I love living in Taiwan and, compared with my earlier days, find it very convenient. You can find almost anything that you want in Taiwan’s shops and restaurants. The following is my personal list of five things I wish were more common in Taiwan. My quality of life is great, but if these things were available it would be a smidge better, like putting chocolate sprinkles on ice cream.
1. Adult Sizes: I’m a big guy. I’m tall, broad of shoulder and chest, with an expansive stomach, long legs, big feet, and freakishly large head—everything is big. Nothing in Taiwan fits. It is very annoying to buy clothes or shoes. I would like it if when I saw something I like I would have a reasonable expectation of my size being stocked.
When I first arrived my running shoes crapped out. I looked high and low for a new pair and couldn’t find anything in my size. A Taiwanese friend decided to help. She was convinced that there were plenty of larger sizes in Taiwan and I was just looking in the wrong places. She was wrong. We eventually found a pair of high-tops special ordered in a clownish size for a window display. My friend convinced the shop owner to sell them to me. They were truly ridiculous looking, but all I could find.
Similarly I have had problems finding clothes. I arrived with one backpack that I’d stuffed full of polo shirts and khakis, figuring those could be worn anywhere. After about a year I was heartily sick of polo shirts and desperate for a change. Of course I couldn’t find anything that fit. Again a Taiwanese friend tried to rescue me [they’re so kind]. She was also convinced I just didn’t know where to look. She was wrong. At that time there was a shop selling large sizes in Tienmu. She took me there. The clothes were indeed large. They were a motley collection of very worn 2nd or 3rd hand clothes, mostly jeans and t-shirts. Judging by the designs on the shirts, I’d guess a lot of the stock was left over from the 1970s. I believe someone had developed a business buying Salvation Army rejects and shipping them to Taiwan.
I could go on, but I’ll end with the most annoying size problem—the lack of adult size condoms. The condoms in Taiwan may not be as small as they are in Japan [important to Taiwanese, because they compare themselves to Japanese], but they’re really small. It took me by surprise at first. One day—early on—I found myself, through no fault of my own, in the middle of some hot party action, so I slipped down to 7-11 to get some protection. I chose a brand that is available in Canada. It all looked copacetic. Nope. It was like trying to put skinny jeans on a 300 lb. Walmart cashier. By the end, I was a sweating twitchy mass, sporting a pinched and claustrophobic member that had lost all interest in partying and just wanted to be set free. The discomfort is real. For years, every time I went back to Canada, I filled my suitcase with condoms. I guess this is an example of a good problem to have, but still a problem. Sometimes I’d meet someone new and be caught short, then I was on the phone to my brother, “Send a gross of Magnum condoms,… No…. No…. Don’t ‘get around to it,’ get your ass out of bed, go buy them, and FedEx them—now!” A real problem.
The internet has fixed this problem. I now buy clothes, shoes, hats, etc. online. It is not as nice as being able to try them on, but it works, and there is such a wide selection that I’m coming to prefer it. Yes, you can also get Western size condoms.
2. American Style Chinese Takeout: The Taiwanese all think I’m nuts, but Taipei desperately needs a Western style Chinese restaurant. A place you can go for Pineapple Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls, General Tso’s Chicken, Lemon Chicken, Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs, Sizzling Ginger Beef, Chop Suey, Fried [converted] Rice, and Fortune Cookies, this is every bit as much comfort food for Westerners as burgers and pub grub. When I travel back to Canada one of the first things I do is get Chinese food. A friend in southern China tells me his city has an American-Chinese takeout joint run by a Canadian. Taipei needs one.
3. Al Fresco Dining: I like to eat and drink outside. There are a few places in Taipei that offer a decent patio, but they are few and far between. Often al fresco dining amounts to little more than a table and chairs that have been thrown out on the street to accommodate smokers. Some of the best patios in Taipei close when the manager decides that the weather isn’t appropriate. It is exasperating—too cold for Taiwanese is beautiful and balmy to a Canadian. I’m on a constant, and frustrating, search for places I can sit outside on a mild evening enjoying a meal, some wine, and a cigar.
4. Licorice: I love high-quality real black licorice. Salty or sweet, soft or chewy, it is all great. I would even accept Twizzlers or Red Vines in a pinch. Taiwan has embraced a lot of foreign foodstuffs, but the Taiwanese seem incapable of wrapping their minds around licorice. To them, it looks like and has the texture of a rubber tire, while tasting strongly of Chinese medicine. I have gotten some genuinely comical reactions from friends and students when I let them try a piece; bug-eyed, prune-mouthed, red-faced disbelief that it could possibly be a traditional Western candy. Consequently, it is virtually impossible to find licorice in a store in Taiwan. There used to be some privately run Western groceries in Tienmu that had Twizzlers. Now we have larger Western grocery chains that either don’t know enough to stock licorice, or don’t find it economical. I fill my luggage half full of licorice whenever I travel outside Asia.
5. Properly Contoured Toilet Bowls: Western style toilets in Taiwan seem to be purposely designed to ensure you crap all over the bowl’s side. Toilets here lack wide watery bowls. Instead there is a relatively small amount of water at the bottom of a narrow bowl. Meaning that there is a lot of unprotected porcelain that’s likely to get spattered with waste. I don’t have this problem in any Western country I’ve been to, the bowl shape and water-to-porcelain ratio is design to prevent excessive messiness. Maybe Western butts are shaped differently than Taiwanese butts. I doubt that. I think, coming from a squat toilet tradition, the Taiwanese simply don’t realize that a toilet bowl can be designed in such a way as to limit side-of-bowl crapping.
None of these are terribly serious issues, but they’re what I’d improve if I were building the perfect Taiwan.