The Incidental Tourist

The Month of Living Expatriately: Part 2, The Acclimation Tango

Since I was to be living in Taipei for a month, getting acclimated quickly seemed like a good idea.  I’d been to Taipei several times before, however given my short week trips I never had time to venture beyond Xinyi, the central business district.  I always made time to hit up the Guang Hua electronics plaza and a night market or two, but my journeys were usually limited to a couple MRT stops away and walking/wandering the general area around my hotel and Taipei 101.

But there is so MUCH to the Taipei area.  Think of it like the Los Angeles area, or greater New York City.  Several cities linked together, border to border, each with its own flavor, it’s own personality.  There’s the hustle and bustle of Xinyi, full of corporate headquarters and trendy, upscale restaurants and shopping.  Beitou, an old village and home of popular hot sprints.  Neihu, off the beaten path but home to some high end car dealerships (Ferrari, Aston Martin, and soon McClaren) and the Taipei Harley-Davidson dealer.  There’s Da-an, which houses the weekend Jade and Flower market and an amazingly peaceful park in the middle of a busy urban jungle.  Each area is teeming with life and for the most part is quite welcoming and safe.

In fact, that’s Acclimation Point number 1 for Taipei.  It’s an exceedingly safe place to be.  I’ve yet to find an area where I didn’t feel comfortable walking after dark, and I’ve been to quite a few different cities in the world.  Taiwanese people are, in general, very polite, very peaceful and kind to visitors.  There is crime, of course, but you never really see it, even in the dark, dirty alley ways.  I always maintain a level of awareness around me, but in Taipei, you are generally safe to relax a little and enjoy the sometimes hurried, sometimes laid-back flow of life here in this amazing Asian city.

Acclimation point number two is food.  My personal choice is to not eat anything that I can get at home, except in rare occasions.  So I like to scope out local spots to eat and in Taipei you are never far from something good.  Food is plentiful here, from street carts (cheap and delicious) to five star restaurants run by world-class chefs (expensive, and still delicious).  I like to eat where the locals eat, and in Taipei that means noodles, fish, beef and pork. One thing to remember, however, is that not everywhere has English menus for customers, so you need to either read Chinese, go with someone who reads Chinese, take wild guesses (sometimes this can be fun) or use a translation app.

This trip, I was turned onto the Waygo app by a colleague and it’s really quite good.  It uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) via the iPhone’s camera and quickly and accurately translates most restaurant menus.  It won’t work with menus written in traditional vertical text, but most places use horizontal typed order sheets and it works great on these.  Also, just say Hello, often the staff will speak enough English to help you order something tasty.


Acclimation Point Three is the biggest issue to deal with in traveling across the world: Jet Lag.  There are many suggestions for dealing with it, you’ll have to sort out what works best for you.  For me, it all depends.  If I’m traveling east to Europe, I stay awake the entire flight, and when I get to my destination, I stay up until what would normally be bedtime in the local clock (so around 10 or 11
PM).  Sometimes it’s tough staying awake that long, but I’ve found that pushing through allows me to sleep very well that first night, and come three days in, when the jet lag usually hits me on Europe trips, I am not affected as badly as I would be otherwise.

When I fly west to Asia, however, I do sleep on the plane.  It’s pretty necessary given that the flight across the Pacific is usually 12 – 14 hours or so and you always arrive the next day due to crossing the International Date Line.  Taipei is 12 or 13 hours ahead of the US East Coast (depending on DST) so my schedule is off by half a day as soon as I get there.  Usually I do well until about 4 days in, then it really hits me.  This time, I made it nearly 2 weeks before I hit the wall.  But I’ve also found a combination of Ambien and Melatonin helps me sleep the night away.

One thing about living in a foreign country is that you can and probably will get lonely, and miss seeing people more like you.  So for Acclimation Point Four, look online for the various websites and forums that exist for the expat community in the place you’re headed. These are great resources for finding places where the expats hang out, suggestions for keeping up with news, getting a beer and generally surviving in an exotic environment.  The expat community can help you with how to navigate the local area, how the bus and rail and subway system works, whether taxis are worth the cost, where to hang out, where to shop and anything else you could need.  They also tend to gather in parks, restaurants and bars so if you’re just lonely for company, don’t forget to try them out.

Finally, Acclimation Point number Five: Enjoy Yourself.  What’s the point if you don’t take a little time to enjoy where you are.  The world, on a cosmic scale, is infinitesimally small, but from our point of view, it’s a very large, diverse place.  Your life will be better for it.  The world is a wondrous place of new experiences, new adventures and curios corners.  It can be a dangerous place, but it can be a wonderful place as well.  From climbing the steps in a centuries old bell tower in Bruges to walking the dark streets of Prague at night to climbing in the Swiss Alps to visiting a night market in Taipei, the world is there for you to see and live.  So start living.  Stay away from McDonald’s and tourist traps.  Follow the locals and see where they eat, where they relax and what they do.  Buy cheesy trinkets and locally crafted gifts.

Eat, drink and be merry, for life is short.  Live your life as though tomorrow will be your last day and live without regret.  Don’t miss out on things you may never get a chance to see or do again.  Carpe Diem and do not go gently into that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.  Gather ye rosebuds while ye may and all that.  Get yourself out there and live!

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