About two months ago I made a post listing some useful knowledge for living in Taiwan, which you can find here. After thinking about the topic for a while, I came up with a few other things that might be useful to know so I decided to make a second post. After finishing this I have written a couple other posts on the subject that you can find here and here.
1.: The Cold
Taiwan lies in between the subtropical and the tropical climate zones with the Tropic of Cancer cutting straight across the island roughly ⅔ of the way south from the northern tip. With that in mind you’d think Taiwan is a hot country and you’d be right… most of the time. In the winter however it gets cold. Well, not really cold in actual numbers, unless your on a high mountain the temperature seldom drops below 7 or 8 degrees Celsius, but it still feels really cold. I believe it has to do with the high levels of humidity; just like a hot and humid climate will feel much hotter than a hot and dry one, a cold and humid climate feels much colder than dry cold. In fact, when the temperature drops down to 20°C, what we in northern Europe call ‘summer’, it starts to feel pretty chilly and when it goes below 10 you start to think it’s around 0 by European standards. Combine this with the fact that it’s often raining in the winter and you get a kind of weather that will chill you to the bone. So, while it might seem ridiculous to bring a big winter jacket when moving to a more or less tropical island, you should definitely consider packing one, especially if you plan on riding a scooter.
Another aspect of the Taiwanese winter is that while pretty much every building is equipped with air conditioning units to keep you cool in summer, very few places have any form of heating. This makes some kind of sense because it is hot for at least 8 or 9 months in a year. Add to that the fact that many buildings are rather poorly insulated and you get a situation where the inside temperature drops down almost as quickly as the outside one. Sure it doesn’t rain indoors and hopefully there aren’t too many gaps where the wind can get in but other than that, stepping inside doesn’t make things all that much warmer. The Taiwanese generally solve this by wearing their big winter jackets all the time, outside and inside. If you’re cheap you could do this as well but I recommend investing in a heater. Again, it might seem weird to go buy a heater for your home on a tropical island but it’s so much nicer when you can be comfortable at home without a big bulky jacket.
2.: The Crowds
Taiwan has a population of about 23 million people, crammed onto an island roughly the size of Belgium. Moreover, the central and eastern parts of the island are mountainous and thus sparsely populated, which means that most of those 23 million live on the western plains. For anyone with even the slightest bit of common sense it should be obvious that this means the country is very densely populated; perhaps not as bad as Hong Kong or Singapore but Taiwan is up there in the list of densely populated countries. The strange thing about it however, is that most of the time, you don’t really notice how crowded it is. Sure, rush hour is always rush hour but other than that, it doesn’t feel that much different from less populous places; traffic jams are not overly common, there is enough space for people in public spaces like train stations and on public transport, you generally don’t see huge crowds of people or long queues. That being said, you do still notice the population density at certain places or in certain situations:
- Rush hour – this one should be pretty self explanatory.
- Major transport hubs – places like Taipei Main Station can be a real hassle to get through.
- Popular restaurants – some restaurants are so well known that you have long queues outside even at off peak hours.
- Popular tourist destinations – some of the more popular tourist destinations can become quite crowded on weekends and national holidays so it will be hard to find parking and there will be long queues. For some places like hiking trails or similar this really spoils the fun.
- Major events like festivals, sporting events and such. – These kinds of events will draw big crowds in less populous countries too but the problems caused are exasperated by the huge amount of people: roads get clogged up, parking is impossible to find and there are crowds everywhere.
- National holidays – people in Taiwan generally have limited leave days at work so any time when they can have some days off for free, normally around national holidays, is precious for them. At these times it’s like the whole country is on the move, plane tickets get sold out, trains are fully booked months in advance and it’s nearly impossible to find a hotel. Moreover the major roads get clogged up and at the really important holidays like the lunar new year you get hours long traffic jams on the highway.
That last one is the most important to take notice of. If you look in the company calendar and see a national holiday coming up, don’t just assume you can take an extended weekend in a nearby country, because everyone and their grandma has already had the same idea. If you want to go traveling during a national holiday, start planing it far in advance.
3.: The link between weather and traffic
I find that Taiwanese people are very good at making things more comfortable and more convenient for themselves. You might say they are selfish, you might say they are lazy and while that’s true to some extent, I think it’s an unfair judgement. It’s more that Taiwanese have a very pragmatic approach to making their lives easy. One aspect where I have observed this is pragmatism is in the daily commute.
Most Taiwanese people have access to a scooter or other small motorcycle which is very practical in the city: they get through traffic in a way that a car can’t, they are much faster than walking or a riding a bicycle, and they can be parked anywhere. The downside to a scooter is that it leaves the rider exposed to the elements. Normally that’s not a big problem because Taiwan is after all a rather hot country, and when you’re riding the wind will cool you down to a comfortable level. When it’s raining however, or when it gets cold like I mentioned above, riding a scooter can really be torture. Here’s where that pragmatism comes in: on rainy or cold days, those Taiwanese who have a car will drive rather than ride a scooter to work; its protected from the weather, it’s safe and it’s comfortable.
The thing is though, a lot of these people normally ride a scooter so you get a lot more cars on the road than normal (normal in this case being warm and sunny). In my commute I always ride a scooter, no matter what the weather and considering the traffic negotiating ability of the scooter you’d think it wouldn’t be a problem, but it is; on rainy and/or cold days the roads get so clogged up that a 30 minute ride will be increased to 40 minutes. Moreover many of rainy day drivers are less experienced than those that drive every day (no shit Sherlock). So, you get large amounts of inexperienced drivers creating, and trying to navigate, rush hour traffic jams…in adverse weather conditions. Simply put: it’s pretty bad. My advice then: is if the weather report says it will be cold and/or rainy, prepare your commute accordingly: make sure to give yourself some extra time to deal with the increased amount of traffic and be extra careful when driving.