My Apartment in Taipei
My mattress sits directly on the raised hardwood floor of the corner of my studio apartment I call my bedroom. The rest of the apartment is white quarry-tiled, but my sleeping area is warmer, cozier…wood, not tile. Each morning at 6:15 my pink Motorola Razor phone sings something to me in Chinese that I can’t understand.
The melody is perky and the tempo upbeat, so I don’t mind opening my eyes so much. I usually lie there for at least fifteen minutes, relishing in one of my favorite times of the day; the one when I’m totally relaxed and drowsy, between warm and soft sheets. Happy, safe, unaware. Eventually, I get out of bed and head to the shower.
Leave Your Shoes at the Door, Please
I use the word “shower” loosely. My shower is actually a big bathtub with a showerhead attachment on a three-foot hose so that I can’t shower standing up. I sit down in the tub to wash my hair, my senses gradually becoming more attuned to the day. I think about what I’ll wear, I wonder if it’s raining today, and I try to remember whether I have plans after work tonight. When I feel like I’m clean enough and all the conditioner is rinsed from my hair, I step out of the tub and into my bamboo-reed slippers.
In Taiwan, you don’t wear your shoes inside the house, but you don’t generally go barefoot, either. Families will have a collection of plastic or bamboo slippers inside their front entrance, and will, without fail, offer a pair of these slippers to their guests. I haven’t had any guests yet, but I bought one pair of slippers for myself, and I understand now how this aspect of the Taiwanese culture is so incredibly comforting and friendly like so many other aspects of Taiwanese culture are. When I put on my slippers, I am comfortable.
Around the world, countries use different types of electrical sockets and different voltages of electricity. For most international travelers, an electrical converter (for voltage) and adapter (for sockets and plugs) are necessary. Taiwan uses the same voltage and sockets as the U.S. does, though, so I plug my blow dryer directly into the wall and dry my hair. I decide what to wear, gather my things, get dressed, and head outside.
The Commute to Work
I lock my sliding door and my metal gate behind me, and I’m on my roof. the landlady has a collection of potted plants outside my door, and there is a sort of an outdoor stove there as well, used to burn money for the Taoist gods. I haven’t told them yet that I’m Christian. I want to have the most authentic interactions with them that I can, and I’m afraid that they may be less outgoing with their own beliefs if they feel in some way threatened by mine.
I like the smell of the incense burning outside their apartment doors in the stairwell at night. I like the shoes sitting in the hallway (because they take them off before entering the home). All of these things make me feel welcomed, included, and at home.
Each day I walk the fifteen minutes to the MRT (subway) station closest to my place. Without fail I will need an umbrella and I will be very wet when I arrive at the MRT, though neither is necessarily a byproduct of the rain. The umbrella is necessary for rain, but also for protection from the sun on warm days. The wetness is because of the rain, the mist, the humidity, or the heat. Most days it’s a result of the combination of those things.
The umbrella is necessary for rain, but also for protection from the sun on warm days. The wetness is because of the rain, the mist, the humidity, or the heat. Most days it’s a result of the combination of those things. I now carry a lacy handkerchief and oil-blotting sheets with me everywhere I go. I also carry my makeup in my purse. I arrive at work a few minutes early so that I can dry off and put on my makeup in the bathroom there. If I put it on before I leave my apartment, none of it will be left when I arrive at the office.
At the Office
My office is open and airy. My coworkers are friendly. I try to arrive each day well before the 9 a.m. start of work because I want to impress my boss and have time to check my email before work starts. I’m usually the second or third of the thirty or so employees to arrive, and the lights are usually still dimmed when I clock in.
We listen to music, usually classical or percussion, during the day while we work, and everything is happy and relaxed, even though they’re working hard. Most try to speak English with me, though only three are close enough to fluency to really communicate well.
$3.00 Buys a Good Lunch
The others and I make do with smiles, gestures, and combined bits of broken Chinese and English. At lunch, people leave in groups, eating together at local restaurants, where USD $3.00 will buy a good meal. The price of meals here always includes tea or coffee, but water is not always provided like it is in the U.S.
Napkins are also not always provided, so I learn to stash a travel-sized package of Kleenex in my purse at all times. My coworkers and I order our food at the same time, but the server brings plates out separately. In Taiwan you eat as soon as your food arrives, even if your friends’ food doesn’t come for several more minutes. I have become much more accustomed to chopsticks than I have to eating before everyone else’s food has arrived.
Magical Food Fairies
Nearly every day, food appears almost magically on my desk at work. Sometimes i See the magic fairy deliver it, but other times, the food is simply there when I return to my desk from another part of the office. Maybe the Taiwanese use food as a sign of friendship, or maybe they think I’m the gluttonous American (Meiguo ren) who will, like Mikey, eat anything. Either way, my second desk drawer is filled with candy and cakes, and I find myself with coffee or tea on my desk all of the time.
This morning a coworker entered with a large bag of pear-shaped, grapefruit-sized green fruits, placing one on each desk in the office. Apparently this fruit is eaten as part of the Moon Festival which is taking place for another three weeks. So far no one has been able to give me an English name for the fruit, though my boss jokes that it could be used as a football. I’ve decided that I may sweat to death here, or be blown away in a typhoon here, but I will not starve to death here.
Taiwanese Lunch Hour Naps
The lunch hour lasts from noon until about 1:30 p.m., and the lights are dimmed again during this time. When people get back from restaurants, they lay their heads on their desks for short afternoon naps. At 1:30 the lights come on, people wake up, and we all get back to work. Conceptually, I love the naps, but since I’m new (and as an American am such a novelty to my coworkers) I haven’t yet had the chance to sleep at work.
At six, we’re officially off for the day, although the working hours are reasonably flexible. Employees have until 9:30 a.m. to arrive, but they must stay until 6:30 p.m. if they come in at 9:20. I’ll write more on a another day about what my life in Taipei is like after hours.
Originally written and published on my blog, A Year in Taipei on September 15, 2006.
I wrote more than 300 blog posts during my year in Taipei, Taiwan. I don’t know yet how many of those posts I’ll recreate on MilliGFunk.com, but for now, at least, you can come back on Thursdays for a #ThrowbackThursday to my #YearInTaipei.