Being here for just under five months, I've had a lot of time to view this lovely country through a more permanent lens. In no particular order (and not necessarily being good or bad things, just things), here's five random ramblings on what I wish someone told me:
1. Don't expect to have an oven in your apartment
Or in your friends' oven. Or anywhere, really. Before you move here, enjoy all the roast pork and crackling and roast vegetables and roast chickens you can (if it's your thing), because it is going to be really, really rare here. Ovens are the domain of the super-rich, and your everyday Taiwan resident isn't going to have (or want, or know how to use) one. On that note, also don't expect to be able to find bread at all supermarkets (for example, my local Matsusei is devoid of bread) - this isn't quite an issue since there are a million bakeries, but I do miss being able to grab everything in the one shop. (Side note: Asian bakeries and bread is generally of a higher sugar content than Western-style bread; back in New Zealand I loved the smell of an Asian bakery, but now that I'm here, I miss the smell of "normal" bakeries. Go figure...)
And if you are a foolhardy and daring person attempting to buy Vanilla Extract from Carrefour, expect the staff member you ask to laugh in your face.
[It is obviously possible to procure ingredients for baking in Taipei, just not from supermarkets. See this helpful post for an idea on where to go.]
2. Don't expect a wet / dry separation in a bathroom
This used to probably also be "don't expect a sit-down toilet", but I haven't seen a restroom with purely squat toilets, so you're good in that regard. By wet / dry separation, I mean that there isn't necessarily going to be a shower curtain, or anything to stop water going from the shower and the toilet / floor. When apartment hunting, I was even shown an apartment that had a shower block torn down and touted as a feature...
3. Don't point at the moon, or some sort of deity will cut a little piece off your ear next Wednesday
I have no idea where this little folk-tale comes from (my aunt says it's something that parents made up a long time ago to teach children not to point / better manners), but I've had three separate friends who don't know each other from all parts of Taiwan speak of this, after someone has pointed at the moon.
For the record, my ears are still intact.
4. Don't expect pedestrian crossings to mean anything
They could really save a lot of money and time by not bothering to paint zebra stripes at intersections, since 90% of the time you will learn that it's easier to just wait for traffic unless you are feeling extremely bold. I'm quite surprised that there aren't a million more casualties at crossings, but I guess the drivers and pedestrians are just more wary at intersections, since the crossings don't mean anything.
On that note, don't expect actual crossing lights to mean much, either - turning traffic will not necessarily wait the 20 or so seconds for you to cross, and will drive up, moving as close as possible in their effort to turn through the crosswalk while people are still on it, without running anyone over. Why do the traffic police at rush hour bother? It's not like a) the drivers can't read the traffic signals, and b) would follow them even if they read them. Just keep calm and walk on...
5. Don't expect pasta to mean anything apart from spaghetti
Italian cuisine is readily available for those of you who love it - however, the large majority of "pasta restaurants" really only serve spaghetti. If you're after tagiatelle, or heavens forbid gnocchi, you will have to dig a little deeper. (Vapiano, an international chain of Italian restaurants has gnocchi if anyone's craving it, as well as a fantastic view of the 101. Fun fact - they built the entire restaurant in Germany, and shipped it piece by piece to Taiwan)
And while we're on the subject of food, don't expect your meals to come at the same time if you're ordering in a group - dishes generally get served as soon as they're ready (except for proper fine-dining restaurants). At least you don't have to tip!
There you have it, my five things. What else has anyone else come across? What are you waiting for? Jump in, the water's fine!