As you may have heard, I’m currently in Taipei, Taiwan getting ready for the big Computex trade show that kicks off this week. Before attending the world’s second largest computer expo itself, Stephen Fung and I decided to take a couple of days to explore the city and what it has to offer. On our first day in Taipei, we walked around for a solid six or seven hours. Yeah, our feet were begging for mercy by the end of it.
Seeing how this is my first time in Taipei, I prepared myself for a bit of a culture shock. My prediction was that Taipei would be very similar to Hong Kong, except everyone would speak Mandarin instead of Cantonese. To sum up my experiences in these first 24 hours, I have compiled a list of nine general observations. Why nine? Because the tenth is yet to come.
1. Watch Your Step Always
The sidewalks in Taipei are terribly uneven and made up of several different materials. It is not out of the ordinary to find huge sections of sidewalk missing and then to come across several steps or a ramp as you approach an intersection. You really have to watch where you walk, because it’s really easy to misstep and trip. The puddles don’t help either.
2. This is a City of Scooters
Young and old, male and female, it seems that the standard form of transportation for most people is the gas-powered scooter. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, because they’ll just throw on a poncho and continue on their merry way. It really is quite amazing how many scooters there are. The city even provides ample parking on sidewalks for scooters.
3. Don’t Assume English Will Work
It depends largely on where you go, but Taipei is not exactly English-friendly. There are many restaurants whose menus do not have English nor do they have pictures. Communicating through gestures is always an option… and an adventure.
4. They Love Their Technology
In general, it appears that the technological phenomenon in Taipei is much the same as in Tokyo. The people of Japan tend to prefer Japanese products and the people of Taiwan tend to prefer Taiwanese products. I was awash in Asus, BenQ, and MSI in every electronics shop.
5. iPhone is Here, Does Anyone Care?
The Apple penetration in Taiwan is nowhere near as deep as back home. Even so, I found a few stores that were selling the Apple iPhone, presumably unlocked. I didn’t inquire about pricing, but it didn’t seem like anyone was interested anyways. They were too occupied with other phones instead.
6. Traffic Markings Are Merely Suggestions
From traffic lights to lane markings, the drivers on the road take a pretty liberal approach to what they can and cannot do. Running red lights, sharing lanes, and performing u-turns are extremely common place. Any time a scooter has enough time to go, it will. This makes for a stressful pedestrian experience.
7. Car Modifications Confuse Me
Modified lights and other aftermarket car customizations seem to be commonplace. Many trucks have blinking blue lights in the back that alternate with blinking red lights. Wouldn’t this combination be easily confused for the police?
8. 7-11 Stores Sell Umbrellas
Even though I saw that the weather report called for rain, I neglected to pack an umbrella. Luckily for me, 7-11 convenience stores here sell umbrellas. The one I bought cost 65 NT, which works out to about two bucks back home.
9. Parking is Remarkably Inexpensive
It is definitely possible that I am misinterpreting the signage, but the surface lots that I encountered were only charging between 20 and 40 NT per “stay”. That’s only about one Canadian dollar. Given the number of cars on the road, I thought parking in Taipei would be much more costly. It certainly is in Hong Kong and Tokyo.
This is Only the Beginning
These nine observations come from only one day in Taipei. I’m going to be in Taiwan for a little over a week, so there are bound to be more surprises in store for me.