Life in Kinmen
Kinmen County has five major townships with three larger towns and smaller villages dispersed throughout the main island and Little Kinmen.
Jincheng Township (southwest): The majority of the ETAs will live in Jincheng. Jincheng is characteristic for its "maze" of streets, plenty of yummy food to choose from, one of the only pubs on the island, and its general convenience. Numerous large grocery stores and import stores can be found in the area, as well as the best KTV spot on the island.
Jinning Township (northwest): Just north of Jincheng and is Jinning, which will be home to three ETAs. Although more rural than Jincheng, Jinning has a number of delicious restaurants, and it is only about a 5-7 minute scooter ride away from Jincheng's hustle and bustle. Jinning is also home to Guningtou, central to Kinmen's war history.
Jinhu Township (southeast): Home to Shanwai, the second-largest town after Jincheng. Although it has only three main streets, it boasts some of the more famous restaurants on the island. Shanwai is also great for nature lovers, as Lake Tai (太湖) and the main entrance to Taiwu Mountain (太武山) are found here. Everrich, a huge and fancy duty-free mall with a movie theater and a bookstore, provides Western comfort.
Jinsha Township (northeast): Shamei, the smallest of the three main towns, is in Jinsha, situated on the beautiful northeast side of the island. The old street and little downtown surrounding the bus station are full of family-owned stores and smaller breakfast and lunch spots. The street market is open every morning from 6-11AM, selling mostly fresh produce, meat, and seafood. Aside from the little town, Jinsha is full of adventures and days of exploration. Some of the main sights include Ma Shan Observatory (馬山觀測所), the Lion Mountain Howitzer Park and Museum, Shan Hou Cultural Village, and Bi Shan Village. Beyond the main sights are dozens of hidden ones from smaller mountains (with wild peacocks) and abandoned military bases.
Little Kinmen (Lieyu Township): Located just a few kilometers west of Kinmen's main island. It has a population of a few thousand and is comprised of mostly farmland, small residential villages, and military outposts. It is quaint, quiet, and full of natural beauty. It has its own grocery store, gas stations, restaurants, bus system, 7-11, and cultural sites, as well as three elementary schools and one middle school. It is famous for its taro and has a taro festival and taro picking events each year. Little Kinmen residents have their own community, pride, and sense of belonging, though the overarching Kinmenese identity is still more cohesive between the two islands than between Kinmen and Mainland Taiwan. Little Kinmen has many temples, lakes, beaches, forests and museums worth exploring. Large biking tour groups are a familiar sight for locals here, but be warned: Little Kinmen is very hilly and makes for a challenging ride! Some notable sites include: Shuang Kou beach (for the closest and clearest views of Mainland China), Mazu Park, Jiugong Tunnel, the Landmine Museum, and San Ceng Lou--a restaurant that specializes in taro dishes.
Kinmen residents look to windlion gods to protect them from the harsh northeast winds of winter monsoons. Each village has its own windlion statue to protect it. Try to find all 150!
Locals and travelers alike come to Kinmen to buy peanut candy, called gongtang (貢糖), taro chips, and taro ice. Oysters are also one of Kinmen's special foods, made into oyster noodles and pancakes.
Sorghum distilled into alcohol called gaoliang (高粱) is the island's most prosperous industry and is the drink of choice for most of the island today. Don't be surprised to see a lot of kaoliang flowing during any teacher's dinner, or be given a bottle as a formal gift.
Maestro Wu Knives
After the war ended, the most famous knife shop in Kinmen, Maestro Wu's, began manufacturing knives out of the thousands of artillery shells locals had gathered.
One of the most special parts of Kinmen is its community. Being a small island, ETAs are really able to become involved in the local community, inside and outside of school. Whether it be volunteering, tutoring, or just chatting with store and restaurant owners, there are endless opportunities to get to know the people of Kinmen. Expect to run into your students at the local 7-11 or grocery store, and don't be surprised if neighbors invite you over for dinner or if your co-teachers become your go-to travel buddies! Every conversation is an opportunity for cultural exchange.
Events and Festivals
Kinmen residents observe all Taiwanese holidays and also celebrate the festivals unique to the island. Participating in Kinmen's events and festivals is a wonderful and enriching way to experience its culture and learn about Kinmenese history, identity, and customs. Almost every month you'll find another celebration happening! A few highlights include Teacher's Day, Mid-Autumn Festival, the Taro Festival, the Kinmen Marathon, Chinese New Year, and the Dragon Boat Festival. Click here for a detailed list.
Kinmen has several bus lines that run throughout the island. The main lines run between Jincheng and Shanwai, Shanwai and Shamei, and Shamei and Jincheng. Buses are very prompt and will leave right on time according to the schedule. Your coordinators will assist you with applying for a bus pass in the beginning of the year. However, it is highly recommended that you rent or purchase a scooter as your main mode of transportation. Scootering is by far the most convenient way to get around and will save you significant travel time. The ETAs will practice and have the option of taking the scooter test during the first month. Another option is biking--you will find that Kinmen is a very active community and it is common to see locals biking along the road.
Weather and Air Quality
As a sub-tropical island, Kinmen experiences hot and humid springs, summers, and falls, and a wet and cool winter. The island is humid all-year round, particularly in the spring rainy season (~March-May). Beware of mold, especially around this time! Investing in dehumidifiers, silica gel packets, and other moisture-reducing items can help with mold prevention. The winters here, although the temperatures rarely drop below mid-50°F, can feel very cold particularly with the lack of indoor heating and excessive wind. Many ETAs choose to purchase small space heaters for their apartments. Another element to note is Kinmen's fog. Foggy season usually starts around February or March and will last through April or May. Use caution if traveling during these months--often planes and ferries will be delayed or cancelled completely due to the thick blankets of fog that cover Kinmen.
Taiwan generally exhibits low levels of pollution. However, with its close proximity to Xiamen, Kinmen can experience days with as high as 150-160 AQI. You can choose to wear a face mask, as most locals do, if the pollution gets too high, but these days are rare.
Volunteering and Community Service
Due to its small and close-knit community, volunteering in Kinmen is both fun and rewarding. The amount of volunteer opportunities and community service initiatives to get involved with are vast and diverse. In the past, ETAs have volunteered reading books to children at local libraries, spent time playing with children at the orphanage, tutored children outside of school, written articles for the Kinmen newspaper, and assisted at the hospital. ETAs have also gotten involved with local organizations like Local Methodology, an arts collective that focuses on presenting socially conscious projects pertaining to Kinmen's changing social and economic environment. In addition to getting involved with already existing community organizations, ETAs have started their own community service projects such as The A to Z Collective, a writing workshop that aims to advance the writing and speaking proficiency of students attending National Quemoy University.
Language and Culture Classes
The community college in Jincheng offers a variety of classes each semester at the low cost of 800 NT. You can stay active with yoga or traditional dance; learn an art form like calligraphy or ukelele; pick up Japanese or Chinese sign language; or try something else entierly, like toast making! You might find LETs and new friends in your classes. All classes are taught in Chinese
Although there are currently no Chinese language classes specifically for foreigners, many ETAs choose to find language partners and formal tutors. In the past, ETAs have been paired with students at National Quemoy University majoring in teaching Chinese to foreigners. They will tutor you as part of a class requirement. You are also free to set up your own language exchange and tutoring sessions with anyone you meet in Kinmen. Outside of language exchange, tutoring offers an opportunity for friendship and cultural exchange.
Being Active in Kinmen
In general, Kinmen is an active community and it's relatively easy to find people with which to hike, run, bike, play basketball or lift weights. Most informal sports or outdoors groups use LINE or Facebook to communicate (in 2016 there were active LINE groups for recreational running, surfing, and weightlifting!). There is a small but dedicated surfing community that you can find at Cheng Gong beach during the typhoon season in the fall. You can find many runners around Lake Tai in Shanwai or on the coastal bike path just west of Jincheng. Fore more isolated but beautiful runs, you can run around the reservoir in Shamei or start in Mazu Park and head on a scooter path north through small villages like An Bian. For hiking, visit Taiwu Mountain. Both Jincheng and Shanwai have local gyms with a lifetime (yes, lifetime) membership of just 1200 NT.
This map displays a number of different sights, but there is always more to explore on the island. Even after a year in Kinmen, you will realize you haven't seen enough of the island. Feel free to use these suggestions, but make sure to get out and adventure on your own!
Kinmen has a wide array of sights for you to visit and explore. There is something here for everyone, whether you're a history buff, nature-lover, avid biker, photographer, or just love to lounge on the beach (you're never more than a 5-10 minute scooter ride from the sand and waves!).
Hike Taiwu Mountain (太武山) located in the center of the island. Houhu Beach (后湖海濱公園) is the best for swimming, but there are numerous other beaches scattered throughout Kinmen's coast. Each year ETAs discover more and more favorite and private beaches. Kinmen is also known for its traditional villages, characterized by beautiful red brick-style houses. One of the most well-preserved of these villages is Shanhou Cultural Village (山后民俗文化村), located in Jinsha Township. Maoshan Pagoda (茅山塔) offers stunning views, while Zhaishan Tunnel (翟山坑道) is a prominent remnant of Kinmen's rich military history.
Food and Entertainment
Food in Kinmen is abundant and diverse. In addition to Taiwanese and Kinmenese food, you'll find places serving pizza, pasta, brunch options, Korean, Japanese, and Dai cuisine. There are also numerous street carts scattered throughout the main towns serving fried munchies and both Jincheng and Shanwai boast a number of milk tea options. You will be sure to figure out your favorite places and likely discover new ones.
For vegetarians, Taiwan is a safe haven with a variety of meatless options. Historically, there is a large population of Buddhists and Taoists that promotes a vegetarian diet. You'll find that most restaurants are very accommodating and will make a dish vegetarian specially for you when requested. However, there are some differences to note between a western vegetarian and a Taiwanese vegetarian: in Taiwan, vegetarians believe garlic, scallions, leeks and onions are not vegetarian. Any of the mentioned seasonings will not be found in vegetarian restaurants.
As far as entertainment, there is actually an "Irish pub" and a couple bars on the island. Spend a night out at KTV, bowling, or have a beach party! Kinmen also has two movie theaters that will show all the latest films playing in Taiwan.
In this map you'll find a list of grocery stores, import stores, stationary stores, and places to buy other miscellaneous items such as electronics or household goods. This is not a complete list, but it is a good start to cover your basic needs.