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MAGAZINE, September 2006.
---By Phill Feltham and Josie
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.
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
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,"
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.
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
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
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
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
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