As I write this, I am sitting in a McDonald’s near my work between classes. The restaurant is fairly quiet, save for the bizarre elevator music playing on the radio and the two older foreigners complaining about living and teaching in Taiwan. As of a couple weeks ago I officially reached three years in Taiwan. While I can probably find many things to add to their conversation, I recently started remembering all the things that make Taiwan such an amazing country. So this starts a new series that I hopefully will be able to add to for as long as I am in Taiwan.
Of course, my first post is going to be my absolute favourite thing about Taiwan: convenience! This list could probably go on forever, so I’ll leave it with my top three favourite convenience experiences.
At first glance it almost seems as though this country was built on convenience. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, such as my experience trying to file taxes after moving to a different city, However, for the most part, convenience is one of the most noticeable aspects of Taiwanese culture for foreigners when they first arrive. When my mom asked my boyfriend why this country is so convenient, he laughed and said, “Because Taiwanese people are lazy.” My mom quickly responded, “Oh! No wonder Tyson fits in so well there.” Thanks mom.
Living in one of the major cities, like Taipei or Kaohsiung, is certainly the most obvious way to realize Taiwan’s convenience at its finest. With their fast, cheap, and simple metro and bus systems you can get anywhere in large urban areas without needing to be concerned with how much public transportation will cost you each month. Coming from Middle-of-Nowhere, Canada, I had a difficult time believing that anyone would ever want to choose public transportation over their own vehicle. I love the ease of driving a scooter, yet while I was living in Danshui (just outside of Taipei) my scooter sat unused and neglected for months. Taipei’s public transportation system won me over and now, living on the outskirts of Hsinchu, I feel like needing to drive a scooter around is such an unfortunate way to live. Kaohsiung is making plans to expand its MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) in the near future. Taipei already has an amazing MRT system, yet they are continuing to make it more efficient and convenient by opening or expanding 6 lines over the next four years, one of them connecting the Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei. However, if you’re living outside of a major urban area, don’t worry. The train connects pretty much every small town and city and, depending on where you live, you can take your choice between the slow, comfortable local trains; the faster, more comfortable express trains; or the extremely fast, very comfortable HSR (High Speed Rail). Also, if you get yourself an EasyCard, you can deposit money on it and use it on almost any MRT, train, or bus, and at any participating store, like 7-11.
While it would be easy for me to simply talk about the MRT and train systems, Taiwan’s convenience is so much more than public transportation. Urban development is similar all across the country. The ground floor is for businesses while the floors above are for residential use. Of course not every building is like this, as there are apartment and condo complexes, townhouses, and strictly commercial and industrial zones, but where there are houses there are almost always shops, restaurants, banks, hair salons, fruit stands, and whatever else you may need. I have lived in three different cities and haven’t yet really complained about inconvenience (although I do sometimes forget myself and think that needing to walk two minutes down the street to get sushi is an inconvenience).
Actually-Convenient Convenience Stores
For those who have been here, I know exactly what you’re thinking. 7-11! I’m saving the best for last. For those who haven’t been here, I know you’re wondering how a gas store/convenience store could be any more convenient in Taiwan. 7-11 in Taiwan actually doesn’t sell gas here, but what it lacks in fuel it makes up for in basically everything else. It still sells the usual snacks, drinks, magazines and small toiletries, but also tickets (for movies, live shows, trains, flights, amusement parks, etc.), clothing, fried foods, alcohol, salads, and sushi rolls. If you have any bills or tickets to pay, 7-11 can help you take care of those too. 7-11 also acts as a cafe and a post office. (Speaking of which, post offices all over Taiwan are also banks.) Also, 7-11 or other equally convenient stores like Hi-Life, Family Mart, or OK Mart (all often given the colloquial name of “7-11”), are so prevalent that they happen to be on nearly every street corner, or sometimes even right beside each other!
So tonight I may walk across the street to 7-11 to purchase a train ticket for next weekend, then walk down the street and stop at each store along the way to get some baked goods, develop some photos, and pick up some new contacts. As I walk back to my apartment I may even get more McDonald’s delivered to my place, just because I can.