Taiwan

Geography and Weather

Taipei101

The always breathtaking
Taipei 101

The main island of Taiwan is situated approximately 100 miles off the southeastern coast of mainland China, south of Japan and north of the Philippines. The shape Taiwan resembles a sweet potato and has an area of approximately 14,000 square miles. It is 245 miles long (north to south) and 90 miles wide. There are several smaller islands dotted around the main island.

The central and eastern areas of Taiwan are home to spectacular tropical and subtropical mountain ranges, with a number of peaks ranging between an impressive 3,500 meters to 3,952 meters. This makes Taiwan the world's seventh-highest island. The western side is typically mainly made up of rolling plains and plateaus.

Taiwan is comprised of 16 counties and 5 provincial cities. Taipei is the capital city. When packing your bags for Taiwan you will need to plan around two distinct seasons.

  • May to October (hot and humid)
  • November to March (cool)

Temperatures in the north part of the island are a little lower than that of the south, but the difference tends to be only a few degrees. You don’t need to worry if you are not accustomed to hot summers because nearly all buildings and public services have excellent air conditioning.

“Its mountain drives are truly astonishing and running around on a scooter is something everyone must do here”Andrew Mellusco, TEFL teacher in Taiwan

The Tropic of Cancer divides the island roughly in half, so the north has a subtropical monsoon climate while the south has a tropical monsoon climate. The monsoons bring more that 2,500 millimeters of rain fall every year.

From about mid August to mid October there is also a risk of typhoons. While typhoons come close every year, relatively few actually hit the island. Fortunately, even when typhoons do hit, they cause very limited damage to buildings are they are designed to withstand even the most severe storms. Usually, the most disruption a typhoon will cause is that you are advised to stay at home until the storm has passed.

Language

Taiwan’s national language is Mandarin Chinese and most people can use or understand it. After Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese is the second most used language with about 80% of all population being able to speak it. Other languages exist, such as Hakka (about 10% of the population) and also several native aboriginal languages. Some of the older generations also speak Japanese, dating back to the years of Japanese occupation. English is becoming a more popular language as it is being taught in all government schools and in most private language schools.

Contrary to popular belief, spoken Mandarin is actually a fairly straightforward language to learn. It takes time and practice and while your teaching job must come first, it is definitely an achievable goal if you are in Taiwan for a year or longer. Perhaps the most difficult aspect is mastering the tones, but this comes with practice. The written form of Mandarin requires memorization of characters and can be time consuming. There are over 50,000 characters listed in dictionaries, but only approximately 5,000 are required for advanced literary study, and just 3,000 are needed for basic literacy.

On arriving in Taiwan, many teachers start a language exchange program with a local Chinese person as it is a great way to meet people and learn a new language for free. Alternatively, there are a number of schools where you can pay for Chinese lessons by the hour. If you are not interested in learning Chinese there is no big problem, but you should certainly try to learn a few key words and phrases as it will make your day to day life much easier and enjoyable.

Political Status

Taiwan has a very interesting history and any teacher thinking of working in Taiwan will benefit from having a basic understanding of the main events of the past 60 years. Taiwan is a very peaceful and safe country, but there remains some non-aggressive political tension between Taiwan (Republic of China) and mainland China (People’s Republic of China).

There is plenty of information available about how the political situation came about, but in short: mainland China considers Taiwan to be one of its territories and is looking to unify both countries under the ‘one country, two systems’ scheme. Meanwhile, Taiwan considers itself distinctly independent and has little intention of becoming part of PRC.

For the last half century or so, the two sides have governed themselves individually and developed separate identities. Today, the ROC has different laws, currency, passports and government (democracy) to the PRC. Thankfully, while the ROC and PRC may have their political disagreements, there are many strong bonds between them and both sides remain at peace.

Culture

When imagining Taiwan you could be forgiven for thinking that its culture is purely of Chinese origin. While Chinese culture and traditions are certainly dominant throughout the island, Taiwan’s cultural footing dates back an extremely long way. Over the years Taiwan has been home or port to people from all over the region, including Japan, Korea, Indonesia and of course its own thriving indigenous aboriginal tribes. Wherever you travel in Taiwan, you will see these various influences shining through in the different foods, music, beliefs, languages, religions, museums, architecture, arts and crafts that fill Taiwan.

Taiwan has managed to preserve its heritage and is proud of the traditional festivals that fill the calendar. The festivals also visitors a cheap and convenient way to learn about the various cultures while also meeting a cross section of the local people. Whether you find yourself celebrating Chinese New Year, joining in with the Lantern Festival, burning ‘ghost money’ in the streets to ward off evil spirits, or entering a team into the Dragon Boat Festival, you will never be short of things to experience and people to meet.

While Taiwan has managed to preserve its traditional values, it has not held back when it comes to evolving and developing its modern and contemporary culture. Over the last 30 years Taiwan has won an increasing number of awards in various the arts, including cinema, music and dance.

Taiwan has also been positively influenced by the west. This is clearly seen in its desire to learn English, trade with the west and have access to the same branded products and lifestyle options that are common in affluent societies. Taiwan is very much involved with globalization – but it is not losing any of its charm in the process.

Food

Shilin

An array of fresh fruit
in Shilin night market

Taiwan caters for the needs of most people. Whether you prefer vegetarian, seafood or meat, you will be equally spoilt for choice as great food is a very important part of daily life in Taiwan. Most people choose to eat out most meals as it is convenient, tasty and cheap. Even the most discerning food connoisseurs would be very impressed with the variety, availability and affordability of the numerous cuisines on offer.

Many food critics claim that Taiwan has the finest selection of Chinese food anywhere in the world – including China itself. If you visit a certain province in China you may be somewhat limited to the cooking style of that particular region, but in Taiwan you will be able to find all of the styles from all of the regions. This is because in the early 1950’s over 1 million immigrants from all over China relocated to Taiwan and brought with them their own regional style of cooking. Today, the variety of Chinese food on offer in Taiwan is staggering: Cantonese, Szechuan, Taiwanese, Hakka, Fujian, Shandong, Shanghai, Beijing, Zhejiang, etc, etc!

Along the Asian food theme, Japanese and Korean cuisine is widely available, while Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese restaurants can be found without much difficulty.

There are also a number of restaurants that offer western food. Most cities also have a western food chains including KFC, McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and MOS Burger.

Cost of Living

Taiwan’s excellent cost of living ranks high as a major attraction. If you want an enjoyable lifestyle and to still have money left over at the end of the month, then Taiwan could well be the place for you.

Whether it’s rent, food, utilities or transport, the cost of living is very favourable. When compared against your home country, you will be amazed at how cheap and affordable most products and services are, and you will probably start wondering how things got so expensive back home!

We will happily provide you with detailed information on typical costs and give you clear guidance on how much you could expect to save, based on your interests, income and location within Taiwan.

Housing

When you arrive we will assist you in finding accommodation. We understand that you want to be comfortable in your apartment, so we take great care to listen to your needs and we will help you settle as quickly as possible.

Many teachers prefer to share with a couple of other teachers (which has the advantages of meeting people, cheaper rent and the apartments are usually furnished) but whatever your needs, we will advise you on location, put you in touch with other teachers, give you guidance on rental prices, arrange viewings and help you negotiate the terms with the landlord.

Many teachers choose to stay in a hotel for the first week (which is partially subsidized by the company) to allow you some time to find an apartment of your choice. We also offer interest free loans so teachers can pay the deposit for the apartment.

If you decide to move into an unfurnished apartment you can buy good quality second hand furniture and household appliances at very reasonable prices. If you prefer to buy new, then there are a number of stores (including Ikea) that have everything you need. Whatever you buy, you should be able to sell it on when you leave Taiwan.

Heathcare

Taiwan has an excellent health service. Whether you need to see a doctor, specialist or dentist, the outpatient service is efficient and thorough. All of our teachers are entitled to the national health services and as the health service is heavily subsidized by the government, teachers only pay a minimal cost for prescriptions.

Should you ever feel you need friendly support or are concerned about the language barrier our welfare officer can accompany you to your appointment. Alternatively, if you prefer to seek health advice on your own, we can offer you help with finding an English speaking doctor and will help you book the appointment.

In addition to the government health scheme, all of our teachers take out an additional private insurance scheme that provides additional insurance beyond the government scheme (for example the cost of repatriation or insurance payment if you are ever hospitalized). You have a choice to join our company scheme or find your own insurance policy. As the company insurance is a group scheme, it offers good advantages and is much cheaper than most other individual schemes.

Shopping

Taiwan is famed for its lively night markets. They are noisy and fun places where you will find hundreds of food stalls, clothes shops, arcade games and stalls selling everything from mobile phones to pots and pans! These markets offer a cheap night out and are fun to explore.

There are also a number of specialist markets that offer excellent prices ranges of products for things like electronics, jewelry, new and second hand furniture, arts and crafts.

Food markets open in the daytime and specialize in fruit and vegetables, seafood, meat, dried foods, herbs and spices and just about anything else that is edible! They are also great places to buy ready prepared meals and snacks.

Most people simply don’t bother to cook at home as there is an abundance of convenient, tasty and cheap food stalls and restaurants in every town. But, if you fancy yourself as a chef then every district has a number of outdoor and indoor markets. There are also a number of global supermarket chains including Carrefour, RT-Mart and Cost-Co which stock both local and imported goods.

Every high street has the usual mix of shops and services: clothes, shoes, household, launderettes, hairdressers, restaurants, banks, convenience stores, bookshops, electrical stores, bakeries, coffee shops, etc. The larger city high streets also have a number of department stores and internationally branded designer stores and boutiques.

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