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Snapshot of Taiwan — Taiwan is a small island about one-sixth the size of Utah, located off the southeastern coast of China. Historically, Taiwanese people and the Republic of China moved from China in 1945 after the People’s Republic of China [led by Mao Zedong] assumed control of the mainland, and the two people have considered themselves separate and different since. The island is influenced heavily by both Japanese and Western cultures. The native cultures are also influential, especially in the south and east.
Taiwan is hot. Be prepared to sweat a lot in the summer. It will also be relatively cold in the winters [sweaters and light jackets will be helpful.] Some areas of your mission will be very small, urban areas; other areas will cover multiple counties. You will be biking often and talking to everyone you see. Be an example of the believers, and people will come to you.
While the Church is growing, member retention is more difficult. Converts usually have support from missionaries and members, but if that support fades many stop attending meetings. Many less active members stop attending due to familial pressure because they have “abandoned the family” or are not supporting the family’s traditions and values [ancestor worship, etc].
Taiwanese food is relatively cheap and typical fare consists of rice, dumplings, noodles, pork, seafood, and soy. Missionaries frequently rely on street vendors and small restaurants, which are fairly cheap, fast, and cost about the same as cooking at home.
Because of the island’s sub-tropical location, Taiwan has an abundant supply of various fruit, such as papaya, starfruit, melons, and citrus fruit. A wide variety of tropical fruits, imported and native, are enjoyed in Taiwan. Other agricultural products in general are rice, corn, tea, pork, poultry, beef, fish, along with other fruits and vegetables. In Taiwan, fresh ingredients are readily available from local markets.
Franchises recognizable in the US can be found [McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken] but are obviously more expensive than traditional Taiwanese food.
Bicycles and scooters dominate the commuter scene. Many people drive vehicles, but scooters are the most convenient since they are so small and efficient.
Bike locks will be necessary or bikes are likely to be stolen. In Asia, theft is more of an opportunistic event rather than a determined action. Often thieves will avoid foreign missionaries because they stand out and draw more attention. Foreigners are also a bit more intimidating.
Take shoes off upon entering someone’s home. Give and receive all objects and gifts with two hands to show deference and respect. Deflect compliments and praise, as immediately accepting them is seen as prideful and arrogant. Instead, dismiss the compliment as unimportant or false. This is quite opposite of politeness in American culture, so be wary. Similarly, refuse food, drinks, and gifts when initially given. Usually such offers are made out of politeness, not out of genuine desire. If the host continues to offer the gift a second and third time, you can be sure that they truly want to give it to you, and at that point it is fine to accept the gift. Taiwanese will almost always offer visitors something to drink — sometimes hot water, juice, or various teas. Some “teas” are more like fruit-based drinks, not brewed from tea leaves, and are thus fine to drink. Others are not, which is a great way to segue into discussions about the Church and beliefs.
Many older people, especially in southern Taiwan, speak Taiwanese, a dialect of Chinese. It is not spoken very often in the north parts of Taiwan, and many youths understand it but may not necessarily speak it well.
Bicycle, lock, helmet, lights, hand towel [for drying off sweat], some smaller bills of money in an easily accessible place in case of thieves.
Convenience stores like 7-11 and Circle K are everywhere in Taiwan. Besides buying food and other items, you can pay utility bills, phone bills, traffic tickets, credit card payments, and other services and charges at any 7-11. They will quickly become your most frequented store.
#498-11, Wu Chuan Road,
Straight from the Taiwan Taichung Mission field:
*What items were hard to get or not available?
“It’s southeast Asia, so don’t expect to get a lot of your favorite American foods or sweets. However, Taiwan has plenty to offer in that regard. Hair and skin care products are easily accessible.”
“Breakfast cereals, traditional ice cream and birthday cake, cow’s milk, traditional bread made from wheat flour.”
*What did you eat the most of?
“Rice, Noodles, Dumplings.”
“You MUST eat a mango “bing” [shaved milk ice dessert similar to ice cream] as soon as mangos come in season in April/May. Many stores serve the shaved milk ice with sweetened condensed milk, mango ice cream, and freshly cut mangos. Easily the most delicious dish that Taiwan has to offer. I also ate a lot of lamb fried rice and beef noodle soup, the latter being one of Taiwan’s most famous dishes. Drink stands are plentiful and offer various cheap and delicious drinks. The most common is probably donggua cha, a “tea” made from the winter melon. Many additions can be made, like adding “boba” pearls [bubble tea”], little chewy balls of tapioca. You can also add fresh milk to various drinks, whether it be to the teas or to fruit juices. Healthy and delicious!”
“Rice, seafood, lots of vegetables in stir fry, dumplings in vegetable broth, tofu in many forms including a breakfast soup called dofu jyang.”
*What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Coagulated pigs blood.”
“Squid and raw oysters.”
“Stinky tofu is pretty foul smelling and, apparently, the stinkier it is, the better it tastes. Duck feet, pig feet, and chicken heads are all pretty bizarre things to eat. Taiwanese people don’t waste any bits of animals. Many parts are delicacies. The craziest thing, however, is probably the century egg, an egg is the cured and preserved in salt, clay, ash, quicklime, and other various mixtures for a long period of time, giving it the appearance of being incredibly old. It smells horrible and tastes worse, but it is a special delicacy that some people love (while others abhor it). I recommend trying it at least once—good luck.”
*What was most surprising about the culture?
“Open sewers and babies not wearing diapers; new mothers staying in bed for a month after giving birth; toilets (just a hole in the ground or floor) … We were guests at a fancy restaurant that had a piano on hydraulics that would rise up from the floor below, but when we went to use the restroom all there was were the toilets that were a hole in the floor. Squatting over the hole with a long dress on was no easy task! Loved all the outdoor places to eat; little cafes and eateries. But I was surprised to see wooden chop sticks after having been washed, stuck in a can drying by the side of the road. Seeing young children packaging Christmas lights into boxes outside their humble homes. I have a picture of a motorcycle with a huge tangle of Christmas lights fastened to the back of it. Seeing where so many of our Christmas decorations are handmade.”
—Jennifer (Rwan He Jen, Chinese name)
“Taiwanese people are very focused on the family, which is both good and bad for LDS missionaries. Some are insistent of revering and continuing the family’s traditional worship based on Taoism and Buddhism. Other families are more modern and want good values in their homes, which may or may not be a window for the Gospel. One thing that surprised me about Taiwanese culture is people’s complacency with what they have. We bring to them a new message of eternal happiness and families, but many dismiss it as unnecessary or complicated. They sometimes don’t take the time to listen and figure out if the message can help them in any way.”
*What advice would you give to someone going to the Taiwan Taichung Mission?
“Be humble and show respect for the elderly; as Americans we are so spoiled with material possessions and often give little respect to our elders. So many of the Chinese had very little and were very happy.”
—Jennifer (Rwan He Jen, Chinese name)
“People will often be rude, abrasive, and unwilling to help themselves. Be patient with them. Some may ignore you completely; some may spit betel nut juice at you; some may slam the door in your face. Expect it and move on. Learn to love them, even if they don’t seem willing to love themselves. Taiwanese people are often very complacent with their positions in life and sometimes see no reason to change. Be bold, but not overbearing. Love them as the Savior would”
*What do you wish you had known before you served?
“Not to worry so much; Truly trust in the Lord for strength and help. While at the MTC, I struggled so with learning the language. While in the field my language skills were never great, but I was able to communicate and the Chinese people were very caring and understanding.”
—Jennifer (Rwan He Jen – Chinese name)
“You do NOT need to bring everything on the recommended packing list. You can buy the majority of the clothes locally; they will fit better and be cheaper. Pants, shirts, ties, and belts are all easily obtainable in Taiwan. I would recommend investing in a good pair of shoes, though, especially ones that aren’t too heavy, look nice, and can take a beating. Go through the effort of waterproofing your shoes. They will receive a LOT of loving. In fact, bring two pairs of shoes so that one can be drying from the sudden monsoon from the day before. I actually had a pair of shoes that I used as my rainy day shoes.”
“My mission experience gave me a much broader appreciation for all of God’s children, our diversity and challenges.”
—Jennifer (Rwan He Jen, Chinese name)
**Did you serve in the Taiwan Taichung Mission? If so, we would love to hear your advice and your stories! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.**