For more than a month I’ve been writing my blog. Not a long time, granted, but some of the entries are long themselves. Sorry about that folks, but once I get going, sometimes I can’t stop. Mom says as I child I would talk to anyone that would listen. Well, now I write for anyone that will read! Same difference, only now I’m not interrupted! Hahhah…
I’ve read over all the comments that have gone with these entries. I make it a point to not answer them directly, as I don’t feel that what I have to say is up for debate. I’m not writing these to defend myself, I write them because I want to say something. But I do read the comments.
A couple that I have been mulling over, asked me what life was like in Taiwan. Traditions, way of life, etc. Well, as an outsider adjusting and trying to understand some of the things that go on, I find that there are many things that happen, ways of business, etc., that are not like North Americans. Now, please keep in mind. These various things are my observations, and again, opinions only. I don’t want anyone in particular to think I’m writing about them. These are general comments about things that stand out in my mind, that are different than the way I did things in Canada.
Let’s start with shopping. From what I’ve observed over the 8 years here, is people like to shop. Okay, no different than North Americans. But here in Taiwan, you can get anything. I remember reading in my travel book before coming here, someone had written that, “… if you can’t find it in Taiwan, you don’t need it…” The more I look around and see what and where and how people shop, I can fully understand.
Clothes. To my meager sense of fashion, I find that for the most part, there is no ‘fashion sense’ in Taiwan. People will wear anything with anything. Socks and sandals. Blue and green. All those ‘fashion faux pas’ that most North American people try to avoid. They also like to wear (especially T-shirts) with English writing on it. It doesn’t matter what it says. The fact that it has letters from the alphabet plastered on it, makes no difference. I’m not sure that most people even understand what it means. A visitor from the US mentioned last night that he saw a boy wearing a T-shirt that had, “Sorry, but I’m hard” written on it. Okay, a brave little statement, but I don’t really think that a guy OR girl should wear that on their chest! Whatever.
Shopping malls as we know them, don’t really exist or work, I suppose. My reasoning is that you can’t drive your scooter into the mall, so people don’t want to go in. Sure, there are a few malls, but not to the extent that we have them. There are what they call department stores, but by North American idea of department stores, these would be more classified as a mall! The department store is filled with many, many, many shops, all separately run, not interconnected in any way, other than, when you pay for something, the clerk runs to a desk somewhere, brings back the receipt, and your purchase gets put into a bag. Every retailer in the ‘department store’ uses the desk for the payments, and every retailer uses the same kind of bag.
Grocery stores are not like ours. Most times, when you want to cook at home, which I wonder how many people really do, you generally buy your ingredients fresh. You go to morning or afternoon markets. Like a farmers market, I suppose. You can get all your fruits, vegetables, and yes, the meat. Out in the open, people walking by, coughing, smoking, sneezing… and there is the ‘butcher’, hacking off a chunk of whatever he happens to be selling. Kind of crude, if you ask me. The one that still gets me though, are the chickens. Crates upon crates. You look, decide, and the chicken, if you care to watch, will be ‘prepared’ for you to take home while you wait.
Now, I realize where beef comes from. I know where pork comes from. I like the breast and keel of a chicken. I just don’t want to see it ‘prepared’ for me while I wait. Yes, you can go into a grocery store and pick up these various pieces of meat, which by the way, when I want, that is what I do. There is no such thing as ‘aging’ here, either. Aging, I suppose, means rotten. Everything, even vacuum-sealed, non-perishable items have an ‘expiry date’. Anywhere from a couple of days, to one year. The best I’ve seen is the one-year expiry on water! And people adhere to this date like it was etched in stone. One day over, and out it goes. No muss, no fuss, no eat!
To me, something like milk, if it’s been in the refrigerator, and it is over the date by a day or two, I’ll smell it, and if it still smells like milk, then use it up. Here, NO! Even little packages of condiments (sauces, ketchup) all have expiry dates. I’m surprised that people don’t have an expiry date stamped on them at birth! Anyway, getting back to the ‘prepared’ meats from the market, the expiry date is probably “THIS EVENING”…
Night markets are big in Taiwan. On any given night, there is a night market running somewhere, in every area of the country. It doesn’t matter where you go, you can find a night market, and the same stuff is sold. I should have taken pictures last night, but I’ll try to do that another time. I was at the largest night market in Tainan last night, with my friend Cliff, and a ‘backpacker’ from the US. This market in English is called Garden Market.
The market in essence, is roughly divided into three sections: games, clothes and other non-perishables (seek and ye shall find), and food. I would guess that at least 40-50% of the market space is dedicated to food. Taiwanese people love to eat. I have never, in all my life, seen people who eat so much, and yet are so little. I mentioned about my kindergarteners feeding schedule. Well, at least 75% of the reason people go to night market, is to eat. And you can find anything. If you’re adventurous enough, there is always something to satisfy your tastebuds.
In some ‘stalls’, you can sit and enjoy your meal. However, you kind of have an ‘unwritten’ time to accomplish this. You order what you want, and in less time than it takes to get settle down on your stool, the plate is in front of you. No talking, no screwing around, no playing… eat, and get out! At least that’s how I feel. To me, when I sit down for a meal, sure I like to be served in a timely manner… I don’t want to wait forever, but at least let me sit down! The service here is easily, 100% faster than McDonalds!
My meal last night, or I should say, all three of us had the same thing, was a steak and hot pot combo. We had a steak, a hot plate over fire, a small bowl of rice, and a hot pot. Basically, a hot pot is a pot of water with a few vegetables and other items floating and bubbling away. The steak, you got to cook yourself. They give you a hot plate, kind of like a mini cooking surface that you would find in a hamburger joint or a diner… flat, no holes, where eggs and hamburgers would be cooked on. Anyway, this thing is about 500 degrees, and it is placed over a flame. This flame I call liquid fire. It is some sort of liquid, that when lit, produces a flame. And don’t knock it over!
This happened a few years ago. I was at the same market, and we were having a steak and noodle with egg combo plate. My fire had gone out. One of the people at the stall was summoned over, and he brought back a plastic bottle. He squeezed some of this liquid fire into the cup, and just as he was about to light it, someone knocked him from behind, the liquid spilled over, and there was fire crawling across the ground. People kind of looked over, continued eating, while the other employees were busy putting out the flames! No concern, no panic by the other patrons. They were eating, and nothing was going to stop them.
The other thing about shopping in Taiwan, besides being able to find almost anything you can think of, is that for the most part, you can barter. Not on food, but on all those non-perishable things. Anyone selling lots of the same kind of items, can most certainly be bartered with. Take T-shirts. They may have a price of 190nt per shirt, but if you haggle enough, and agree to purchase 2 or 3, you can probably get the price down to 150nt each or even lower. Sometimes, you can even get a free one. “Free gift with purchase” takes on a whole new meaning here. If the person at the stall won’t budge on the price, calmly threaten the fact that you will go to the stall beside them. They’ll barter!
Out in the city, VIP cards are everywhere. I, myself, must have about 20 VIP cards. I’ve actually gotten rid of some because VIP doesn’t really mean anything, unless you can read and understand the ‘fine print’. Nonetheless, as a foreigner, it is definitely a lot easier to get a discount or deal, than a local person, with or without a VIP card.
I will, in other blogs, talk about other things: Festival celebrations, driving, accomodations… all again, based on my experiences.