Taiwan is one of the four Asian tigers that are known for its striving economy and incredible culture. It is ranked as the second freest country in Asia and has is also one of the safest countries. If Taiwan happens to be on your travel list, here are some cultural tips for you.
Boba or bubble tea is originated from Taiwan. There are hundreds of businesses in the bubble tea market, you can easily spot two to three stores on a street selling the drink. The market demand for bubble tea has sky-rocketed since its introduction. Thus many food businesses started to come up with bubble tea “flavors” for their products. Some fascinating examples are boba-flavored popcorn, tarts, and pizza. Any food you can think of has a boba flavor. When I first came here, I was surprised by the variety of boba flavors. It is worth a try if you are a fan of it, although some of them might taste a bit weird.
The next thing is stinky tofu. Some people compared the smell to sewer and rotten meat, but it is quite healthy. The tofu goes through a fermentation process that induces the production of vitamins, especially vitamin B12 and gut-friendly bacteria. Most vendors fry the stinky tofu upon serving to reduce the smell and top it with fermented cabbage or radish, which tastes sour. If you are new to the culture, the smell can be a bit too strong. I would suggest politely reject any offers or just distance yourself from the smell. Taiwanese are generally very friendly and understanding but showing exaggerated unsatisfactory in front of the people, especially the vendors is still a big no.
One commonly observed social norm in Taiwan is being silent in the elevator or public transport. For public transport, in particular, some passengers dislike it and might even complain if you are too loud. You might even get a few stares from the public. So try to keep your volume down when using public transport.
Speaking of public transport, the traffic in Taiwan is just chaotic, especially in Taipei. One has to be extra cautious with the motorcycles especially when crossing the roads. Most cars and motorcycles are going at a high speed and tend to speed through red lights. For the standard motorcycle, pedestrians can at least hear the engine sounds; but electric motorcycles are much more silent. In some cases, you are not aware that it is right behind you. So, be sure to always look before crossing the roads. To be on the safe side, even when the green light is lit for pedestrian crossing, I would wait for a moment to make sure the road is clear and safe to cross.
Taipei has a very good bus and MRT (Taipei Mass Rapid Transit) transport system. There is even an app to track the buses and traffic conditions. All that being said, I still had quite a shocking experience during my first bus ride in the city. When you are on one of the public buses, it is strongly recommended to either sit or stand while holding tight to the grab handles. During the ride, you might find yourself swaying pretty hard side to side or back and forth. We can’t entirely blame the drivers for it as they have to make sure they arrive on time for each stop. Hence, you have to get on and off-board quickly. Do sound the alarm as the bus approaches your station. If there are no passengers to pick up at the bus stop, the bus might not stop at the station.
Taiwan is an island country and it is mostly mountainous in the east and has several smaller islands surrounding it. It has one of the best cycling infrastructures in the world. Many people, especially students use bikes to travel around the city. The road paths along the riverside and the coast are specially designed for cycling and have an amazing mountainous view for some areas. The Riverside Park that separates Taipei and New Taipei City is a favorite for new cyclists as it is very flat and convenient. There are vending machines to keep you fueled along the way. If you happen to use a bike around the city, go slow and always give priority to the pedestrians. Most Taiwanese cyclists in the city won’t sound the bike bell when they are nearby, so as a pedestrian you should give way to cyclists as well.
People of Taiwan have to bring their trash to the collection point at a specific time. In Taipei, non-recyclables have to be in color-coded bags that can be bought at stores. Government garbage collection trucks play classical music like Fur Elise and Maiden’s Prayer to alert people of their arrival. If you find that this system is inconvenient for you, you can opt to pay for a servicing company that collects your trash for you. Note that some companies might require you to separate recyclables and non-recyclables as it is a very common habit for Taiwanese households to do so.
When visiting a Taiwanese household, I would recommend reading an etiquette guide for Chinese households. I will briefly summarize the basics here. Before entering, do ask if shoes are allowed in the house. Always greet the elderly. On the dining table, hold your rice bowl up when eating. When pouring tea for the elderly, make sure to pick up the cup and pour it until it is at least 70% full. Pouring tea with the cup on the table is a big no. Serve the elderly first before serving yourself. When sitting down, don’t shake your legs. There is a belief that shaking your legs will “shake” away good luck.
Lastly, Taiwan is a nice and friendly country however one still has to beware of scammers and frauds. The country is known for its advanced IT development like computers, chips, and software. Thus online scams are common. I would suggest online shopping only through official or widely-recognized and regulated websites. It is better to make payments in-store or in person instead of through the web.