Irish living in the world's best city: 'I miss the Irish weather'
Is Taipei really the top destination to move to work and live? Four Irish residents of Taiwan's capital share their views
Jessica Toal: ‘Everyone was so welcoming, warm and hospitable.’
The national park in Taipei, Taiwan. Photograph: IStock
The Expat City Ranking 2019 by Internations showed the majority of expats living there were happy with quality of life and public transport. A total of 96 per cent of expats said they felt safe in Taipei, compared to 81 per cent globally.
Dublin, the only Irish city included, ranked in 72nd place out of 82 cities surveyed. More than 20,000 people living and working abroad from their home countries took part in the survey, answering questions on quality of urban living, ease of settling in, finance and housing, and urban work life all taken into account.
Irish Times Abroad asked some Irish people who have lived in Taipei to tell us what life is like there. Is it really the best place in the world for expats?
Sean Glennon: ‘The average trip to a GP costs €3 including medicine’
I graduated in 2016 and noticed that Irish people have the opportunity to do a working holiday in Taiwan. Attracted by how different it would be from the usual working holiday experience, and its ranking as one of the best places in the world to be an expat, I quickly made my mind up to go. Since arriving in January 2017 I’ve worked as kindergarten teacher, and was lucky enough to have my visa sponsored once my working holiday ended.
Coming from Dublin, you immediately realise that the Irish and Asian concept of a “big city” are completely different. As an Irish person it can be a culture shock to always be surrounded by crowds, but with the crowds comes convenience. Taipei’s Metro is fast, cheap and extends into every neighbourhood – my daily commute costs about 50 cent each way. Every street and corner in Taipei has a local convenience store, which are different from their American counterparts. Taiwanese convenience stores are places to buy hot meals, pay your electricity bills, collect train tickets and much more. You are never a stone’s throw away from a local restaurant serving some variety of cheap and tasty traditional meals.
Taipei’s night market food is also famous across most Asian countries, and is even starting to get a following in the west. It is not all local and traditional food; what draws many to Taipei is its cosmopolitan atmosphere that has allowed many western bars, restaurants and cafes to flourish alongside the noodle shops and tea houses. The ease of using English in Taipei is cursed by many expats looking to practice their Mandarin.
What will stand out most to Irish expats though is the rental market and healthcare service. Taipei is an expensive city by Taiwan standards, but even then a nice apartment in the city will only cost about €500, and about half that in the suburbs. There is a wide variety of housing on offer, from shared rooms in older buildings to modern studios and condos in high rise towers – the choice and cost is far more attractive than the current market in Dublin.
Public health insurance is mandatory for all workers, funded partly from the employee’s salary, the employer and the government. For a small percentage of your pay every month you have access to a wide rage of medical and dental care for a nominal fee. The average trip to a GP costs €3 (including any medicine needed) and more complicated procedures in hospitals are also covered.
There are negatives of course. While Taipei has some of the best air quality for an Asian city, it is nothing compared to the fresh air in Ireland. Coming to a completely different culture can obviously be more of a shock than going somewhere like the UK or Australia. No matter how long you live in Taiwan, how good your Chinese is, or how much you like the local food, you’ll always be considered a “waiguoren” or “outsider”. The people think differently than we do in Ireland, there is more of a focus on the collective than the individual, while this probably has more upsides than downsides it is still unusual to encounter from a western perspective.
Then there are the usual downsides that come from living in a city of 8 million people. It doesn’t just make the streets and trains crowded, but can also make you feel anonymous, even in Dublin we are used to talking to neighbours and strangers alike, but in Taipei there can be a feeling that everyone just wants to move on with their own life. My friends from more rural parts of Taiwan also complain about this aspect of Taipei life.
With that said though, the people here continue to be one of my favourite things about Taipei. Making friends can be easy and their is a strong community of expats who stick together and help each other out. Myself and a few others have even started an Irish association to help keep the Irish community connected. Taiwanese people can be very friendly and outgoing. Once you make friends with the local people they will go above and beyond to help you settle into life here. From showing you the best street food to helping you translate tricky situations, many expats would be lost without their Taiwanese friends. Also Taipei is an island with a complicated political status.
Overall like most cities it definitely has its downsides, but everyday I’m still happy I chose Taipei. I’ve been living here for almost three years and there still isn’t another city I’d rather be.
Conor Stuart: ‘A fun and lively city’
I’m 35 and I first came to Taiwan to pursue a master’s degree in Taiwanese literature. I’ve lived here for almost 12 years now. I’ m now working for Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs as an editor and translator. I largely agree with the ranking, Taipei is a fun and lively city, with a great art scene. One of the things I like about it is the lack of snobbishness. Whatever activity you want to try people never try and intimidate you, and will be happy to teach you and include you in activities ranging from surfing, mountain climbing or just checking out a new bar or art gallery.
Food is cheap, often cheaper than drinks at a bar, and the city is dotted with great gems of restaurants. The gay scene is also one of the most vibrant in Asia, with plenty of bars and parties held on a sporadic basis on venues throughout the city. Unlike other Asian cities I’ve visited, most gay parties and events will feature a good mix of locals and foreigners. There’s also been an upsurge of optimism among the younger generation following the same-sex marriage bill’s introduction.
I think Taipei’s pretty versatile in that it has something for everyone, whether you are into extreme sports, Japanese anime, or museums and traditional chinese culture. There is always somewhere you can be at any time of the night or day, with night markets, late night karaoke sessions (usually people sing without getting drunk) or 24 hour bookstores.
Jessica Toal: ‘The heat and humidity of Taipei was unbearable sometimes’
I lived in an apartment with my friends in the Wenshan district of the city. My friends and I found housing surprisingly easy to get, even with my limited of Mandarin when I first moved there. Many of the landlords I contacted had a similar level of English. It was also very reasonably priced, especially considering our apartment was quite modern and had most western amenities. Our landlord was excellent and any problem we had she fixed it straight away. When she would visit she would always bring us food, and when we left Taipei she even gave us personalised gifts. I think this is a testament to the Taiwanese people overall. The entire time I lived there I did not meet one unkind person. Everyone was so welcoming, warm and hospitable.
I found it a very safe city for women to live. Never once did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable, which would be a common experience on any night in Dublin. One element of living there that I dearly miss now that I’m back to being a commuter in Dublin is how simple, convenient and cheap public transport is there. Anywhere you wanted to go, there was an efficient way of getting there. There is no such things as delayed or missed buses and trains, all impeccably frequently timed. and at a minimal cost.
While living there, I missed Irish weather. The heat and humidity of Taipei was unbearable sometimes as was the daily struggle of how fond mosquitos were of me and my friends. Other than that, I would agree the survey that Taipei is indeed a very livable city. I lived there in 2016 and 2017 studying Mandarin in the National Chengchi University in Taipei with two of my best friends.
Gavin Duffy: ‘It’s no surprise to me that Taipei comes so highly ranked’
I’ve been working several years at the Fu-Jen Catholic University in Taipei. It’s no surprise to me that Taipei comes so highly ranked as it beautifully juxtaposes an assertive modernity with reverence for ancient customs and culture. Taiwan is a beautiful country with marvellous scenery and beaches. It has the “big city” atmosphere but there’s also a beautiful calm to many parts of the main island, such as the temple trove county of Tainan in the south. Taiwan a very safe place and people are very courteous, friendly and helpful to strangers. There are wonderful indigenous communities living in areas such as in the mountain districts.
The life is not that big a contrast with Ireland as while summers are hot, there is a sense of seasons. The Taiwanese are not a people who over-do formalities. The cost of living is quite low although accommodation is getting expensive in Taipei. Someone on a western salary (such as with an international bank or agency) would enjoy the best of both worlds. Transport is good and inexpensive, and living costs are also reasonable. Taiwan has its inherent disadvantages lying in the shadow of an aggressive political uncle and thus always somewhat internationally marginalised. Yet its government has shown increasing respect for a rights based approach to governance.