There is so much to tell about and to describe in the nearly four weeks that I've been in Taiwan, that I hardly know where to start.
As the lone Caucasian in the village of Hengshan, Taiwan, I get a lot of stares when I walk down the solitary business street of the village, but people are friendly, and they smile and nod a lot; some even say, "Good morning" or "Hello" in English. People call this area remote, but I don't really think of it that way. Hsinchu City and Jhubei City are just 25 minutes away, sprawling cities full of new construction and over 600,000 residents, with stores and restaurants of every kind. Granted, there is no entertainment to speak of in Hengshan except walking, bicycling (which can be a little dangerous with all of the scooters and motorcycles that, as far as I can tell, adhere to no driving rules whatsoever) and mountain hiking....no movie theatre, no video store. But, there are two barber shops, a pharmacy, a traditional Chinese medicine shop, various food stalls, one very clean little restaurant called "Smiling" that has an air conditoned eating area, and a small 'supermarket' about the size of the Wooster Appliance store. The supermarket sells about two-thirds dry goods and one-third actual food....I MISS Buehler's! Recently I bought a stick of butter, one quarter pound stick mind you, and it cost me over $2 US; it was imported from New Zealand, but it was also the only option. To say the least, dairy products tend to be expensive here. On the other hand, I can buy an egg sandwich and a large milk tea at "Smiling" for $1.37 US. Various other little shops round out the main street of Hengshan with people's homes mixed throughout all of the above mentioned places.
Sans entertainment, Hengshan is a pretty complete little village. The all important post office is only about the size of a postage stamp; however, I can pay my electric bill there, buy soy sauce or gift items, purchase insurance, as well as post letters and packages. My salary is direct deposited into my post office savings account, and I have a post office ATM card to access my account; the ATM machine is, of course, located right outside of the post office. There is a police station in Hengshan with at least 3 patrol cars and 15 or more police motor scooters. It also has a county office building, a medical center, and a fire station. Because it's inadvisable to drink the tap water pretty much anywhere in Taiwan, there is a water station at end of the main street where one can fill a 10 mL jug for $10 New Taiwanese Dollars (about 37 cents US). The water at my school goes through a heavy filtration system that is checked monthly, so I carry water home in big jugs.....I catch a ride from one of the teachers on days that I need to transport water. Hauling water is a bit of a pain, but the school water is safe and it's free.
A fairly wide valley stretches out west behind the village and is bordered on the village side with a levy probably 35-40 feet high which has a walking path on top of it. A river snakes through the valley, flowing west to the Strait of Taiwan. I've been told that typhoons can cause the river to flood the entire area, hence the need for the levy. Much of the area beyone the river is cultivated in various small plots, growing rice and many, many kinds of vegetables until the mountains rise up again. Back in the village, an enormous cement factory is located right next to the elementary school where I work. As far as I can tell, there is little to no zoning in Taiwan, at least not in this area.
One interesting concept that foreign teachers were made aware of upon arrival in Taiwan was that we were not supposed to flush used toilet tissue, but were to place it in the waste basket...hopefully a lined waste basket with a lid. The good news on this front is that trash pick up occurs every day of the week except for Sunday in all of Taiwan. The garbage truck plays a little jingle (kind of like the vehicles that sell ice cream in some Wooster neighborhoods in the summer) as it moves through the streets, so residents know that it's coming. A second truck, following the garbage truck, picks up all recyclable materials. On my street, residents are permitted to set the trash bags out along the street, and the workers that ride the trucks will pick up the bags. However, in some communities residents have to personally hand the trash bags to the workers or they will not take them. Such is the case of a friend who teaches in another county. Because the garbage truck arrives while she's at work, she has to carry her trash to the school to dispose of it in a dumpster there. I guess it's all about adapting.
Speaking of school (and adapting).....that will be the subject for my next BLOG. :)
Published: September 5, 2011