Living in Kinmen is unlike any other location. Because of the small population you can expect to be fully integrated into the community in Kinmen. Think of a small town. Everyone will know everyone, there are no secrets, and all the stores are owned by a student’s family. But you can easily and affordably travel from Kinmen to Xiamen (30-minute ferry ride), Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung, Tainan, or Penghu (all 1-hour plane rides).
10 Things You Need to Know About Living in Kinmen
10. Kinmen provides a supportive language environment.
Many ETAs arrived with little to no Chinese, and they have all made progress. People are not afraid to try to speak English or Chinese with you, regardless of level. Charades, Google Translate, and Pleco will be your best friends. If you take the time to study Chinese each week, you will see great improvements. Here are some of the common ways ETAs have learned Chinese in Kinmen:
Work with a language partner from National Quemoy University (the program is set up by the university and ETAs are asked to join)
Take Chinese class at your elementary/middle school (must ask school first)
Watch Chinese TV with English subtitles (Netflix in Taiwan has MANY options)
Listen to Mandopop
Meet with local friends--people want to help you.
9. Everything is either cheap or free.
Kinmen is a very affordable place to live. With your Kinmen bus pass (not MRT card), you can use all public transportation for free. The Kinmen gym is essentially free. Lifetime membership costs 200 NTD (6 USD) and a 1000 NTD (30 USD) deposit, but you can return membership at the end of your grant year and get your money back! At small, local restaurants, you can easily find a bowl of noodles for 60 NTD (2 USD) and bubble tea for 30 NTD (1 USD). With the National Health Insurance and affordable healthcare in Kinmen, you can get most basic check-ups for free. Kinmen’s most famous product, kaoliang liquor, is a common gift for teachers. You will receive many bottles over the course of the year.
8. You can pursue new personal interests.
For many ETAs, Kinmen has been a great place to try out new hobbies. The community college offers classes for only 800 NTD (30 USD) a semester in topics such as yoga, knitting, pottery, dancing, ukelele, tai chi, painting, etc. Often these classes are a good place to meet local people. The beaches, farms, forests, and mountains in Kinmen provide a good backdrop for outdoor activities.
7. It’s not hard to be a foreigner in Kinmen.
Every school in Kinmen has a foreign English teacher, although they are not necessarily ETAs. This is unique to Kinmen. You will find that local people and students are comfortable speaking with foreigners and that your presence is expected. School staff are experienced in working with foreign teachers, so communication barriers are minimal.
6. Kinmen is a labyrinth of local shops.
While you will find very few American chains in Kinmen, the island is full of local stores that sell everything you need. For example, an ETA who loves to bake found a small bakery that sells everything from food coloring to chocolate chips to cookie cutters. ETAs have bought backpacking packs, fancy attire, Nike shoes, laptops, electric blankets, blow-up mattresses, and more in Kinmen. Always ask around to find these shops, as they are sometimes hard to find. In terms of food, you could eat at a new restaurant everyday, but ETAs often find their favorite noodle places, coffee shops, and bubble tea stores. The best part: they will probably be owned by your student’s family.
5. Firework celebrations are not just for the Fourth of July. In Kinmen, they are a weekly occurrence.
Kinmen is rich with its own local history, traditions, and culture. Kinmen residents has a special relationship to spirituality. They have many festivals to honor local gods and ancestors that are not celebrated in the rest of Taiwan. In addition, each country has a festival for their famous products, such as taro, wheat, and oysters. Expect these festivals to bring musicians from all over Taiwan and fair-like atmosphere. Kinmen has many races you can participate in, including the Kinmen Marathon (a must-do!) and the cross-strait swimming race to Xiamen. Find time to visit older villages in Kinmen, as people continue to live in traditional Fujian houses—some are centuries old. There are few places in China and Taiwan where these local traditions and cultures have preserved so vibrantly.
4. Scooters are great. The buses suck.
While there is a bus system in Kinmen, they do not run very frequently. Places in Kinmen are also spread out, making it inconvenient to rely on public transportation. We highly recommend renting a scooter while here. During orientation, you will study for the scooter test and practice for the driving test. With a scooter, getting to school and recreational activities is fast and safe. While learning to drive might seem overwhelming at times, you will fall in love with your scooter. (Gas is also super cheap.)
3. There are no secrets.
Think of Kinmen as a small town. Everyone knows everyone, everyone is related, and people talk. It’s a small community, so always be respectful of your colleagues and fellow ETAs. Generally, Kinmen is very safe and people will look out for you. People have built relationships with restaurant owners, neighbors, and more. You will feel integrated into your school because you will often see your students’ and their families out.
2. Good luck trying to eat dinner after 7pm.
Kinmen runs on a clock—but a slow clock. People eat at normal meal hours—not college hours. Restaurants often close in the middle of the day to “休息” (rest), if it’s not a peak eating hour. There’s a different clock for coffee shops here. Instead of mornings, they are usually open for afternoon tea or late nights. Streets are quiet by 10:00 pm, but in Jincheng, you can find places to get a midnight snack. 7-Eleven (your new best friend) is open 24/7. Even in your schools, things will move slower but time is still of the essence. For instance, meetings and conversations are relaxed but you are still expected to show up on time.
1. Be FLEXIBLE.
The #1 way to be successful in Kinmen is to be flexible. You will never fully understand what is going on. And that’s okay. Embrace the ambiguity and work with what you know. Your lifestyle will probably change, but you will find new things you enjoy. Many things that you think you can’t live without (i.e. dryers, microwaves, ovens, stoves, central heating and A/C, etc.) become things you realize you don’t need. Keep a positive attitude and embrace how living in Kinmen is special. Don’t think of your year as a vacation but as an invitation to learn about a different way to live.
Top 10 Things to Do in Kinmen
10. Tunnels and Mine museum
Kinmen was the battlefield during the Cross-Strait Conflict between China and Taiwan. Underneath the the island is a maze of tunnels that kept people safe during the war. Many are still open to the public. Our favorites include Jhaishan which holds a concert every October where the musicians perform on a raft and the Mine Museum in Little Kinmen where tourists can see old military barracks.
The Battle of Guningtou was the decisive victory for the Chinese Civil War, leading to Taiwan’s independence. The battle site has now been created into a Peace Park. The area surrounding Guningtou is beautiful and a great place for bird watching.
8. Juguang Tower
Built in a traditional Chinese style, Juguang Tower is a structure honoring Kinmen’s military history. Inside, you’ll find a great introduction to Kinmen’s traditions and history. Once you get to the top, you can see great views of both Kinmen and Xiamen.
7. Wind Lion Cinema
This is easily the best movie theater in Kinmen. Recently built, it has state-of-the-art facilities, including the largest movie theater screen in the world and a theater with reclining chairs and blankets. The theater will play all major American movie releases and movies from around Asia. It’s very affordable too. For about 300 NTD (10 USD), you can get a ticket, pop, and popcorn.
6. Dragon Boat Race
Dragon Boat Festival is a major holiday in late May, celebrated in Kinmen by racing boats across Lake Ci. For the previous several years Fulbright has put together a “Fulboat” team. This be an incredibly fun team building event.
5. Maestro Wu
During the Cross-Strait Conflict, Chinese forces shelled Kinmen everyday for years. Crafty blacksmiths started melding the shells to create damascus steel knives. Now world renowned, Maestru Wu is the most famous Kinmen knifemaker. One of his factories is open to the public, where you can watch a knife be made before your eyes.
4. Taiwu Mountain
Taiwu is Kinmen’s tallest mountain, although it only takes about half an hour to walk up. The scenery is beautiful and provides views of the entire island. You’ll also find a famous stone carving by Chiang Kai-shek and a beautiful Buddhist temple at the top.
3. City God Parade
Around May, you’ll see a parade through Kinmen every weekend. They are to welcome the local city gods. Each township will have its own parade, but there will be one major one lasting hours in Jincheng. This is a great way to witness spirituality and community in Kinmen.
2. Oysterman Island
1. Kinmen Marathon.
Kinmen Marathon is the biggest event the year on the island. Literally people from all over the world come to run. It’s a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon. The 5K is a VERY early morning “walk” with every family on Kinmen. Free Kaoliang and a T-shirt is awarded to all participants. In addition, each township has an annual race. You can literally run a half marathon every two months in Kinmen.