First impressions

Neither of us has never been on an international flight where the overwhelming majority of the passengers are from the country the plane is going to. It seemed that the entirety of Taiwan was returning from holiday on the same flight. Furthermore, it seemed that everyone on the plane knew each other and there was a constant hum of conversation as each new arrival in the waiting area was welcomed with great enthusiasm. As we would later discover, Taiwanese people are actually just very friendly and find it easy to make conversation with strangers, even across a language barrier.

Our first days in Changhua city found us in a hotel officially called the Sanming Guesthouse (or something to that effect), but the mirrored ceilings and artistic nude paintings and portraits in every room have earned it the popular title of The Love Hotel. A little tacky, yes, but it was clean, our showers were hot, the room was air-conditioned and room service was available every day if we wanted it, and for only R400 (NT$800) per night, we weren’t going to complain about the decor. The koi pond and artificial waterfall on the 10th floor were a nice touch though, and provided the soothing sound of running water at night.

As we arrived the day before a long weekend we had four days to ourselves to just be tourists. Unfortunately it rained for three of them. The heat of Taiwanese summer (which is often in the range of 40°C) is matched only by the intensity with which it rains, making it risky to walk to the corner shop for lunch, let alone to be sightseeing around the city, for fear of drowning. However, in between torrential downpours we made brief forays out into the streets to see what was on offer. Eating out is a factor of every day life in Taiwan, so we were spoiled for choice in terms of places to get food, but as the menus were almost always exclusively in Chinese characters (kangxi) we occasionally had to just guess what things were. Luckily we had apps that could help us decode many of the dishes, and so we often knew the basics of what we were ordering. But, unlike South Africa, where menus will often spell out the contents of a meal, in Taiwan you will find things like “signature dumplings”, with no further description. Foods like pork knuckles or chicken feet tend to be quite clearly labelled as such, though. So if, like us, you are a bit of a cautious eater or have specific dietary requirements, it is easy to avoid any foods you are wary of. People at stands are also very willing to help if they can, and if you aren’t embarrassed to use tourist sign language and talk in single-word sentences, we have found we can get by quite easily.

Despite the heat and the rain (both of which make us feel very lazy), Changhua is always busy. The streets only quieten down around midnight as life happens at strange hours in Taiwan. Except for the 24 hour stores and the morning markets, most places only open after 10:30 am each day, which can make it difficult to shopping done, or find somewhere to have breakfast. But the city comes alive at night. Going out to a bar at 6pm means you will probably be the only people in there for the next three to four hours. Eating dinner, buying a dress, or getting ice-cream at 10pm on a Thursday is completely normal, and some restaurants and shops are only open at night. This has taken some getting used to, and on our first weekend we set out at 9:30am on a Saturday to do some shopping, only to find everything but the department store and the 7/11 closed. However, given that we only finish work after 8pm each night, the ability to still buy a broom or a pack of coat-hangers on the way home is hugely convenient.

These are all just first impressions and as we learn more about our new home we’ll share our experiences and talk more about the people, the country, the culture, and the food!

(Note: Taiwanese people are more passionate about their food than any other nation we have ever encountered. Therefore, we will probably end up talking about that a lot!)