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Moving to Taiwan: Choosing Between Taipei and Kaohsiung

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Taipei vs. Kaohsiung

Taipei vs. Kaohsiung

Why Taiwan?

Usually, when folks from recognized-by-Taiwan English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, The UK and The USA) are contemplating spending some time abroad, teaching English and learning about a new culture, Taiwan pops into mind. So does Japan, S. Korea, and China. But, many people still choose Taiwan and there are some good reasons.

1. You've already got some sort of connection to Taiwan. Friends, family, a past visit...

2. You're Caucasian and you've heard horror stories of racism in Japan, Korea and China.

3. You want to learn Traditional Chinese or Min'nan (known locally as "Taiwanese") or Hakka.

4. You really want to use a motorcycle/scooter as your daily form of transportation.

5. You really want to eat dinner at a night market, seven days a week.

6. You love hiking in the mountains, surfing, and soaking in hot springs.

7. Your idea of entrepreneurial heaven is being overwhelmed with selections of electronics, stationary, plastic products, warehousing equipment, industrial machines, manufactory doodads and professional kitchen equipment, all at rock-bottom prices.

8. Earthquakes, typhoons (i.e. hurricanes), mudslides and floods are quite exciting, you think.

9. You want to earn decent enough wages with a pretty cheap cost of living, in order to save money or to use "The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier" as a base for your expeditions into Hong Kong, China, the Koreas, Japan, or even Southeast Asia.

10. You can't get enough fresh tropical fruit, because when you were little, mangoes were about as expensive as gold and you were lucky if you got an entire half to yourself.

Whatever your reason, I'm sure you've already decided on Taiwan. It's a good choice!

Ximen Ding in Taipei. It's where all the young people are at.

Ximen Ding in Taipei. It's where all the young people are at.

Taipei or Kaohsiung?

The next question you have to look at is, "Am I going to live in Taipei, or in Kaohsiung?"

Sure, sure, you might be thinking that there are other cities in Taiwan, but these are the two most popular choices. Taipei is the most popular choice by a long shot, too. Taichung is probably the third choice... but, let me just say that if you don't choose Taipei, the only variance you're going to see in the other cities is the climate. (And in Taichung, the gangsters.)

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So, the question kinda is: Taipei or Another City in Taiwan?

But, I'm going to compare it to Kaohsiung, because Kaohsiung is not only the second-largest city in Taiwan, it's also one of the two cities I've lived in (in addition to Taipei).

Disclaimer: I'm from Toronto, Canada and grew up there, but I also lived in Vancouver, Canada for six months. I lived in Taipei, Taiwan for around five years and lived in Kaohsiung, Taiwan for about one year.

Typical street scene in any city, Taiwan.

Typical street scene in any city, Taiwan.

Choose Taipei!

Eight Reasons to Choose Taipei

1. Organic Asian cityscape with zigzagging roads, narrow alleys, and ancient architecture fused with two modern and high-tech downtown areas.

2. The best Taiwanese food in Taiwan and a fairly big collection of foreign restaurants dot the city (yes, burgers are "foreign food" here).

3. The people in Taipei are generally outgoing, friendly and mostly what you'd expect of a metropolitan city. Employees are quick and efficient. Even government employees are quick and efficient!

4. You're never more than 15 minutes away from some awesome mountain adventures. You can hike it, but many mountains also have roads that scooters or cars can access, with parks and lookout points up top.

5. This is the cultural capital of Taiwan. If you want to eventually be dating a singer, TV star, movie star or other type of entertainer - this is where you want to party. Not only that, but Taipei is the scene of many interesting fairs, exhibitions, museums, etc.

6. For business, Taipei is undoubtedly the city you should be in. Computex Taipei, the world's largest computer and electronics exhibition is held here annually. There are also myriad other fairs, exhibitions and events that are globally-important from a business perspective.

7. Taipei has the feel of a bustling metropolis in some areas, the feel of a futuristic manga in other areas and the feel of a city lost in time in yet other areas. You can experience all different types of cities within Taipei.

8. There's a 24-hour bookstore in Taipei! And it has an incredible amount of English books and magazines. Other stores that are 24-hours include all convenience stores, "Little North" hardware stores, Soya Milk King (or any other traditional breakfast establishment).

Taipei at dawn from atop Elephant Mountain.

Taipei at dawn from atop Elephant Mountain.

Choose Kaohsiung!

Eight Reasons to Choose Kaohsiung

1. Pre-planned streets that are wide and expansive, where it's easy to park your car.

2. Local fare is dirt-cheap, sometimes half the price of that in Taipei City proper*... which is why there's the word "dirt" in front of "cheap".

3. The people in Kaohsiung are friendly, laid-back, easygoing and will have a conversation with you no matter what they're up to. There's no rush.

4. Generally, you're never too far from the ocean or some gigantic park. There's also a mountain (the only mountain in the city proper) near the ocean which foreign locals call, Monkey Mountain, with a large population of macaques. Don't carry bananas in your backpack!

5. Rent in Kaohsiung is going to be around half of what you pay in Taipei City proper*, so you could conceivably earn the same wages as an English teacher as you would in Taipei, but pay only half the rent (that, or you could live in a huuuge place).

6. If you're into import/export, then Kaohsiung is certainly the place to be. In 2012, it was the world's 4th busiest container port in terms of transshipment.

7. Kaohsiung is a city made for the car and if you're into cars, you should choose this city. Many people have a garage in their home, which is a rarity in Taipei.

8. The weather in Kaohsiung is fantastic! It's a sub-tropic climate, so in the winter it's as nice as a European summer. In the summer, it's mad hot and has monsoon rains, but that's fun, too. The monsoon rains during the summer are pretty amazing, too, as you could have one half of the day be extremely sunny and the other half just pouring rain. There is hardly ever a day completely without at least some blazing sunshine in Kaohsiung.


* I say Taipei City proper, because the generally-accepted definition of Taipei includes the surrounding county, known as New Taipei City, which is a suburb for the actual downtown city. And, unbeknownst to people who have never lived in Taipei (even to Taiwanese who have never lived in Taipei), New Taipei City is waaay cheaper than Taipei City in all regards: rent, food, stuff, etc. The suburbs are just a 10-minute subway ride away, but hey, that's how it rolls here.

Kaohsiung from the sky.

Kaohsiung from the sky.

The Cons

Kaohsiung Cons

1. Virus- and bacteria-incubator central. Since both Taipei and Kaohsiung are fairly dense with people (Taipei more so), you're bound to get fast-spreading viruses and bacteria. This is not helped by the fact that people don't call in sick for work and kids don't stay home from school. I kid you not. All they do is put on a mask and carry on as normal. Employers don't allow parents to take days off to care for children, so the sick children go to school... giving the sickness to other children, who then bring it home... and that's why the first zombie outbreak will most certainly start in Taiwan. But seriously, you'll get sick more often and this is a con for both cities.

2. Pollution extreme... if you ride a bicycle or scooter for the first time here, your throat will burn. There's also a layer of black soot that collects on everything fairly rapidly.

3. The people are relaxed... maybe a bit too relaxed. They'll hold conversations with you for a lot longer than necessary. Employees are slow and make a lot of mistakes... they're never in a rush.

4. Because of the usually-nice weather and relaxed attitude of the people, in addition to old people just sitting and chatting outside, you'll find all sorts of people sitting/standing and chatting outside on the road. In a dense urban environment, this is called noise pollution.

5. The average wage in Kaohsiung is more than 30% lower than that of Taipei, which means that people in Kaohsiung are very frugal. They're so frugal, in fact, that a few years ago when the government was pushing to get rid of two-stroke scooters by offering an NT$20,000 incentive to trade in your old two-stroke (valued at NT$3,000 max.) for a new four-stroke that cost in the range of NT$50,000, there were not many takers.

Thus, if you are out on the streets, expect to breathe in gobs of burned motor oil emitted by two-stroke scooters. I especially love it when grannies on their 1970s two-stroke go around you at a red light, only to stop in front of you, black smog pumping in your face. In Taipei, two-stroke scooters are few and far between.

6. Expect service here (be it private or government) to be excruciatingly slow and mishandled at times. It seems that the people in Kaohsiung are just so relaxed that they don't take their work seriously and don't have a sense of urgency even if a long line is forming. If you hire a worker to install something, expect it to be somewhat of an annoyance to schedule a time and expect the workmanship not to be that great... sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised, but not usually.

7. You've got a lot of weirdos in Kaohsiung, so you might have neighbours that are always standing there, staring at everybody... or you might have some old lady that is always walking up and down the street and giving out scowling looks... or you might experience extremely inconsiderate behaviour by neighbours. They might slam doors, water their plants but get your hanging laundry wet at the same time, idle their two-stroke scooter outside your front door, talk extremely loudly while walking outside in the middle of the night... and you shouldn't say anything. If you employ the Western tactic of being direct but polite (i.e. assertive), the person might use some covert aggression on you (e.g. they'll get their dog to pee in front of your door, scratch your scooter by accident, etc.)

8. People really disobey the rules of the road when it comes to scooters. People also disobey the rules in Taipei, but it's worse in Kaohsiung. People on scooters will run red lights at liberty, they'll cruise down the sidewalk, they'll ride down the wrong side of the road, they'll ride around without helmets, etc. Not only that, but the people who don't wear helmets are always the ones riding the stupidest. I almost crashed into two kids without helmets as they ran a red light, without even looking to see if anyone was coming! This happens more often than not in Kaohsiung.

9. If you consider yourself a city person, a go-getter type of personality, Kaohsiung is not the place for you. People in Kaohsiung are pretty much the opposite of the Alpha personality. They've got coconuts, why waste time digging a well? There are fish in the sea, why start a farm? That's the Kaohsiung attitude and if you're living here looking for intellectual stimulation... it's there, but it's not abundant.

10. Both cities are very noisy unless you live very high up. But, Kaohsiung wins, because it's more spread out, it's a lot less noisy.


Taipei Cons

1. Virus- and bacteria-incubator central. Since both Taipei and Kaohsiung are fairly dense with people (Taipei more so), you're bound to get fast-spreading viruses and bacteria. This is not helped by the fact that people don't call in sick for work and kids don't stay home from school. I kid you not. All they do is put on a mask and carry on as normal. Employers don't allow parents to take days off to care for children, so the sick children go to school... giving the sickness to other children, who then bring it home... and that's why the first zombie outbreak will most certainly start in Taiwan. But seriously, you'll get sick more often and this is a con for both cities.

2. In Taipei, the weather sucks! If you like the weather in England, then you're gonna love the weather in Taipei. That's not to say that the summers are not fabulous... but the rest of the year is either drizzling or it's pouring. Carry an umbrella at all times.

3. Since the people of Taipei are fairly affluent, and their houses are made of concrete, if you live in an area with older houses, expect to make close acquaintance with Mr. Jackhammer. You see, before people can redecorate their concrete homes with different-coloured tiles, they need to jackhammer the old ones off. In one apartment we rented in Yungho, New Taipei City (a 15-minute subway ride to the core), there was jackhammering all year 'round. First it was the downstairs neighbour, then it was the neighbour to the right, then it was the neighbour to the left. I kid you not. Moreover, they'll be jackhammering from about 09:00 to 17:00, five days a week and it won't stop for about two months. Consider yourself lucky if two of your neighbours start renovations at the same time!

4. People in Taipei who ride scooters disobey the rules of the road, as they do in Kaohsiung, but Taipei is not as bad. In Taipei City proper, the rules will be followed because of strict enforcement, but in New Taipei City, expect rules to be broken about half of the time. It's like a pinball machine and everyone is a pinball!

5. If you're used to a bucolic lifestyle, a lifestyle where people relax and take it easy and just enjoy life. Well, Taipei's not the place for you. People in Taipei will be getting ready to get off their subway stop two stops early. People will be running down the street to catch a bus or their train. In lines, people will come uncomfortably close to you. That's how it is. People in Taipei are anything but relaxed.

6. Both cities are very noisy unless you live very high up. But, unfortunately Taipei loses, because it's so compact and all the buildings are made of concrete, the anger-inducing sounds from scooters just bounce off the buildings and into your ear. I've recorded 60 dBs in an apartment on the fourth floor near a busy street and upwards of 70 dBs at street level!

That's Taipei!

That's Taipei!

Taipei or Kaohsiung?

Well, the choice is yours!

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