I‘ve already made my list of things that I’ll miss about Taipei after I depart — the most important of which would be the friends I’ve made. This city certainly isn’t all bad. While this city has been a decent place to live while I’ve been here, there are certainly reasons I want to get away.
Let’s get some of the small stuff out of the way first. Obviously, I could do with out the noise created by all the ill-maintained motorbikes (I welcome the day that they’re all replaced by Gogoro). Also, the awful drivers who don’t care that they create dangerous situations — at least in Vietnam the poor driving habits are more consistent.
Air pollution is another good reason to get out. Taiwan is better than some other nearby nations, but my lungs will be happy to move to cleaner air.
There’s also the weather. I can’t step outside for more than five minutes in August without bursting into flames.
There are other things I won’t miss about Taipei that would require further explanation.
A common complaint around Taipei is that extremely slow walkers can take up entire sidewalks — it doesn’t matter how many people or how wide the sidewalk either. There are sidewalks in my neighborhood that can accommodate three people, but one person who walks slower than a snail will inevitably occupy the entire space and not allow anyone to pass in either direction.
Of course, the space on sidewalks is littered in many places with illegally parked motorbikes, and sometimes cars. At least it isn’t as bad as in Tainan (I didn’t take photos of the ones in Taipei).
There are also plenty of people who take up unnecessary space at libraries and cafes. There are many days I go to the National Library near my apartment to write only to find that the desks are occupied by people sleeping or who have simply left their belongings and gone for a walk.
These people will leave laptops and other electronics on the desk for hours. In any other country, their stuff would get stolen and everyone would blame the victim. There are also signs at the desks that say you shouldn’t leave your seat for more than an hour, which is still excessive.
I have taken seats at which someone has only left their belongings. When they return and say, “Excuse me, that’s my seat.” I respond with “You haven’t been here for more than two hours. It’s not your seat anymore.” I hope these people get it through their thick skulls that they shouldn’t be inconsiderate.
While night markets can be fun and the availability of some non-Taiwanese food is plentiful around the city, overall I’m not a fan of Taiwanese cuisine. I’m sure more than a few people will chastise me for this, but it needs to be explained.
I consider most Taiwanese food as bland. More than that, it relies on gooey textures that I find repulsive (I didn’t like mochi in Japan or toppokki in Korea either). And much of the food is sweet. And people can shut up about how much they love stinky tofu — it’s a foul odor and it’s still bland tofu.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good foods in Taiwan. I like beef noodle soup, three cup chicken, and xiaolongbao. However, there is little in Taiwan that I would ever crave. In almost three years, I have had ONE meal here that made me say, “Wow, that’s amazing,” and it certainly wasn’t at Din Tai Fung. The best Taiwanese meal I had was a roasted chicken restaurant in Jiaoxi — it ranked up there with the fried chicken I had in my neighborhood in Seoul.
Before anyone starts ranting about the quality of American food with references to fast food, you can shut up too. I don’t eat fast food. I rarely eat a burger unless it’s guaranteed to be a really good one. I happen to prefer the food from every other country I’ve visited to that of Taiwan.
Company Management and Culture
Taiwan is resource rich but management poor. This doesn’t mean that everything that goes on here is of poor quality, but it does mean that there is a lot of room for improvement and the reason that improvements don’t come is because management gets in the way of progress.
Many Taiwanese companies demand loyalty from employees, but they also pay paltry wages. Managers often complain about the lack of qualified employees and why so many talented Taiwanese move abroad. They blame the government and society for their ills. They should take a look in the mirror.
I went to an interview and was told that the company has had two people in this position in the last six months. When I mentioned the salary I wanted, I was told it was far too high (the company wanted someone for about $25,000 per year). Gee, I wonder why that company couldn’t find a suitable candidate.
As my friend and former coworker noted, many companies reward mediocrity while putting pressure on high performers. If you do more than the bare minimum, you will always be expected to do that without any incentives or increased salary. Meanwhile, your coworker who slacks off will be seen as a model employee because he/she does exactly what is expected despite the poor quality. This is especially true of employees who have been with a company a long time — if someone new comes along and performs better in the same job, the older employee will still be given more money and possibly a promotion.
I had another coworker who said Taiwan doesn’t attract the more repulsive expats as other East/Southeast Asian countries, but it also doesn’t attract the best qualified either. You won’t find as many entrepreneurs heading for Taiwan to start a business — they’re more likely to go to China or somewhere else.
I’m sure I’ll encounter plenty that I can complain about when I return to the US. Corporate culture isn’t much better in the US with companies attempting to pay the lowest possible salaries, but I’m sure there are companies that recognize the differences in quality.
Taipei Bar Prices
Alright, this is not something that I should complain about considering how many times I’ve gone out for drink in Manhattan. But considering the cost of living in Taipei, bars are ridiculously expensive. I understand that the cost of running a bar is high and there are a lot of taxes on alcohol (beer in particular), but the prices can be outrageous.
When the median salary in Taipei is just over NT$40,000 (US$1323) per month and the minimum wage isn’t even US$5 per hour, it’s a luxury to have a drink. While I made significantly more than the median salary, I wasn’t willing to pay more than US$10 for a drink, even I was only having one or two for the evening. I can get the same quality of drinks for less in Manhattan.
Fortunately, I managed to find some bars that were less expensive — and those are the places I went to more often.
Is it really that bad?
The positive of Taipei still outweighs the negative in these cases, though the work environment was definitely a drag on the desire to stay long term. And considering the friends I’ve made here, there’s a decent chance I’ll return to visit and see a few sights that I missed during my time here.