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Life As An Expat Family In Taiwan

Carlie: Hey there it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast. I first spoke to Max Lee just over a year ago on the show, and he was preparing to move his young family from North America to Taiwan. It was a move abroad that they’d been planning for many years, and Max intended to focus on his music career in their new country, while his wife would be remote working for a company back in the States. One year on, I’m excited to find out where they’re at, what went to plan, and what plans changed.

Max, the last time we spoke, you were nomading with your family across North America. Tell me, where are you speaking to me from today?

Max: Oh, today we’re in Taipei. I’m in my office, in our home in Taipei, Taiwan. So…

Carlie: This was the plan! Yes, this was the plan.

Max: Yes. Yeah, pretty much. One little twist and maybe we’ll get into that later because it’s one of my answers for you, is that we’re actually sort of settled into an actual apartment. You know, I thought that we’d continue to live sort of in and out of new homes every few months. But then when we got here and we went apartment hunting, we surprisingly fell in love with the place and then signed a two year lease pretty much on the spot. And so now we have a home and we’ve begun to accumulate things again for the house!

Carlie: Congratulations. You’re nesting!

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Max: Yeah. A little bit. A little bit. Yeah.

Carlie: We were speaking when you were in North America about your family’s upcoming move to Taiwan. You had been planning this for a very long time. How did the actual move go? I know it was delayed a little because of Covid, so you were kind of waiting until some laws relaxed and you were able to actually get everyone over there.

Max: Yeah. It’s (apologies for the ambulance, like, this doesn’t happen a lot, but then right when we start recording, of course!) Yeah, our move…we were trying to wait it out till Taiwan relaxed its quarantine requirements. Unfortunately, you know, with the school year beginning in the end of August, we did have to make the move and deal with a little bit of quarantine, but it wasn’t too bad. It was…at that time when we made the move, it was only at, shoot, I’m not sure. I think it was like three nights.

Carlie: Okay. Because I think you were concerned about, you know, having to stay in a hotel room with your family for like two weeks straight or something.

Max: It was a shortened quarantine and we were also allowed to stay in an apartment as long as nobody else was living in that apartment. So, my aunt moved out and we put her in a hotel and then we were able to stay in her apartment, which is massive and much more enjoyable than being cooped up in a small hotel room. So, we got that, we had a balcony. She also has a rooftop, so it just like lots of area for us to get fresh air and some…

Carlie: And that the kids stretch their legs, yeah.

Max: Yeah. And space apart from each other when necessary. So…

Carlie: And you mentioned you’ve just signed a two year lease. So tell me about this place that you found for your family in Taiwan?

Max: Yeah, in Taipei. Like, we thought that we’d bounce around in different Airbnbs, maybe try out slightly different locations within the city. That had been my plan, that’s what I had researched. And I even knew some people who rented out short-term rentals, so we had sort of a direct connection. But then when we looked at actual rental listings, there was a decent number of options that were already furnished, which was an important part for us. Didn’t wanna buy a ton of furniture.

And then the pricing was so much better than Airbnb, so that even if we were to just leave for three months out of the year, it was still worth it to pay for a full year. So, we started looking, found a handful of places that were worth checking out. We went to look at them in person, but the place we chose was the very first place we saw. And it’s a pretty modern unit. I’d say a comfortable transition for us coming from a western home in the US and it’s four…three bedrooms plus an office, could be a fourth bedroom, but we’re keeping it as it as an office.

And I think that’s the greatest benefit, surprise benefit, I guess, of having a home for us is that with the office, we’ve started to…it’s turned into a quasi music room as well. I ended up buying a digital piano and have other instruments in here. My son’s taking music lessons as well. So he does all of that in here. So that’s really been great because that was one of the hassles I was concerned about before moving here, was that I’d have to go to a music studio or a music school and do my practicing and for him as well. But now we have everything at home. So…

Carlie: Because you did move to Taiwan on a special visa that took into the account that you’re a little bit famous as a musician! And so your plan we were discussing in our first chat was to really focus on your music. How’s that going?

Max: Yeah, I was worried this question had come up! Yeah, I was just talking with a friend recently and he was kind of trying to remind me to not be too hard on myself because this is a big transition and I shouldn’t feel like I need to be doing a bunch of things very quickly all at once. But I lead in with that to say that, you know, it took some time to settle in.

And I have found that integrating into sort of a music community and scene in another country is a little bit harder than, you know, I had imagined. Because in the past when I used to, as a musician, when I’d go to a new place in the States, it was very, very easy to just go online and connect with people and find people to play music with and, you know, just plug into a community like that. And then here, obviously there’s a language barrier. I’m not fluent in Mandarin, and I also cannot read or write.

So, my pool is much smaller if I’m going online. And so that’s taken some time. I feel like I’m starting to get sort of a network and my legs under me and I’ve been practicing a lot more. So, at least for myself personally, I feel like I’m ready to do more, but I just…I haven’t gotten to that point yet. So, we’re still sort of in the pre-launch phase of my music endeavors here.

Carlie: I’m sure it’s fine to give yourself some grace too.

Max: Yeah, yeah. It is a balancing act because I also have sort of a personality where I think I very much live in, sort of, whatever the momentum is for me at the moment. So, if I’m not doing a lot of things, it’s easy for me to stay in that mode of like not doing a lot of music. But…so I need to kind of get that inertia going, I guess, and make sure that I’m not using, sort of, the transition as an excuse for not doing more.

Carlie: I know that feeling! You mentioned that your Mandarin is limited. Would you say language has been one of the biggest cultural integration barriers or hurdles that your family has experienced?

Max: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s the short answer. For me, and this is sort of a common phenomenon, I think for people with my background, it’s a little bit more complicated because although I can speak well enough to get around in, sort of, basic social situations. But because I look Chinese and I look…can look like a local there’s, sort of, an expectation every time where people assume that I’m gonna speak fluently and when I can’t…partially it’s psychological. I put myself in a space where I feel uncomfortable or get a lot of anxiety because I’m unable to hold up that image.

Carlie: It’d almost be easier if you were, you know, a Caucasian man in Asia than…the expectation would be lower, right?

Max: Yeah. And you know, a lot of it has to do with me, psychologically, because, but I’ve found that I’m most comfortable and I’m able to express myself the most in Chinese when the person I’m speaking with already knows, sort of, my background and knows that, okay, I’m not a native and I feel sort of that freedom to just go ahead and try whatever I can. Yes, exactly. Whereas, you know, initially when I encounter somebody, I’m anxious to try to be perfect in what I say and that just…yeah, it’s very limiting.

So, for me that’s the situation. And then for my kids, particularly my older son who is in first grade in a local school, that’s definitely been his most challenging aspect of the move. I actually…this is one of the notes I’ve prepared: I talked to my wife and she reminded me that he has said on numerous occasions that his life here in Taiwan is perfect except for Chinese. So, that’s like the biggest thorn in his side. He’s doing pretty well now though, I’d have to say. We’ve begun to see a lot of progress.

Carlie: Remind me how old he is.

Max: He’s seven. And we did not really prepare him linguistically, I guess for…

Carlie: Your wife wasn’t speaking to him in Chinese before you moved, or…?

Max: We did. We spoke to him in Chinese from birth till about one and a half years old. And then around that time, I’d say even my parents did as well. We were all in it together. And then around that point in time, he still hadn’t verbalized anything. And so my parents got very nervous.

The doctors reassured us that this is normal, especially in a multilingual environment. But my parents got very nervous and my mom just like switched to English only for him. And at that point…and once he started to learn English, he really was very resistant to us speaking other languages since he was able to communicate that way. And yeah, that’s probably, that’s what I’ve said is my number one regret, prior, you know, with the move was not sort of being more diligent and kind of requiring him to get a basic foundation of Mandarin because I think that made his first four or five months here much harder than it would’ve been if he had just learned a little bit before we came.

Carlie: And the school he is in, is that a local school? So, are they only speaking to him in Mandarin?

Max: Yes.

Carlie: Okay, baptism of fire!

Max: Yeah, it’s complicated here because in Taipei public schools, they actually teach…they have one class a day, which is in Taiwanese in fact. So, that’s another dialect that he’s exposed to in addition to Mandarin. So, he’s seeing that, and you know…our background as well, maybe I should mention is that my wife is actually Cantonese, so she speaks another dialect of Chinese.

Carlie: …of Chinese. So it wasn’t very useful for the Mandarin. Oh, hopefully there’s some crossover. I’m sorry, I have no idea.

Max: There’s a little bit, it helps some, but it’s still more or less learning a new language. And so it’s always been somewhat confusing and complicated for our son. He hears a lot of different languages. I haven’t even gotten into everything. There’s another dialect for the other set of grandparents, and you know, we were living in Miami, so Spanish was extremely prevalent. That was his preschool and daycare was all Spanish.

So, he had a lot of exposure to many different languages and didn’t really have the chance to have a solid foundation in anything besides English. But for my wife, even though Cantonese was her more, essentially her native language was Cantonese. She’s been able to transition to Mandarin quite well. First of all, the written language is the same, so she can read and write perfectly fine here. And then she watched so much Mandarin TV when she was younger that it is…

Carlie: Osmosis, yeah.

Max: Yeah, so she’s close…I would say she’s fluent in sort of everyday situations, just probably for technical, like business kind of setting, she could still improve.

Carlie: So, your son is immersed in school and as you said, he has improved and I’m sure he’s going to be fluent before you know it, because that’s kind of the way it works with children’s brains, isn’t it? Frustratingly. Are you yourself taking any classes or actively working on your Mandarin, or are you just hoping everyday life will help?

Max: Yeah. So that’s something, you know, we touched on how I had a lot of social anxiety over the language. And so initially I thought I could come and I would start to pick things up just by being here and immersed in the society. But I was pretty hesitant to engage in a lot of conversations with strangers because I just…the thing about the whole image. So, I did eventually decide to start taking classes in November.

So about…this was about after three months of being here, I just decided I needed something to sort of kick me in the butt a little bit. I’m not doing much. I know a number of people who are taking very intense classes or lessons. And for me, I’m doing a very, very laid back language school where we just meet twice a week for two hours. And I purposely…they did a placement exam for me and then they put me sort of in an intermediate two level and I decided to go back, rewind about three semesters.

Carlie: Downgrade your level, yeah.

Max: Yeah, because since I never really learned extremely formally, I felt like there’s a lot of holes in my vocabulary. So while I had sort of the ability to speak at an intermediate level, there’s still a lot of vocab that I was missing from lower levels. And so for me it’s a…the class itself is very, very relaxed and very easy, but it’s given me a lot of confidence to speak more on a day-to-day basis out in public. And I’ve picked up more vocabulary. The biggest surprise though and change with the courses is that my goal was to be fluent conversationally when we were moving to Taiwan. And I just figured I had no interest in trying to learn to read or write, because I just figured that’d be too…

Carlie: …too ambitious?

Max: Yeah. And, but this class has helped me tremendously with that. And I’m reading and writing much better than I thought I could at this stage, so now suddenly it’s like, it’s still not an explicit goal of mine, but it, I may be able to get by with reading and writing, you know, at some point. So…

Carlie: And I’m sure it’s motivating for your son too, to see one of his parents actively learning this language alongside him.

Max: Yeah, yeah.

Carlie: Is he at the stage where he’s correcting your pronunciation yet, or…?

Max: Not quite. He’s tried to a few times, I think maybe once or twice he’s actually been correct, but most of the time when he tries to do it, he’s not…he’s a little bit more of himself than he should be! So, we’re usually correcting his…particularly his tonal pronunciation, because that’s something that’s a struggle for him, he hasn’t had to deal with tones before. And so that’s the aspect that he’s trying to grasp now.

Carlie: And are you finding educators for both yourself and your son are supportive?

Max: Yeah, I think so. His school…so there’s actually within the public school system, they have language immersion in different neighborhoods, different districts throughout the city. And so his school actually initially recommended him to one of those language immersion programs, and we thought about it: it was actually what we wanted before we moved here was to get him into this particular school with that language immersion.

But once we saw his actual neighborhood school and all the programs that they offered and then we found this home, we decided that maybe we could forego that and just let him be with all the local kids instead of joining this other program, which is designed specifically for expats and people who are coming from outside the country. #

So, with that in mind, since we decided not to do that, then the school said, “okay, maybe it’ll work”, but they actually brought in a tutor, an outside tutor, for him twice a week. I think it’s just for like 30 minutes to 45 minutes. But they did that to help him with the transition. So, you know, I think it’s working out. I actually have a friend whose daughter was in that language immersion program at the school that we would’ve sent him to, and they’ve decided to pull out of it because they just think it’s…the school itself is not as fun and engaging as their local school. So, they’re switching.

Carlie: That’s sounds like you made the right decision for now, yeah. And how are you going with creating or joining local community and finding your, you know, your village in Taipei?

Max: Yeah. I’m very content with our, sort of, situation and environment right now. So, you know I should be clear about that. But when I’ve thought about our, sort of, immersion into the local community, I do feel like, “hmm, we’re not really integrated, we’re not really assimilated”, because aside from our friends, our local friends, that we knew before we moved we really haven’t connected with anyone other than other westerners and expats like that…

Carlie: It’s a very easy situation to find yourself in, yeah.

Max: Yeah. And, you know, I feel like maybe that’s lack…there’s something lacking without that, but at the same time, we’re very happy, we’re very…our days are full, so it’s not like we’re sitting around wishing…

Carlie: …wishing that someone would invite you to a birthday party or something!

Max: Yeah! I mean, no, we’re just, we’re very, very busy and socially too. It’s not like we’re not doing things. So, I’ve been going out to a lot of music events lately. But then just socially, seeing our friends we have enough of a network that we don’t even get to see them as much as we’d like.

And then my wife is involved in…she’s doing Toastmasters, so it is an interesting chapter of Toastmasters, because they are both…it’s a bilingual chapter, so they do, like, Chinese and they do English and, you know, she gets to…you choose a language to focus on, but she still gets tips and learning for both languages. So, that’s neat. And then she’s also part of a philanthropic group. So, she’s getting connected to other people, but they do kind of lean somewhat towards Western people, you know, so…

Carlie: Give it time and, you know, once your son starts being invited to every party for every student in his class, you’re going to meet all the parents. Isn’t that how it works?

Max: Yeah. And we do know other parents from the schools, but it’s just, you know, it is not like we’re hanging out with them outside of those activities, those school related things.

Carlie: I read this viral article about how people in Sweden, if you’re invited to their home, don’t expect to be fed! Like, it’s not a thing in Sweden that people need to or should offer you food. Like if you’re at their home at dinner time, you’ll just sit in another room while they, the family eats dinner, you know? Are there any cultural differences like that when it comes to interacting and socializing with people? I know there’s something in France about, you know, depending on the region of France that you’re in, it’s more difficult to break through and become real friends with a French person. Is it, like, similar in Taiwan?

Max: Huh. I don’t know. I’m sure it is just not coming to mind right now. This is somewhat related, but I was just thinking about this as we were going into this question, with the school, actually my wife was voluntold (!) to be sort of a leader for the class. Basically, we went to the first sort of parent teacher conference the first week of school. So, all the different parents were there and meeting the teachers.

And then surprisingly, at that meeting, suddenly they said, “okay, now we elect, sort of, the two people who are gonna be essentially the president of…”, it’s not really…it is kind of like PTA, I guess, for the class. So, we’re that parent teacher association. And so they have two parents who end up kind of being in charge and have to do all the administrative stuff. And since we didn’t really know what we were doing they more or less just told us, “okay, we’re gonna assign…”

Carlie: You’re going to do it!

Max: Yeah. And as a result though, I mean…and they picked my wife because her Chinese is serviceable and she can read and write, like I said, so it definitely wouldn’t make sense for me. And so they had her, and then there was another mom who was sitting next to us, and they were the unlucky ones. But they just kind of assigned it and they said once you’ve done it once, you serve for one year, then you no longer have to do it for the, for the next, I don’t know, four or five year cycle, whatever that is. So, she’s getting it out of the way now.

But I just say that because, you know, 1), she’s been in involved in the school and gotten to know other parents that way. And then 2), she’s realizing that here in Taiwan (or at least here in Taipei where we are), the parents are extremely involved in their kids’ school, you know, afterschool activities and everything. I mean, it’s just…there’s a very high level almost…and she gets a bit annoyed then actually by how involved they expect her to be! And you know, there’s just a lot of meetings, a lot of things to decide on all the time. Every time there needs to be some kind of a contribution for some activity or something, and they need to collect money. Like whether it’s societal pressure or whatnot, I mean, everybody pays immediately, like that first day, you don’t have to go chasing up fees.

Carlie: You don’t want to be that parent.

Max: Yeah. Everybody takes care of it right away. So…and I’ve noticed that too because my son is in orchestra and that’s kind of my task is managing his orchestra stuff. And so we are…like, it takes up a lot of my time!

Carlie: And you said you’re quite busy as a family, I bet it’s all like school related, right?

Max: Yeah, there’s a lot of that. And, you know, somewhat for us being new to this, you know, our oldest son is just getting to that age, so maybe it is…maybe for us it’s just that we hadn’t experienced that and it’s not too different from what it would’ve been like in the US but I do think probably to some degree there’s more involvement. We didn’t realize when we signed up for orchestra and thought that he’s going to be doing this activity after school on his own for like four hours a week. Didn’t realize that what that meant was: 1), I’m going to be involved for those same four hours a week. And then, you know, kind of helping him with his practicing and all that. It’s just, yeah…so I’m considering…

Carlie: It’s a full-time job.

Max: Yeah, I mean they just, it is run very smoothly, but the expectation, if your kid is an orchestra, the expectation is that you are going to help lead the whole group as a volunteer for, you know, one week every month or something and, you know, things like that. So, it’s just whatever your kids are doing, you’re gonna be just as involved in what they’re doing.

Carlie: The last time we spoke, you mentioned your wife was going to be working remotely and, sort of, to US time. How is that going for her?

Max: Well it isn’t! Unfortunately, fortunately, I don’t know how you look at it. But while we were still doing our nomad in the US a month or two before we moved, we knew at that point that she wouldn’t be able to work from Taiwan. There was some changes happening within her firm that meant that the role that she could have had remotely was not going to be available anymore. And then if she wanted to pivot to something that they were offering her, she’d have to be in the US for that.

And so, at that point in time we knew that, okay, she’s not going to be working when we come to Taiwan. And I have to say in hindsight that I don’t know how we would’ve managed if she was working those first, you know, two months or so, where we were taking care of all the household stuff.

Carlie: All that set up, administration, yeah.

Max: Yeah, I don’t know how that could have…it would’ve had to fall on me. And that would’ve been a huge struggle for me to try and lead all of that stuff because it’s, yeah, it would…we were very grateful to my wife for taking on that role and doing a lot of things to make the transition easier for the rest of us.

Carlie: And so has she had to look for local work, or are you not needing to? I know we’ve spoken before about, I think it’s the fire approach that you have as a couple, too.

Max: Yeah, you know, yeah, we’re very fortunate that we can get by without working. But that’s not what we want to do. We want to make more money and we also just (even if it weren’t about money) we also want to do things. I can…I’m sure…I know for sure my wife does. She gets very…she has been very antsy when she doesn’t have a lot on her plate all the time. She’s just very different from me in that regard. But we’ve been looking at different things.

My wife mainly, she’s been the point person for this. But she’s been looking at a lot of different local businesses to either buy or to start. She’s looked at things from franchising gyms, because she loves the gym that she goes to and they’re expanding a lot in Taiwan. So, she went pretty far in those discussions, but finally she decided it wasn’t worth the cost to franchise this particular gym.

But she’s looked at a lot of stuff, a lot of F&B establishments, some very well run and would require minimal time and management from her to, I don’t know, all kinds of things, tutoring centers and stuff like that. So, she’s looked at a lot of different businesses to launch or take over in Taipei. And then she’s been looking at more of the investing stuff that she did before. A lot of different projects here and there.

And it’s just…it’s almost…I mean, it is a good problem to have. It’s almost a struggle to, for her to decide what to focus on when there’s so many possibilities. So, you know, I don’t know if she’d want me to share too much, but she’s, you know, she’s also looked at a lot of different educational programs like Executive MBA programs, VC programs and different things like that. So, we’ll see. I’m sure we’ll have some clarity in the next month or so, what direction she’ll decide to go in. But so far it’s been this first six, seven months of our move has been her just looking and researching a ton of different things and then eventually I guess she’ll have to decide.

Carlie: I think it’s a nice situation to be in, too. And being able to take your time and survey the market and really dig in and understand the possibilities that you have, too.

Max: Yeah, yeah, we’re definitely fortunate and blessed that we have that flexibility to do that. You know, for me as well, I was still managing our real estate business I guess from afar, which during our nomading time and into the beginning time here in Taiwan, I’d say I was only spending maybe 10 hours a week or so. But recently I’ve finally gotten the push to kind of let go of everything for the better I would say.

I’ve decided that instead of trying to manage these last few things, we’ve sold a couple properties and we’ve transitioned some of our other stuff to just be run on its own so that I can focus all of my time on other things. And it’s come at a bit of a financial cost, but I think ultimately it’s for the best and I’m feeling very excited that I get to kind of shed the last bit of responsibility that I’ve felt.

Carlie: You can feel tethered, I think, to where you’ve come from, in your case North America, when you have responsibilities and obligations back home to, I guess, to keep having to check in on and work on.

Max: Yeah. That’s something that I’ve definitely come to realize and I wish I had done it actually before I spoke to you last year! Yeah. So…

Carlie: Max, I want to ask if there was anything you weren’t prepared for. I mean, obviously we’ve spoken about in hindsight it would’ve been good to really prepare your eldest son for the language transition, but was there anything else that you guys overlooked in all of your, you know, meticulous long planning for this move?

Max: Yeah, I mean, the language one for the kids was by far the biggest. That would be my number one, two and three answer. After that…so I did talk to my wife about this (I was curious), and her reply is the brutal heat during the summer in Taiwan, in Taipei, and then the mosquitoes. But honestly, I mean, for me, I told her, I thought I had set those expectations for her already because I knew how hot it was and how hot it would be when we first arrived. And I knew that there’s plenty of mosquitoes.

I don’t think it’s any worse than Florida on either aspect, but I guess it just stands out to her because those are the only things, I guess, that she feels is a negative. I mean, she loves everything about our move and she just loves everything about her life here in Taipei, except for those two things. And she’s…and so I guess it just stands out in her mind that the mosquitoes, if she could just get rid of those things would be so much better!

Carlie: We’re actually in a tiger mosquito hotspot in my neighborhood in France and it drives me crazy in summer because all I want to do is sit outside in shorts and a t-shirt on my front porch and I will always be attacked by these nasty mozzies with the most painful bites. So, you’re just constantly slathering on the repellent, like, just to enjoy the outside.

Max: Yeah, I mean, it is, you know, my wife in particular is extremely sensitive to mosquitoes, you know, she gets large skin reactions to bites and so she just wants nothing to do with…

Carlie: Hopefully you have good fly screens and good repellents in your life!

Max: Yeah, it’s, like, our home isn’t too bad, it’s more when we go out. But actually mosquito have begun invading our home for maybe the last month or so, and we’re not sure how or why or what changed, but that adds to the fact that it’s always on top of mind for her. I’d say, you know, a couple other things that (these are very minor), but just a few other things that surprised us were hot pot. That’s something that’s been a positive.

So hot pot is a type of meal, I guess, or cuisine. And it’s something that my wife loves and we love to do. And when we lived in…before we moved to Taiwan, we’d have it every once in a while, back when we…before we had kids. My wife was known for these gatherings where she’d have parties and bring a lot of people together and then serve like hot pot.

That was her thing. And lo and behold, we didn’t realize this, but it’s such a huge thing here in Taipei and probably in Taiwan in general. I mean, there’s a hot pot place every block and there’s just everywhere. And one of my first days in Chinese class, one of the sentences or questions that we had that I was learning was “how often…or how many times a week do you eat hot pot?” Like, I would…I maybe once a week I was thinking, but no, like here that’s just the mentality. It’s like, how many times did you go?

Carlie: Your wife must be in heaven then.

Max: Yes. It suits her just fine. And you know, another thing that people…that I knew, you know, I knew beforehand, but I just didn’t realize the scope is how much of, sort of, daily life can revolve around 7-Eleven or FamilyMart the convenience stores. But you can really, really do a lot. I mean, they’re like, you know, you go there to print, you go there to pay whatever government bills you need to.

You know, when we pay our school tuition, we pay it at 7-Eleven. You know, when you order certain things, larger packages that wouldn’t be delivered to your homes, it’s sort of like Amazon, you can have things delivered to 7-Eleven and then you go pay at the store. You know, things that are totally unrelated to 7-Eleven, but it is just so many things revolve around that: buying train tickets, you go to 7-Eleven, you know the list goes on and on and on. So, a lot of sort of functioning revolves around these convenience stores that are located on every corner. So, it just kind of makes life in some ways easier in some ways, just a little odd.

Carlie: Spending a lot of time at 7-Eleven.

Max: Yeah. So, yeah, we’re slowly kinda understanding some of the quirks of the culture and society here. I’m sure it is just scratching the surface because, you know, we’ve only been here for less than a year, but there’s a lot to like. There’s the trash collection as well, which is another story that is another thing that I knew a little bit about before coming here, but I just didn’t realize fully what it was like.

And so, they…in Taiwan, they try to encourage people to reduce their waste. I guess reduce, reuse, recycle, you know, that. And the way they do that is because by forcing you to pay for trash collection, so anytime you want to throw away trash, you need to use official trash bags from the government. They’re not expensive, but they’re not, like, super cheap. They’re not like if you were just to buy trash bags or plastic bags somewhere.

So, you have to have the official trash bags. If people make counterfeit ones, they could be fined a lot of money. And so the point is that you’re going to have to pay for bags to collect trash. And if you want to recycle, that’s free. So, you can put recycling in any paper, plastic bag and, and they’ll collect the recycling for free. But if you want to throw away trash, you have to pay for the trash bags. And then when they do come to collect, there’s a garbage truck or recycling truck that plays classical music.

This is something that’s gone around on YouTube and stuff, so people know about this. And so there’s this truck, when you hear the music all the neighbors go out and just wait for the truck to come by. And then they toss their bags, and so it’s a way for neighbors to get to know each other.

Carlie: That’s really cool.

Max: But for us, we haven’t experienced that, I’d never experienced that firsthand because my aunt who I would come visit, lived in an apartment high rise and so do we. And so most of the time when you’re in, like, a larger apartment building, you hire out a third person, third party contractor to come. And so what we do is we just leave our trash outside our door and then every day somebody comes and takes care of that.

Carlie: Okay, so you’re not getting the musical trash truck experience?

Max: We’re not getting that full experience, but we do have to make sure that we sort our trash in recycling and then pay for those blue official trash bags. So, that’s something…

Carlie: It’s actually a really good idea. It’s a really nice way to get a whole society, you know, valuing recycling and reusing and being really conscious of their waste if they have to pay for it so specifically.

Max: I think so. You know, it’s something that we really were pleasantly surprised by. It does have some negatives. Like they also, the government intentionally doesn’t have very many public trash cans. There’s very, very few, and I don’t know where or why some of them exist, because there are a few, but on the whole, you won’t see streets with trash cans and they just don’t want people…they want people to get used to taking care of their own trash and, you know, taking it home or whatever. And I think Japan’s similar. But unfortunately in Taiwan the culture isn’t quite that…they’re somewhat resistant to it. And so you’ll see bicycles with baskets and then sometimes those turn into trash cans.

Carlie: I get offended enough when someone chucks their Coke can or something in my bicycle basket when it’s parked in town. So…!

Max: Yes, yes. And that happens to us because we have one as well. We have a basket on our bicycle and not often, but every once in a while I  go to my bike and then I see some trash in it.

Carlie: And then you have to pay to get rid of it yourself, right?

Max: Yes, I would have to, or I’ll find a…

Carlie: …find someone else’s bike basket and pass it on!

Max: No, I would never do that! But most businesses have their own trash collection. So, you know, our building has one as well. It’s a very small one, but, you know, if I have some odds and ends here to get rid of, I can just toss it in that trashcan. So yeah, that’s one thing.

I don’t know, I have one other story, another example of stuff that I had heard about but just didn’t really fully understand. And that’s anytime you buy, pretty much, anytime you buy something and you get a receipt, you’d also get this other sort of ticket. And I had gotten these, whenever I visited Taipei and paid for stuff, I didn’t really know what it was for. I heard that you could save those and win something. So, that was the extent of my knowledge.

But once we moved here learned that those are sort of lottery tickets, and you can actually win money. And the reason why they do this is that it’s sort of their way of regulating sales tax. So, instead of spending a lot of money, I guess to make sure…to enforce sales tax, what they do instead is put it into this lottery and that encourages all the consumers to want this lottery ticket. So, they’ll make sure that the businesses are giving them this lottery ticket…

Carlie: So they’re complying with their tax obligations and passing that onto the customer because the customer wants the lottery ticket…?

Max:  Yeah. Well, essentially it’s just avoiding businesses not reporting all of their sales, right? And all of their income. So, they have to actually report it. They have to issue this lottery ticket and then you…they do drawings. I don’t know exactly how it works, but you get the chance to win some money. We’ve won a little bit. And my wife tells me, I don’t really follow it closely, but there’s various apps that you can use. So then you just scan your ticket and then it just tracks everything for you. And then if you get some money, then it’s just sent to you electronically.

Carlie: It’s like turning taxes into a game!

Max: Yes, I assume that it’s a less…it is a more efficient way, less costly way of managing, sort of, the tax revenue department for the government. So yeah, that seems pretty clever, but that’s just another part of the culture that I didn’t recognize before.

Carlie: Just finally, Max, what are you and your family enjoying the most about your life in Taiwan?

Max: Huh, that’s such a simple question, but I don’t even know where to…how to answer it.

Carlie: Paying for trash and eating hotpot.

Max: Yeah, exactly! And then visiting 7-Eleven too. I think it really just boils down to being able to have a bit…what we consider, what we like in our lifestyle being a sort of a cosmopolitan, urban, vibrant environment at a very affordable price. So, I think that’s really what it boils down to. I mean I think even with our rent, which is a bit…probably quite high for Taiwan, our rent is around $2200 US dollars a month for the four bedroom, like I said. But we’re in central Taipei and then essentially the most expensive district.

We feel like even with the rent, which is kind of high for here, everything else is much cheaper than it would be in the US, and and so being able to have all of that at a fraction of the cost of like a New York or a San Francisco or something for us that’s the best part, I guess. Because we, you know, that’s kind of our temperament. We love New York City, we would love to live there, but this makes it sort of attainable.

Carlie: Well, Max, we said we would catch up after you made the move to Taipei. It’s been wonderful to talk again and find out how that move went and how your life is going. And I’m so happy to hear that you guys are just loving it over there.

Max: Yeah, it’s been…it’s really interesting to reflect now over the last 14 months since we last spoke and just see, like, how much has happened. I don’t think there…I think it’s more or less gone to plan. So it’s not like any shocking developments over the last year, but still there’s just been so much with our traveling and then coming to Taiwan that it’s really neat to think back how much has changed and how unaware I was of how much would happen and how great it would be, honestly.

Carlie: That’s it for today. If you’d like to hear my first chat with Max, roll back through our podcast archive and search for the episode called “Moving Your Family to Taiwan”. Expatfocus.com is the place to go for loads of free resources to help make your move abroad easier. And if you have an expat story to tell or advice to share, let us know in the comments or hit us up on social media. We are expat focus. I’ll catch you next time.

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