If you could use the phrase “best of all worlds,” then Taiwan would be the model. More tropical than Japan, Korea, or the big cities of China and with a higher standard of living and more saving potential than Southeast Asia, Taiwan is the hidden gem right in the middle. This tiny island nation can only be described as diverse. With its incredible, modern cities with great infrastructure, gorgeous mountains and beaches, and an amazing transportation system that takes you across the country in 90 minutes, Taiwan is something special.
But what really makes Taiwan special is the people. "Welcoming," "friendly," and "so nice" are the words you hear again and again. For those of us who have been here for a while, there is no other place in the world where we could imagine feeling so much at home while being so far from home. Taiwan is that hidden gem that we all hope to find. Comfort and adventure are possible every day. With branches all over Taiwan, HESS can offer the most options to our teachers. In Taiwan, HESS is the leader in English education.
Taiwan’s population of 23+ million is comprised of Taiwanese, Han Chinese, and many different aboriginal groups speaking primarily Mandarin Chinese as well as Taiwanese and aboriginal dialects. It is a thriving mosaic of tradition, culture, and high-tech development, merging Eastern and Western influences.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan and is spoken by almost everyone except some members of older generations. Taiwanese is often spoken by locals in their homes and at markets. Hakka and aboriginal dialects are spoken in some areas. English and Japanese are the most commonly taught foreign languages.
Eating is a big and very important part of Taiwanese culture, so there is no shortage of different places to eat here. Many Westerners feel somewhat overwhelmed by the diversity, language barrier, and unfamiliar foods. Sure, some of it seems pretty strange at first, but if you work hard, you can find a lot of different eateries that will satisfy your appetite.
The basic Taiwanese meal is typically rice or noodles with vegetables and meat either mixed in or on the side. Dumplings are popular as are many forms of soup, which is often served with noodles. There are also more types of tofu here than you can imagine; the Taiwanese have even managed to make some tofu look and taste just like meat.
There is a wide variety of travel options in Taiwan; scooters and motorcycles are the most popular. There are more than 1 million scooters in Taipei alone! Many foreigners own and drive one during their time here. If you prefer to take your travels a little slower, public bicycle rental is also widely available.
Inner-city buses usually cost NT$15 for a one-way trip, and long-distance buses range from the usual public bus service to much more comfortable private bus lines between major cities. Most Taiwanese cities have an abundance of taxis.
There are also excellent island-wide train, high-speed rail, and mass rapid transit systems (MRT). Taiwan's domestic airline industry is quite active. Flying is as common as taking long-distance buses, and flights are always fully booked during holidays.
Most homes here are apartments as opposed to houses with lawns and gardens. They are small by Western standards and very close together.
The buildings often look grey and old on the outside—or have a lot of "character"—but are usually very nice on the inside. It is hard to maintain a pristine exterior and a fresh coat of paint in a tropical climate.
Apartments are often unfurnished and almost never carpeted. (Tile is normal for floor surfaces, although hardwood is found in some places, too.) A telephone, refrigerator, and air-conditioning unit are not uncommon furnishings, but don’t count on them. You can negotiate with the landlord for these kinds of extras or get them easily on your own.
Most kitchens are for Chinese-style cooking and have a gas range top or portable hotplates. This means ovens are rare. (You can buy small, portable ones for about NT$2,000-NT$3,000.) You will also have to provide your own stereo, TV, etc.
At HESS, we understand that housing is something you care a lot about, and why shouldn’t you, it is where you will rest and relax during your time in Taiwan. This is why we have a support system in place to get you in comfortable housing that fits your budget.
Taiwan is located in the Pacific Ocean only 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Mainland China and 580 kilometers (360 miles) northeast of Hong Kong. The island straddles the Tropic of Cancer. Taiwan is 394 kilometers (236 miles) long, and 144 kilometers (86 miles) at its greatest width. The total area is a little larger than the combined U.S. states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, or about the size of Holland or Vancouver Island.
A central mountain range runs the length of the main island of Taiwan, dividing it into east and west and dominating two-thirds of the land surface. While the mountains descend steeply into the Pacific Ocean on the east coast, the highland levels off gradually on the western side. The terraced tablelands and alluvial coastal plains of the west coast are home to about 80 percent of Taiwan's population.
Taiwan is considered subtropical, as the Tropic of Cancer cuts through the island near the city of JiaYi. Summer lasts from May through September and tends to be very hot and humid. The average daytime highs range from 30-35 degrees Celsius (86-95 degrees Fahrenheit).
Winters are generally mild, although the high humidity tends to make it feel very chilly at times. Winters run from December through February with average highs of around 16-20 degrees Celsius (61-68 degrees Fahrenheit). The coldest time is usually over Chinese New Year at the end of January and the beginning of February. Although these temperatures aren’t particularly low, most houses don’t have central heating, so you really feel the cold. This means despite the numbers, you will still need to wear warm clothing during the winter.
While the overall population size of Taiwan may be smaller than your home country's, its population density is one of the highest in the world. Taiwan is located in the Pacific Ocean only 160 kilometers (120 miles) from Mainland China and 580 kilometers (360 miles) northeast of Hong Kong. The island straddles the Tropic of Cancer. Taiwan is 394 kilometers (236 miles) long and 144 kilometers (86 miles) at its greatest width. The total area is a little larger than the combined U.S. states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, or about the size of Holland or Vancouver Island. To help you visualize this a bit better, take a look at the illustration below.
The country is commonly known by the name “Taiwan,” but officially, it is called the Republic of China. This should not be confused with the People's Republic of China. To this day, the majority of countries in the world, including the People's Republic of China, still do not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Only the Vatican City and the 21 countries of the United Nations have officially recognized the Republic of China.
Forget the car, train, and metro. When you are in Taiwan, hop on a bike instead! Taiwanese people love to cycle, and it is getting more and more popular every day. The government invests a considerable amount of money in creating and maintaining cycle paths and public bike-rental systems. The country's capital city, Taipei, in particular has an extensive infrastructure for cyclists.
In 2011, fertility rates showed that the average number of children that Taiwanese women gave birth to during their lives was 0.9. This makes Taiwan the country with one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. One of the reasons for this is probably the fact that more women have better access to university education and full-time employment, while childcare can be expensive.
Recently, the city government of Taipei decided that everyone should have access to the Internet in any public space. Now, free Wi-Fi has been introduced throughout the city. All you have to do is register once and you will have access to the Wi-Fi in public spaces such as shopping areas, hospitals, and libraries. The idea is that in a few years, all the densely populated areas together with all public transport will have free Wi-Fi available. More information can be found on the city’s official website. An important point to remember is that Taiwan is not affected by Mainland China’s Internet restrictions, so your browsing will be no different than what you’d see in your home country.
Normally, trucks that play music are associated with ice cream and kids running behind them. In Taiwan, you’ll be disappointed if you hear music and hope to buy an ice cream. Here, the garbage trucks play music to prompt people to bring their garbage to the truck. Beethoven's "Für Elise" can be heard in the streets on a regular basis, and during the holidays, you can expect Christmas songs.
The color white symbolizes death and is used at funerals instead of black (as is common in the West). You will not see white weddings either. The color red represents good luck and is often used at weddings and other celebrations.
In Taiwan, there are 14 recognized aboriginal tribes. Together they make up 1.8% of the country's population. It is estimated that aboriginals had been living in the country for 8,000 years before mass immigration by the Han Chinese commenced in the 17th century.
Taiwan is one of the few countries that still uses traditional Chinese characters in the written form of the language. These days, in almost every country where people speak Chinese, simplified Chinese characters are used. However, Taiwan and two autonomous parts of China (Hong Kong and Macau) never adopted these and still continue to use traditional characters.
When the Portuguese saw the island of Taiwan back in the 16th century, they called it Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Island). The name was the official name for the island until World War II, and Formosa is still informally used as a name for Taiwan.
Taiwan is slightly bigger than Belgium, but it has a population of more than 23 million people! (For the record, the already dense population of Belgium is not even half as big with about 11 million residents.) This makes Taiwan one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and the majority of people live on the flatter west side of the country.