outside a coffee shop with my laptop, without worrying someone will take it, with my wallet next to it!
- I can go out at 3 am in dark alleys without worrying about strangers approaching me and being threaten
- I can forget my sunglasses outside a school and find them back 2 weeks later:
I forgot my sunglasses at a vball court in a Taiwan's high school. Went back to check 2 weeks later, with a really little hope to see them (14 days, they're kids, of course someone will take them). But you know it's Taiwan... And dang, they were there! Recorded a video bc🤯🤯 pic.twitter.com/SVxqdbzlzd— Eric Khun (@eric_khun) May 30, 2023
This summer, I spent 3 months in Europe this year: France, Switzerland, Portugal. I had an amazing time, but something kept bothering me: I worried too much about silly things:
- I needed to check attentively my bags and phones when around people.
- In the news, I keep seeing stories about people being aggressed, murdered, or any kind of violence.
- I had to “dress up” to be normal and not feel judged by others.
- Friends reminded me not to put my wallet or phone on the table.
- People stared down at other people for no reason and made them uneasy.
Those small things made me increase my vigilance level. I had to stay “alert,” and it just made me feel more comfortable to stay at home than outside. This continuous level of alertness adds a mental overhead that stays. Maybe are used to used to it, but I guess that’s something I’m not used to anymore and make me unfomfortable when thinking about it.
How Taiwan ended up like that could be an interesting topic. If I had to make a quick guess, I’d say that after the ROC (Taiwan) government retreated to Taiwan, Taiwanese didn’t have to endure the same reforms that happened in China since 1950 and followed the democracy path. The influence of the Japanese colonization for 50 years might have played a big role in the current taiwanese culture and education. How kind, thoughtful, soft spoken interactions are with taiwanese feels a lot like being in Japan than in China.
Taiwan APRC: A permanent residence permit that allows you to stay and work indefinitely in Taiwan. This permit almost never expires, as far as you visit Taiwan one day every 5 years. You can get it after 3 years working in Taiwan. ↩︎
Convenience stores are places where you can buy food, do groceries, pick up concert tickets, send a package, top up mobile contract, pay bills & get a bubble tea or hot latte, all in the same shop. ↩︎