TAIWAN FUN MAGAZINE, September 2006.


Living in English

---By Phill Feltham and Josie Wu
Translated by Miko Liu and Sho Huang

Living abroad can be the best years of one's life. Homesickness and insecurity--accompanied by honeymoon happiness--transforms into a cultural understanding that adds a new dimension to one's personality. Life at home has the luxury of easy interaction but, when one heads overseas, communication instantly becomes complex. Life in a foreign country is very much like being in a magical maze, filled with the joy of discovering new things, together with the occasional frustration. For those of you have been here for awhile, or are Taiwanese, close your eyes for a second and imagine Taipei through the eyes of a new arrival. You're surrounded by new sounds and smells, and all the signs are incomprehensible squiggles. Your ears perk up at the sound of English, and your eyes are constantly scanning for anything spelled out in the Roman alphabet or other familiar signs, for clues that will help orient yourself in your surroundings.

Government and private organisations
are working to internationalise Taipei

Getting Around the Magical Maze: Transport
In recent years, government services have made it much easier for foreigners to get around Taipei. English has been added to bus signs. The MRT's modern, clean stations are well marked in English and sport clear bilingual maps. There are now 130 taxi drivers in the English Taxi Driver Association (ETA) whose cars sport bold stickers proclaiming, "Yes, I speak English".
Many tourist destinations and facilities also provide bilingual services and websites, including Shu San Xing Museum, the northeast coast national parks, and Taipei county's YingGe Pottery and Porcelain Museum. Shanxia Temple also leaves a favorable impression on foreign visitors with its fluent English tour guides explaining the temple's exquisite carvings.
Backpackers can visit the http://youthtravel.tw website to apply for a free Digital Tour Buddy, which is a mobile phone possessing not only translation functions but also handy numbers for services pertaining to areas like local travel, daily life and hostel reservations. The 24-hour service doesn't require a deposit or any fee and it's easy to top up time on your phone.


Eating Your Words: Food
Ordering food in a restaurant in any country where a foreign language is spoken is difficult, to say the least. Canadian Sacha's approach was to study some of the Chinese menus. "I started off being pretty limited by the foods that I ate, because I couldn't read menus that weren't written in English, so I started to take home some menus to study them, and had some translated with help from friends," she says.

Another approach is memorizing some of the names of foods that you like and then expanding that range by adding some new selections. Another foreigner, Sarah, says eating out hasn't been too difficult to master in Taiwan; if you aren't picky. "Many places have pictures for guests to see, so at least you know what your meal will look like, even if you don't know what it is." McDonald's and Starbucks are famous for this approach, among others. Some opt, especially when feeling homesick, to visit one of the tons of restaurants recently opened by foreigners.

With transport and food sorted out, the new arrival usually wants to make some friends and meet people. Some will start by making friends with fellow travelers at their hotel or hostel. Many venture out into Taipei's nightlife scene, which is easy to navigate. English names of drinks are widely understood, pubs are widely advertised and they tend to be clustered into districts--keeping transportation problems to a minimum. You can also pick up bilingual magazines such as Taiwan Fun Taipei City Guide or visit bilingual websites to find out more about food, nightlife, shopping, and entertainment. In addition to the popular night markets, interesting leisure activities such as bungee jumping, martial arts and Chinese opera are discussed as well are interesting ways to meet people.

Others join clubs or attend churches or temples. Organizations like the Community Services Center in TianMu are specifically set up for foreigners. Most clubs, churches and temples that conduct activities in English are usually mixed groups of locals and foreigners. Often the local residents have some experience abroad and are excellent "bridges" for the foreigners to learn about Taiwan. Some of these clubs are listed on page 54.


Government Resources & Services
The majority of Taiwan's official websites provide English versions and http://iff.npa.gov.tw is a website specifically designed to help non-Taiwanese who are arriving or already living here adjust to living here. It is full of information and useful links to help non-locals explore Taiwan's international organizations.

A 24-hour toll-free number, 0800-024-111, assists foreigners with questions about visas, employment, health insurance, transportation, daily-life information, immigration, lost items, education, taxes, house rentals, legal issues, and just about any other topic under the sun. It's such a handy number that some foreigners program it into their cell phones, so that help is just an easy call away in any situation. Vivian Chen, who works with the hotline, says that people call for all sorts of situations. Once, she recalls, a foreigner called the hotline to ask for help with a water heater, instead of asking the building superintendent. Other requests have included questions about finding a pottery class close to home, or assistance in communicating with a taxi driver after being pulled over to the side of the road during an air-raid exercise. In all the above cases, the situations were resolved with assistance from the hotline center. In cases where they cannot assist directly, operators will direct callers to appropriate organizations. Through the end of July, the hotline handled over 17,469 cases, marking a big jump in government interaction with foreigners.
Is it Working?

Taiwan has been working to improve its English living environment, with the aim of closely interacting with international groups and, hence, boost connections to the world. The Executive Yuan's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission (RDEC) launched the "Creating an English Living Environment" project in 2002 with the goal of designing all public facilities and websites with both Chinese and English to provide international-level service, attract international professionals and boost Taiwan's global competitiveness. To examine the results of this campaign, foreigners who are visiting or living here are chosen to evaluate Taiwan's English living environment in terms of living environment and government organizations. A total of 1,068 foreign visitors and 1,098 foreign residents were interviewed to understand their experiences and opinions about living in Taiwan.

The results show that the overall environment has improved significantly. "English Living Environment" receiving a satisfaction rating from 62.1% of respondents, 12.30% higher than 2004's 55.3%. Among all categories, medical, banking and shopping showed the most progress. Thanks to improved English communication ability, English websites and signs, English environment in government organizations got a 64.2% satisfaction rating, improving from 56.2% in 2005. Other evaluated categories can also be found on the graph below. (Information source: RDEC, Executive Yuan)
Taiwan's scenery and culture is receiving more global attention. With a better English living environment, growing numbers of foreign visitors will have positive, enjoyable experiences in Taiwan.