To live in Taiwan during Covid is to live in the only country in the world that never went into lock down and where life goes on as usual.
Life in Taiwan during Covid is something we're taking for granted. Today marks 200 days since any local infection, and thats a track record that no other country has. Taiwan has been isolated by international community and organizations like the CDC. That has been a blessing in disguise because Taiwan has had to act as their own CDC, taking measures into their own hands. Had they relied on the information coming from the CDC, who stated that masks are not affective against Covid, we would be in pretty bad shape right now.
Although we enjoy life as usual, we aren't blind to what's happening in the outside world. And Taiwanese are very wary. Masks are still mandatory in many places like public transport and government buildings. I got a complaint by an Uber driver last week for not wearing a mask. Oops.
The best way to live in Taiwan as a foreigner is to enroll in language school or to be an English teacher. As a Mandarin student in Taiwan, I was able to live cheaply by studying in the middle city of Taichung. I have a part-time English teaching job that gave me enough free time during the day to study and write my characters everyday.
My student routine was like this:
At 8:30am I rode a bike from my cheap studio apartment on the 6th floor (with no elevator) to school every morning, stopping at an 85C cafe to grab a coffee. The class would go one for three hours. There was a mix of foreigners from both Western and Asian countries. And we could only communicate in Mandarin, as choppy as it was at the time.
After class we would go to the campus cafe and get a coffee and a bagel, and practice writing characters for hours. It was such a meditative feeling. The first characters look like crap and as I moved down the page, the lines would straighten up and they would start to look almost like real Chinese. It was satisfying to see the progress of repetition on one notebook page.
After practicing characters, I'd ride my bike to the English cram school where I worked. I would play games, throw the ball, sing songs, and be more of a clown than an English teacher. The students loved the class and I probably could've spent more time on grammar and vocabulary than games.
Weekends I would drive around Taichung city on my scooter and check out the chic coffee shops, eat Western food, look at the pretty girls, and get lost in the Taiwan vibe.
The streets are lit up with neon signs and there's a constant energy radiating from everywhere. People are zipping by on scooters and street vendors are open late. Taiwan has a buzz that even the virus couldn't put out. Whether you're in Taipei, Taichung, or Kaohsiung, you can feel it.
Being in Taiwan during the coronavirus is surreal, especially seeing all of the news out there about how well Taiwan is doing handling the virus. Somehow I can’t imagine a developed country where people aren’t taking the same steps Taiwan has.
These are things like having my temperature taken at every shop, restaurant, and office building, having the same shop employees spraying my hands with sanitizer, and having to wear a mask whenever I take a bus or subway. None of it really feels inconvenient. It’s just a small price to pay to control the virus and be able to go outside.
But that’s just icing on the cake. The real effort is on Taiwanese government deploying a sophisticated tracking system using phone GPS’s to track quarantined people.
Just came back from a trip to Italy? That means two weeks quarantined at home. The police will call or show up to your house right away if you step out for cigarettes at the 7-Eleven. Then come the fines. 1 million NTD or USD 3,000 to pay for that pack of Marlboro Reds when they catch you. "Find and fine" is how they’ve been keeping people at home and it works.
Taiwan remembers the SARS1 epidemic in the early 2000s, so they aren’t taking any chances this time. It’s also helpful that this is a country full of engineers and tech people. The third thing is Taiwanese are generally law abiding and obedient. And health has always been a priority here, which explains why Taiwan has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. So when the government says stay home, nobody will be out on the street holding up a sign.
As of May 3rd, Taiwan has gone six days without any new infections. It's a huge victory to say the least. People are taking the masks off and public areas are going back to being crowded and busy, like they were in December. In the meantime, America and other so-called industrialized nations are falling deeper in despair. The news is saddening because if Taiwan can do it, other countries can too. China's pressure to exclude Taiwan in the WHO isn't helping, because at this point the world is losing out on Taiwan's pandemic expertise more than Taiwan is losing out on not being able to participate in the WHO.
I’m thankful for their incredible handling of the crisis. I hope the international community keeps recognizing Taiwan as a technology center for their efforts, and stunning results.
Now President Tsai is encouraging foreigners to come here by rolling out the Employment Gold Card visa for high skill foreigners. This is a huge deal for us, who've had to deal with visa issues since the beginning. It seems like Taiwan is having a moment right now.