My name is Lukas. I am 19 and from Germany. I worked at Topology for four and a half months. My tasks were about organizing and hosting tours as well as promoting and improving them together with my colleagues.
Photo: I am the one in the middle of the first row.
I chose Taiwan because I wanted to experience Asian culture. In my opinion Taiwan has the best mix of it. Furthermore Taiwan offers a lot of nice landscape and huge choice of activities.
Taiwan and Germany are very different starting with religion and cultural influences and ending with food and everyday working. Following I will give you a small insight into the Taiwanese everyday life and point out the main differences between Germany (or European countries) and Taiwan.
Photo: Taiwan has variety of fruits and most of them are pretty nice!
Taiwanese have a special relationship to food. They love to eat many different kind of good and clean food. Eating together and inviting a lot of people to share food and stories are common.
I was invited by the boss of the hostel I stayed several times to have dinner together with his grandma and once we did a barbecue during a typhoon. There is not really much that can stop Taiwanese from a good barbecue.
The food itself is very delicious but very uncommon for Europeans. Furthermore the overall preparation of food is different. Germans don’t eat rice and noodles that much and particularly pork tastes different. I think the difference is caused by the feeding and preparation of the animals. All in all it tasted so well that I ate tons of it.
But the main difference between here and Germany is the dinner itself. Taiwanese will meet their friends, buy a lot of food and have kind of a buffet. Additional they have the Chinese tables which have a rotating plate in the middle.I like that very much. You simply don’t have to eat what you don’t like.
Another advantage of having dinner here as a guest, you will get offered tons of food. They don’t accept a simple “No thanks. I’m full”. You have to say it 4-6 times before they understand that you cannot eat anything more without exploding.
And don’t be afraid of dirty food, it nearly doesn’t exists here. Nevertheless would have a small first aid set in my backpack in case I don’t stomach some food.
The environment in Taiwan is really stunning. Everything you want can be found. Hiking in the famous Taroko Gorge or even just in Taipei (e.g. Elephant Mountain), natural hot springs in the north and along the east coast (Beitou, Jiaoxi in Yilan or Chipen in Taitung…etc), surfing and swimming all over Taiwan, aboriginal culture, temples, huge cities and a lot of small fancy villages like Jiufen or Dulan. All this makes Taiwan one of the most worthy countries to travel. If I compare it with Germany, hiking in the Alps and visiting the north sea are amazing but Taiwan has more options, especially when it comes to activities and distance. The thing you should notice it that there may be typhoons during summer time.
The people in Taiwan are all very kind and helpful. It is amazing how they care about you even if you are a foreigner. Getting lost is very hard because everyone will try to help you. And don’t be afraid if you travel Taiwan as a European or American. It might be strange that a lot of people will eye you, because you are different. But no worries, the most smile back.
When it comes to language it is hard to communicate in English if you are not in Taipei. But there is always a solution. They will ask someone, who knows English, to come over and help or communicate with hand and feet. Taiwanese are great at that.
They also have a remarkable mix of culture and history. The Japanese ruled Taiwan for 50 years, so there is a lot of influence from there. Furthermore Chinese culture, of course. You also can visit aboriginal tribes in eastern Taiwan. Additionally Confucian values are very important. You can find huge plates with the characters for “honor your parents” and “loyalty” in elementary schools. You will find a lot of these values in the everyday life.
As a traveller, altruism is the most present. I experienced to be invited to family dinners, being driven to the next train station, showed around the city and doing activities together. I didn’t experienced something like this in Germany yet. Particularly asking people if they need help finding the way and taking them to their destination is what Taiwanese makes so special.
Additional you can talk and discuss almost everything. The people are very open minded. Also the way of dealing with conflicts is different from other Asian countries. Talking directly about the things you don’t like or criticize is more common here, still not that hash as in Germany, but it was very easy for me to adapt to it.
Travel Guide Book vs. Real Life Experience
Getting lost while travelling is not something very spectacular. During my trip around Taiwan I got lost many times but this was mostly caused by non-existent skills in Chinese.
I travelled with Lonely Planet, Bradt and several online Blogs as well as with the advice from Topology Travel. But the main difference between the travel book and the experience is that you will meet several inconveniences which don’t show up in the book. Sights are described very beautifully but they do not mention how to get there by public transport. For example at the east coast of Taiwan, public transport is very limited. Sometimes there is only one bus a day but the travel guide doesn’t mention it. Or the famous Walami trail in Hualien, which is described as one of the best hiking trail. The travel books never mentioned that getting there is very complicated if you don’t have a car or a scooter.
I wouldn’t recommend driving there if you are not used to Taiwanese roads and driving style. The roads are very narrow and can be very dangerous. In my opinion only experienced drivers should drive there.
Concluding travel guides are good to get an impression of your destination and the surroundings, but for actual travelling, I recommend to use more than two different travel guides, several blogs and get help from locals!
A local travel agency offers you the best advice and some of them, like Topology travel, offer customized tours. This may cost money, but you can be sure to get the most reliable information. Hiring a travel agency is also the easiest way to get good information.
If you are travelling low budget, the staff from your hostel and other travellers you meet are also really nice opportunities to get advice.
Furthermore I really recommend to get a SIM card and mobile internet. Google maps was one of my best friends while travelling!
With all these experiences I made, I would really recommend to get some help. If you can speak Chinese you might don’t have a lot of these problems, but a few spots are a bit tricky and you will need help. The choice is up to you!