Moving to Taiwan: Avoiding Disaster

There are always people moving to Taiwan.  I talk a lot about it in what I write; I give a lot of advice on this site regarding moving to Taiwan, getting settled in Taiwan, and living in Taiwan.  One topic I haven’t addressed is moving back to The World.

On July 22, 2013, I received a message on Facebook that cited my piece entitled “No Taiwan ARC?  No Problem!”  I get a few messages a week, thanks to people reading what I write or viewing one of my many videos on my YouTube Channel.  It’s all been positive, thusfar, so I guess that’s a good thing.  Often, people are looking for help, and I tend to let my altruism overpower my business sense.  More on that later.  Back to July 22.

I was asked for the address of Taichung’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs office, at the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  First, do me this favor: Google “Taichung’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”  In your top searches you will see the official website of MOFA and you can see in the meta description that the address is listed in both Chinese and English.

Now, I’m not here to take shots at those of you who can’t Google things.  OK…that’s not really true.  I am here to take shots at people who can’t Google things.  Seriously.  How hard was that to copy/paste into Google and find an answer?  I could have literally asked the average nine-year-old to do that, and she could have had me that address within a minute.  If you’re currently a grandparent, you get a pass from my wrath on this subject.  I can’t knit – you can’t search the web – let’s call it even.  But if you’re under 50 years old and still ask questions that could be answered if you type said question into Google: do not write me.

Believe it or not, some of these entries take hours to write.  I do a ton of research because it’s something I’m good at and I enjoy it; I like to take a ton of information and crunch it into 1000 words so it’s easier for people to understand.  For example, this took me around five hours to research and write, which is actually pretty good, considering how tough it was to find some of that information.  I’m a digger.  Questions are like splinters in my brain.  The equation must be balanced.

Unfortunately, I’m also very Gonzo.  Three paragraphs back, I said we’d talk more about this July 22 thing, and look at me.  We’re 400 words in and you’re still wondering what all this is about.  Well, I’ll tell you.




Here’s the story.

The fellow who wrote me – let’s call him Chatte – was moving to Taiwan July 25.  He arrived.  July 26 was a big day – he used my work to get him an ID number and then his new boss helped him get a bank account.  For a first day in Taiwan, it was pretty successful.  He wrote me the following morning – July 27 – sounding very excited to be checking out an apartment and the school that day.  Twelve hours later, however, was an entirely different story.

I’m not usually one for copying other stuff people write.  I don’t re-blog others’ work.  I try to keep it original.  But here’s what I got, the evening of July 27:

“In the end, the loft wasn’t sick at all. I decided not to take it. I’m in Wuri right now and I’m knee deep into culture shock. Really bad day for me. Hope it goes away … my guts told me to steer clear, not sure why. balcony was a joke, bathroom too. placed didn’t feel right, and the ceiling of the mezzanine was like 5 feet high … I have to say that the teaching demo I saw this morning didn’t help either. Guy I’m replacing is the definition of a dancing monkey. Great guy, but his style isn’t something I can do. And my boss spent all day yesterday telling about him, and how he’s such a great teacher … guess that’s why I’ve always wanted to teach college students, not elementary school students … I’m very confused right now since I’ve never felt that way before. I almost took a train to the airport this afternoon. That’s how fucked up I was. … I was led to believe that I wouldn’t teach much the first couple of months, but I’m taking over the other guys classes, and that’s 28 hours a week with no training … I’ve always loved challenges, but man, I really feel like I’m way over my head now … I’ll try to sleep it off.”

There are some glaring problems with all this, as anyone who’s lived here long enough can tell you.  We’ll get to that.  First, let’s finish this story.

Chatte went on to talk to friends and family back in The World for the next 24 hours, writing me the next day to ask me the fastest way to get to the airport, if he chose to leave.  I told him.  That was the last we talked.

Today – July 29 – I noticed a post on Facebook on the Taichung Substitute Board.  It was for the school he was supposed to be working at, and they were looking for a foreign teacher to cover full-time hours for the next three weeks.  That let me to believe that Chatte had quit and probably left Taiwan.  I went to his Facebook page and found we were no longer “friends.”  I checked with those I knew were mutual contacts only to discover he had unfriended them, as well.

Let’s recap.  Moving to Taiwan July 25.  To live.  Indefinitely.  Left Taiwan July 29.  Four days was all it took.  That’s shorter than most peoples’ vacations.

It’s pretty mind-blowing.  Airfare, alone, would be US$2,000.  But four days?  If you moved anywhere, lasted four days, and then went back home…is there anyone that wouldn’t find that to be batshit insane?  It’s so crazy that I’m not even sure where to begin!

But I gotta’ start somewhere.  So let’s start with this.

Let’s talk about moving to Taiwan!

First things first.

Don’t move somewhere without doing proper research on it.

Sounds like a no-brainer, I know.  I wouldn’t move from D.C. to Baltimore without doing research, let alone the other side of the planet.  What kind of research?  Well, as I said, this website and my channel are both really helpful.  But mine is not the only one.  Tealit is famous.  My city has a group on Facebook called “Taichung Info Exchange.”  Information is out there.  But I can’t expect people to find out about everything…especially when it comes to what it’s like to teach here.

If you enjoy teaching, you probably won’t enjoy teaching in Taiwan.

This is a harsh reality.  Teaching children (ages 3-14) in Taiwan is far closer to babysitting than it is teaching.  I take that back.  It’s like working at a Day Care.  The vast majority of what you do is entertainment – you play a lot of pointless games that happen to use English.  No joke: if you teach too much, your boss will give you a talking-to.

I’ve talked about this before.  “Teaching English” is big money in Taiwan.  Cram schools (aka buxiban) are private learning centers that do everything from “teach” to operate study halls for kids to do their mountains of homework.  Parents, by-and-large, are stupid when it comes to both education and child development.  Parents work all day – kids school all day – on the weekends, everybody sleeps.  There’s a big sense of “I don’t have to _________ with my kids: that’s what I pay the buxiban to do.”

This leads parents to think two things:

1. If my child is getting good scores, that means it’s good.

2. If my child is happy, that means it’s good.

Where does that lead?  It’s simple.  Buxiban give tests that are easy to pass and they make sure the kids are having fun so they don’t complain to their parents, because both those things would stop The Money Train.  You want to see your buxiban boss blow a gasket?  Give a kid a score lower than a 90.  Some buxiban even make teachers give private tutoring to students who score low on tests…for no pay.  The parents get pissed over the score and the only way for the buxiban to “save face” (i.e. retain the customer) is to offer something for free.  “It’s not your child’s fault.  She’s an angel.  The teacher will give her a private class, to make sure she gets it.”

I am not making this up.  Understand this, before you say, “I’m moving to Taiwan.”  Ask yourself if you can handle 20-30 hours of your week consisting of classroom experiences like this.  And that’s a pretty good class of kids.

But it’s not all gloom and doom!

Working as a “teacher” in Taiwan isn’t the coolest job ever, unless you really love child care.  If you love to play with kids and have the energy capacity to do it well, then this place is totally for you.  Not to mention the money.

If you haven’t seen my apartment, take a look, because it’s awesome.  Costs me US$400 a month.  Tack on all my bills, food costs, and other expenses, and I spend an average of US$1,200 a month to live pretty well here.  I know people who scrape by on much less.

Working at a buxiban, going-rate is US$20/hour.  You work a 20-hour week and you’re banking US$1,600: more than enough to survive here in Taichung.  Let’s break all that down:

A week consists of 168 hours.

If you sleep 7 hours a night, that’s 50 hours a week.

Plus, you work 20 hours a week.

That means that you have around 100 hours a week that is free waking time to do whatever you want.  You’re paying all your bills – even saving some money – and you have a 20-hour workweek.  Even if you dislike the job, it’s good compared to people in The World who hate their 40-hour week but have to keep grinding just to pay the rent.

So, that’s reality.

Let’s get back to the absurdity of Chatte’s situation.

We’ve covered the lack of preparation.  But let’s look at specific mistakes made by Chatte.

Mistake 1: Finding a job before you arrive.

Every single person who lives here will tell you not to do that.  It’s a virtual guarantee that the school you sign up with is one of a few chain-schools here in Taiwan.  Shane, Joy, HESS, Kojen, etc.  These are schools that feed on new arrivals and, if possible, they lock people down before they arrive.  They offer moving/living assistance, training, and more – they look very enticing on paper.  But, as Chatte learned, they are in the world of sales: they sell parents, they sell kids, and they sell teachers.  Why don’t veteran expats work with them?  Because we know the nonsense that goes with it.

I can not stress enough how not-difficult it is to find work here.  Notice, I don’t say “easy,” because I hate that word.  But take a look at the “Taichung Substitute Board,” and see how many posts use the word “easy” as a positive marketing strategy.  I digress.  The point is, within a week of moving here, you can be substitute teaching and getting cash-in-hand at the end of each day.  I know people who only substitute, working 10 hours a week, and scrape by just doing that.

My recommendation to anyone moving here is to come in on a Visitor Visa (or even a Visa-Exempt stamp, if you get 90 days) and start subbing as soon as you get settled in.  It goes without saying that you shouldn’t find a place before you arrive, but as with finding work, finding a crib in this buyer’s paradise is beyond easy.  There.  I said it.  It’s fucking easy.  Spend a month substitute teaching so you can see a bunch of different schools and figure out what makes a place good/bad.  Where might you want to work?  Take some interviews for part-time work and get your feet wet in a stable environment.  If it sucks, quit.  After three months, take a visa run.  Yes, I wrote a guide on that, too.  Once you get back, you’re better-prepared to find a full-time job that won’t make you want to kill yourself after a few months.

Mistake 2: Sweating the small stuff.

Ever hear the term “God laughs as man makes plans”?  Well, Taiwan is polytheistic.  Lots of gods to laugh at you and your funny little plans.  That is to say that I can promise you that you will experience a stressful situation within 48 hours of arrival.  Within the first week, you will have a large WTF SNAFU moment.  Welcome to Taiwan.

When I first moved here, I came with a friend.  He had a hook-up at a school and they said they’d give both of us full-time jobs.  After a week, my friend was working a massive 35 hours a week.  I was working 6.  No, that’s not a typo.  For a few weeks, I got the run-around about my hours, and I decided to take matters into my own hands: I interviewed at another school and I took a full-time job with them.  What could have been a situation where I freaked out and ran away back to the USA…I chose to lift up my skirt and get to work.  I made my own road, shooting from the hip, blaming no one and happy to be surviving a major adventure.

Not once did I think of leaving.  Shit happens.  You will see apartments that suck.  You will see jobs that suck.  That’s called “life.”  But if you’re not a complete jackass, you can make it work.  Taiwan is all about making-do.  I just made pasta today and used cabanossi sausage in it.  Why?  Because I can’t find spicy Italian sausage here, like in the USA.  So I could not make pasta and bitch about how Taiwan doesn’t have what I want.  Or I can go to The Butcher of Caotun and say, “Next time you make cabanossi, don’t smoke a dozen links, and sell them to me raw.”

It’s called not being a punk-ass bitch.  If you have the guts to move to a little island where everyone speaks a language you don’t understand, you don’t let other stuff stop you.  You hate a job: you quit and get a new one.  You hate a crib: you bail and find a new one.  You can’t find decent Mexican food: you learn to cook it yourself.

I’ll put my chicken enchiladas up against any restaurant in this country.  Bring it.

Mistake 3: Know what you are getting into.

You plan to be a teacher?  Are you prepared for that job to require you to act like a birthday clown sans make-up?

You plan to live in a city in southeast Asia?  How are you with exotic foods, air pollution, open sewers, and cockroaches?

You plan to not walk everywhere?  What’s your opinion on riding a scooter or motorcycle in heavy traffic?

You plan to have a population that speaks English?  Do you speak any of the native language, yourself?

I know these seem like pretty obvious questions to be asking before you go off moving to Taiwan.  But it’s shocking how many people don’t.  I don’t know if they think it’s gonna’ be like EPCOT, or what.  But it’s real life.  Doing some decent Googling should prepare you pretty well for what you’re going to be getting into.  If you are from South Africa and are more comfortable speaking Afrikaans than English – while there are lots of Afrikaners here – you might not meet them right away.  Freaking out because you don’t have people to talk to about stuff, because no one speaks Afrikaans, is something you should really think about before you get on a plane.

I’m not trying to discourage you.

I love living in Taiwan.  But I don’t want people to come here if they’re going to tuck-tail after less than a week.  It makes those who live here look bad.  See, there’s not a lot of Westerners here, compared to the number of Taiwanese.  Stereotypes abound.  If you burn a school, the next teacher they have will get treated like they will screw the school over at any moment.  If you break a lease in a building, they may never rent to a foreigner again.  Your actions might not have long-lasting consequences for you, but they do for those of us who stick around.

One thing I love most about Taiwan is that, six years after first moving here, I can say that I worked for many of the top schools in my city, helped design an ESL program for a school, and now run my own American business while living here in Taichung.  In fact, go to Facebook and give me a like.  It’s the least you can do.

One last thing, because I said I’d mention it.

I’m done giving free advice.  I’ll keep writing, as I always do; I’m happy to give out information to the masses, like this.  What I will no longer do is give specific free advice to people who should otherwise be paying for my services.  My business is a business of information, and the knowledge I have acquired is valuable.  That’s why I have a business based in it.  If you need my help, I’m happy to give it, just like a restaurant is happy to feed hungry people.  But I don’t know of any steakhouses that operate as charities.  Nothing in life is free, and I am no exception.

I can help you make sure your relocation or visit to Taiwan goes smoothly – clearly, if you are still reading this after 3,000 words, you believe I know what I’m talking about.  Hit me up and I’ll help you out.

Right after we negotiate my fee.

Thank you for reading!

I hope your future is bright.  Moving to Taiwan is one of the best decisions I ever made; I hope someday you can say the same.

8 thoughts on “Moving to Taiwan: Avoiding Disaster

  1. what r u talking about man, nothing in life is free, ur so wrong, love is free, money grows on trees, in the ground and on top of it. haven’t u ever seen a rice field, or a coconut tree. haven’t u even received true love from a good woman.

    so actually what ur saying is that ur friend is a “complete jackass”

    maybe ur the jackass for not helping ur friend more, maybe u should of visited him, and offer one of the rooms u have for him to stay in for at least a week, it wouldn’t cost u anything and it would help him so much, and u would maybe win a life long best friend, that is what i would do. Anyways man, i use to really love ur work but after seeing that u never answer my fb messages nor comments now i see ur true colors, i hate people like you who come to taiwan and feel like they are better then others, we are all human, no foreigners here.

    anyways, now u want money on top of getting money from advertisement, gush man, u turn into a real …

  2. @Homer

    OK, so not all the commentary on what I do is positive.

    Homer, allow me to address your points one-at-a-time.

    1. Money does not, in fact, grow on trees. Why don’t you go lecture to rice farmers about how they should be giving away the rice they grow for free? Why don’t you go tell your mechanic to fix your car for free? Why don’t you, yourself, volunteer your work hours, instead of getting paid for it? You’re not just a hypocrite: you are an unintelligent hypocrite, and I have no respect for you or your opinions on who I am or what I do.

    2. I actually think much worse of Chatte than him being a “complete jackass.” If you actually thought long enough about why I chose the pseudonym for him that I did, you would know that. Regardless, he was not my friend.

    3. He sent me a Facebook message on July 22. He moved to Taiwan July 25 and was staying at an apartment in Wurih. He went back home on July 28. So you think that I shouldn’t only work for free, but that I should also open my home to people I don’t know? Because, that’s what you would do? Are you registered on CouchSurfing and take anyone who wants to stay with you, without knowing them? Because, if that’s the case, you are either unintelligent or naive…or both.

    4. One reason you post what you do is because you are not intelligent. You have said in the past that you dislike my blog compared to my channel because you refuse to read it – you have a computer program read it to you. You know what the vast majority of stupid people have in common? They don’t read. You can’t even be bothered to type the words “you” and “are,” let alone use capitalization, proper punctuation, or solid sentence structure, or (God forbid) actually read what I write.

    5. But it should be mentioned that your stupidity is not the only primary reason I ignored your messages on Facebook. You see, Facebook changed its message delivery for people who aren’t friends: they go to an “Other Box.” I didn’t see your messages for a long time. However, when I finally did, I discovered that over the seven months between October 24 and May 26, you sent me 64 unsolicited messages on Facebook, without a single response from me. That’s called “creepy,” Homer.

    6. And that creepiness is only surpassed by the dumb stuff you sent me, telling me what you think I should be writing about or making videos about, to the point of telling me that I should dumb-down what I produce. That’s why I ignore the majority of your comments: they are worthless and not worthy of a response. I responded to this one because you’ve chosen to attack me and I have a desire to explain to you what I think about you.

    7. Speaking of production, who are you to tell me what I should be creating? What do you create? What makes you some kind of authority about creation of intelligent/entertaining media? What do you contribute to the online world other than your unintelligent commentary? You are the worst kind of user, sitting back and taking, without giving anything back, telling people they should all be happy to supply you with what you want for free, and insulting them when they don’t. You suck. And, the way I know that is

    8. Some people are better/worse than other people. That is reality. Just as a nice knife costs more than a crappy knife, because it’s better, some people are better than others and have a greater value to the world. Your hippie-dippie “everyone is the same,” “everyone should work for free,” and “love is all you need” ideas are utterly absurd.

    9. I expose who I am to the world, online, for free. I share what I do and what I know with people, for free, on my blog and my channel. If people want to know more, and use the information I have acquired for their advantage, then I deserve to be compensated for the time/expenses I have incurred in my life to acquire said information. Are you really so naive and unintelligent that you think everything in the world should just be free and that everything will just work out for everyone?

    10. People clicking advertisements is their choice. I have no compulsory charge for what I creatively produce. It is given freely. Individuals click ads because they see products/services they want to buy (which, like my services, are not free), not because they want to help me get paid. Do you know how much money I make each month, from Google? My channel/blog gets around 10,000-15,000 hits a month. I make an average of US$15 a month from the advertisements. Again, because you’re not smart and don’t bother to find out things work before you post stuff, I don’t expect you to have know that…but it’s unfortunate that you can’t even recognize your own ignorance before you start making comments. Apparently you think that people who desire financial success are bad people.

    Homer, you are assumptive, unintelligent, and boring. I’m done here.

  3. Hi Joseph,

    How are you doing? I don’t use my blog anymore, I don’t even remmember my password. I haven’t read your blog for a while cause I just found a new job as an English teacher for little kids. It is located in a rural area. It has been a month working, and I am really having a great time. I enjoy reading your posts, but some people are just nuts. It seems you have a fan here. He is a kind of stalker lol. Creepy! It is hard to move to another country. Sometimes, people are already troublesome in their countries. Just imagine moving to another place. Sometimes people use the theory of escape to move, some move beause of financil crisis, some want to meet a new culture, some move to stay with the partner, etc. I moved because I can’t make any saving in USA. I was just working to pay my bills and taxes. Even tough I make less here than US, I still can save some. By the way, the guy who moved to Taiwan was not even your friend. He was just taking advantage of you to get a help. I don’t understand why Homer said you lost a friend. Chatter was a total jerk. This kind of people are just looking for easy ways to handle their lives. Don’t you realize he couldn’t make it even he got your help, his boss also helped him to get a place to stay. Plus, it is very convenient to access in Taiwan. Nothing is far here. Additionally, was this buddy grateful at all? He basically unfriended you from his fb and the rest of people he met in Taiwan. Was it necessary? Why would you consider him as a friend if he was the one who descontinued any contact? Homer’s criticisms are not relevant at all. You are right about research, Google, Embassy, etc. I also got folks asking me about moving abroad. They were not even prepared or planned to move. Some people are too insecure, and unable to make any decisions. But, they would make decisions by seeing others doing. Once they realize they made a mistake, they would start bitching the country, blaming everyone, etc. The only person they could blame are themselves. Who told them to not make a research first? We all know that plans can go “right” or “wrong”. What is wrong with that? Oh yes, have you ever noticed a lot of people don’t make any research because they are just slackers?? Seriously, once a guy told me to do research for him about google adsense because he was interested to create his own website. That guy was just an acquaintance. Then I told him, “why can’t you do it yourself? You know how to manage the internet”. Check his response “because I am lazy, and I know you will do it”. I just ignored him. Your patience is a virtue, Joseph. You share your experience with people here in your blog. You help strangers. But, you still have to deal with freak people. I am grateful for you sharing about restaurant Bistro. I would love to visit it when I go to Taichung. Homer is so annoying. I have been reading his comments. I am starting to see him as someone who enjoys pointing his fingers, but he neither realizes how ignorant he is nor he really reads your posts.

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  5. Totally loved this post and your writing style, in general. Shared it with a friend that’s moving over to that part of the world.

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