Why I Love Taiwan: Convenience

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.

Public Transportation

Fast, but thankfully not this fast.

Fast, but thankfully not this fast.

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.

Mixed-Use Buildings

Everything you need, right here.

Everything you need, right here.

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

Exhibit A: The convenience stores on my street

Exhibit A: The convenience stores on my street

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.

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The Sunflower Student Movement: Taiwan, Democracy, Protest, and You

*Update: Shortly after I posted this, more aggressive protesters occupied the Executive Yuan and were later removed by the police using excessive force and injuring protestors, journalists, and at least one doctor. A water cannon was fired numerous times on the crowd. President Ma continues to ignore the people.

Long time no see!

It seems that I’m due for my yearly blog update. (I haven’t completely disappeared though. I regularly update my Instagram and have even been posting to Twitter.) Unlike my last post 12 months ago, the timing of this entry is not random. I would like to direct your attention to some very important events that have been unfolding here in Taiwan over the last week.

(If reading isn’t your thing, this is a pretty good video that explains pretty much everything below.)

What happened?

Since there are already countless blog posts, videos, and photos uploaded by people who understand the situation much better than I do, I will just give you a brief rundown on what is going on and post some links where you can find more information.  (You can find the links embedded in the text throughout this post.)  On March 18, 2014, protesters stormed the Legislative Yuan (the Taiwan legislature) in Taipei to rally against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA), a controversial trade agreement between Taiwan and China that opens up the service sectors of both countries. Many say the process of the passage of the agreement has been undemocratic and lacking necessary transparency. Since then, protesters have occupied the Legislative Yuan, both inside and out (a first in Taiwanese history) and refuse to leave until their demands are met. Despite what some reports may say about the protest, those involved have been respectful and peaceful.

(Check out this video of protesters clapping for the police officers to show respect!)

Thus far, government officials have mostly ignored the protesters and their demands have been refused. So, the protest, and the wait, continues.

The protest has been given a few names that are sure to be written into the history books someday: March 18 Student Movement, Occupy Taiwan Legislature, or (my personal favourite) the Sunflower Student Movement.

Why is this important?

Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China (not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China, AKA China), has been a democratic nation since the 1990s and has maintained its independence from the People’s Republic of China for at least five or six decades. China, on the other hand, has declared that Taiwan is a renegade province of China and will one day “reclaim” Taiwan as its territory, by force, if necessary, or patiently by slowly taking control of the island nation’s economy. Many protesters view the passage of the CSSTA as a major problem for Taiwan’s economy, as well as the beginning of the end of democracy and freedom in Taiwan. They feel that passing this trade pact allows China too much control of the economy in Taiwan. They are gravely concerned that it will lead to considerable job losses and the deterioration of working conditions, and could eventually lead to the annexation of Taiwan.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, international media has not been doing a very good job of covering the protest. There are very few large, international media sources who have been broadcasting any details of the events, and any articles written about it have been misinformed or are lacking very important details.  You have the ability to do something simple, but profound.  Clicking the share button might not seem like you’re doing much, but it’s terribly important to get the news spreading around the world and to show your support.  Take a moment to read about what’s happening here in Taiwan and, while you’re at it, you can check out a bit of the history of Taiwan to gain a better understanding of why people here are so angry at their government and concerned about their future.

To receive updates as the events happen, I encourage you to keep checking the coverage by Ketagalan Media and clicking their links for live coverage (in English!) coming from inside and out of the Legislative Yuan. For a longer explanation of the protest, more great links, and some cool videos, head over to this post at Savage Minds by Dr. P. Kerim Friedman. You can also find more by following the hashtag #CongressOccupied on Instagram and Twitter.

Please, take a moment to sign the change.org petition to let the people of Taiwan know that you and the rest of the world value their rights and freedom.

Thank you everyone! You’re beautiful!

Tyson