Lay of the land

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Ren’ai Circle, Taipei

I’m still here in Taiwan.  Initially, I came here to fulfill an item on my bucket list: learn to speak, read, and write Mandarin Chinese.

The plan was to also continue study programming then eventually move back to the States…  But learning Chinese is a very involved process.  I discovered that I had to write each character 40 times before the word became part of my vocabulary.  On top of 15 hours a week of class time, I was also spending 20 hours a week on after class study.  Each character is a picture that is associated with a sound and a tone.  Just because two words may have the same components, the actual pronunciation and meaning are probably not related.  Knowing how hard Chinese is to pick up, I wish I could get back my wasted childhood afternoons watching “Tom & Jerry” and “Three’s Company”.

Furthermore, I overestimated the value of being raised in a Chinese speaking household.  Sure, I had an idea of how sentences should be formed but I didn’t know the characters associated with nearly any of the words I used at home.  Moreover, I was lazy or didn’t have the patience to sit through the most rudimentary classes.

In May 2017, I realized how much time classes were taking so I refocused my energies on the programming effort.  I finished one of Udacity’s nanodegree programs and am now working on a second one.

Along the way I discovered I quite like living in Taiwan.  Compared with Ghana, everything you think should function actually works.  There’s constant power, water, and Internet.  Traffic is light during most of the day and rush hour isn’t that horrible.  No one asks for bribes on my way home at night.

What’s amazing is that Taiwan is also easier than living in America.

Getting Around

Public transportation is both convenient and cheap.  Most rides cost between 50 cents for short distances and 80 cents to cross the span of the city and can take over an hour.  Service starts at 6am and ends at midnight.

Healthcare

Healthcare is very cheap and for Americans there is no prospect of going bankrupt if you have to go to the emergency room.  Taiwanese pay a monthly premium of maybe US$30-60 and can visit nearly any doctor for small issues for maybe $6.50.  Often times, the doctor throws medication for free or for a similar nominal amount.  I’m told it can cost US$300 to deliver a baby.  When I go to a clinic I pay about $35 each time but I also don’t pay the monthly premiums.

Personal safety and crime

In Taipei, I’m not afraid for my safety — ever.  A good female friend of mine said she used to walk home from work at 2am.  She never felt fear for her safety.  Furthermore, I often see people leave their valuables out at restaurants or coffee shops while they go order.  I know this is normal in college towns in the US but this trust is pervasive here.

Downsides

The main downside is that it’s not easy to find a good-paying job here.  Because of competition from China, wages are pretty low compared to developed countries.  The minimum wage is NT 21,000 per month (US$700) and the hourly minimum wage is NT 133 (US$4.35).  College educated workers earn more but it also depends on profession and industry.   Engineers with a few years of experience and over time pay can earn US$2,000 to US$5,000 per month (international companies).  But if you factor in the very low cost of healthcare, then I feel the salaries are not so bad.

I am told that young people feel housing is too expensive and wages are low so many younger people want to leave for other countries.

In summary, I’m still here because everything — electricity, water, Internet, transportation, healthcare — works here and it’s not dangerous nor corrupt.  While the economy is not considered strong, many people seem to have a enjoy the present attitude.

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2 comments

    • Hey Steve, It really depends on what your budget is. A one bedroom outside of central Taipei may be US$300-400 while central Taipei is closer to US$1000. Many people from outside of Taipei may also share a flat to lower their costs.

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