When the Portuguese landed in Taiwan, they called it “Formosa,” meaning “beautiful island.” And appropriately so. Taiwan teems with natural wonders like cascading rivers, hot springs and the highest mountains in Northeast Asia. Today, this natural beauty is the backdrop for some of the world’s most technologically advanced cities.
Here are seven facts about Taiwan you should know before you see this tapestry of ancient and new for yourself.
1. It’s the size of Belgium with the population of Australia.
Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. It is only slightly bigger than Belgium and home to almost as many people as Australia.
2. Taiwan has the most convenience stores per capita in the world.
Recent numbers tally one convenience store for every 2,317 residents in Taiwan, which outpaces all other countries.
Visitors frequent popular chains like 7-Eleven because they offer more than just a quick snack. Customers can sit down to eat fully-prepared meals, pay their bills, call a taxi, ship packages and even purchase movie and concert tickets.
3. The streets come alive at night.
When the sun sets in Taiwan, street corners and temple courtyards are transformed into lively night markets. Loud music pumps through speakers as crowds of people snake through stalls selling clothing and xioachi, or “small eats”. These small, inexpensive plates of food allow visitors to sample local favorites like bubble tea, stinky tofu and cuttlefish thick soup.
4. Garbage trucks play music.
You won’t find trash cans lining the streets of Taiwan. When it’s time for trash pick up, garbage trucks play music like Beethoven’s “Für Elise” to alert citizens of its arrival. When Taiwanese people hear the trucks, they gather outside to hand-deliver their waste. This reduces the chance of pesky vermin or unpleasant smells gathering around trash receptacles.
5. Folk religion plays an important role in everyday life.
Most Taiwanese people practice Buddhism, Taoism or a spiritist form of folk religion that finds influences from both. Only 3 to 5 percent follow Christianity.
As a result, many Taiwanese people engage in superstitious behaviors believed to engender health and prosperity. For example, a Taiwanese person would avoid giving someone white flowers (reserved for funerals) so as not to cause a premature death for the recipient.
In the seventh lunar month, the Taiwanese observe Ghost Month, during which they believe hell opens to allow ghosts, spirits and ancestors into the world. The Taiwanese offer food and drinks to appease these hungry spirits and avoid harm.
6. Students clean their classrooms.
To teach personal responsibility, all students spend a portion of their school day sweeping, dusting and tidying their classrooms.
Taiwanese students also stand out for their exceptional math and science skills, ranking fourth worldwide in mathematics.
To learn more about what it’s like in the Taiwanese classroom, check out this post from a TEAM worker who taught English in Taiwan.
7. Exchanging business cards is more than a gesture.
When people exchange business cards (a practice not just reserved for business people), the giver presents the card with two hands. The recipient then intently studies the name and title listed on the card. Both of these gestures communicate honor and respect to the other person.
This is particularly important because the Taiwanese embrace a collectivist worldview, which emphasizes community interests over individual success.
Interested in learning more about what it’s like to live and serve in Taiwan? Click here to discover your opportunities to serve.