Living in Yilan
Mosquitoes, spiders, roaches, and insects of unidentifiable nature are everywhere! You will probably need to buy traps for roaches and ants, even if you keep your apartment relatively clean. Consider buying a mosquito repellent (they have some nice ones you can plug into the wall) for both at home and at school to save you the headache of dealing with mosquitoes. Mosquito zappers can also be helpful (you can buy one at Carrefour).
While not as popular as scooters, bikes can be a great way to get around Yilan and Luodong. You can get a secondhand bike for 600-1000NT through Kelly, your host family, or coworkers at your school. This may be necessary if you have trouble finding a bike shop. Be careful to park your bike in permitted areas. If you leave a bicycle at the train station, it will be moved by the city to one of the bike lots. As a precaution for more expensive bikes, you should also consider purchasing a bike lock.
Some ETAs have found this resource helpful. When you arrive, you will take a Chinese language placement test that may seem ridiculously hard, but you will be placed accordingly. Most people take classes for one semester; partially because classes are one of the biggest expenses here. Considering U.S. prices, the classes are still affordable. You can also work on your Chinese by meeting with a language exchange partner (but this is easier if you already know some Chinese).
Extracurricular College Courses
Yilan Community College and Luodong Community College both offer a variety of fun classes. They have everything from fine arts, martial arts, cooking, to language classes. Some classes ETAs have taken include Taiwanese cooking, print and glass art, drawing, and massage. These classes are all in Chinese, so be prepared to improve your Chinese skills or take the course with someone more fluent. The classes are a really great way to get involved in the community and learn new things. Classes meet for two or three hours once a week and cost 2000-3000 NT for a session (for a total of around 15 weeks). The first two weeks of each session are free drop-in classes without the need to register, so feel free to test them out. There are also a number of exercise classes offered at the universities. A community center and gym are located on the same street as the Teachers’ Center.
Over time you may become exhausted with Taiwanese culture, whether it be the food, language, scootering, your school, or something else. Keep doing your best at school, and find something to stay occupied, like a hobby, craft, or activities with the other ETAs and local people you have met in Yilan. Avoid sitting home alone because that will aggravate feelings of loneliness. Also, remember this is a normal stage of living and working in a foreign country; undoubtedly other ETAs will experience similar feelings of alienation. Be sure to find someone you trust to talk with and confide in.
Scooter purchase: When deciding if you want a 50cc or 100/125cc, you should consider a couple of factors: (1) how far you will drive to school, (2) how often you will drive with more than one person, (3) if you want to keep your scooter in Yilan, or drive to other counties (4) the kind of terrain you expect to drive on, (5) how long you want your gas tank to last, and (6) if your scooter is just getting you from point A to point B, or if you want to take it out to sightsee.
Scooter test: Make sure to review the road signs and traffic laws of Taiwan. Take the online practice exam multiple times to get a grasp on the different types of questions. Some people fail the written test and must to go back to the DMV a week later to retake the test (which is a big hassle). If you pass the written test, you can easily get a 50cc scooter, but if you want a 100cc or higher scooter, you must take the driving test.
Helmets and Safety
Make sure that you get a secure helmet or more for passengers. Some apartments come with helmets from past ETAs, but you never know about the quality. Spend the money on a larger helmet - at least one that covers your forehead, the entire back of your head, and the sides of your head. Those who drive further distances to work buy a heavy duty motorcycle helmet that also covers their faces and chins to protect their jaws. Make sure that you buy a helmet with a full-face visor on it. It rains frequently in Yilan, and it helps with seeing the road clearly as well as keeping your face dry. This will also be useful to protect your face from bugs (some of which are unkind and will bite/sting.) You might want to purchase an extra helmet for guests to leave in your scooter compartment or apartment.
Buy or look around in your apartment for a full-length scootering rain jacket. It rains a lot in Yilan and scootering in the rain is not fun. Don’t be embarrassed - the rain will seep into anything else except durable rainwear. At the bare minimum, at least make sure you have a decent waterproof jacket and waterproof pants. Some people like to scooter with a face mask on to protect themselves from other vehicle’s motor exhaust, dirt, dust, debris, etc. If you are driving long distances and you burn easily, it is also advisable that you consider covering up with a light long sleeve shirt, jacket, or similar items. When you are driving fast in open space, the heat may not bother you, but that sun will not be as kind to exposed skin.
It is necessary to drive defensively and be vigilant when driving in Taiwan. As in the U.S., many intersections have cameras that will record and fine any traffic violators. People may cut you off, open doors in front of you, fail to signal, or run red lights.
Don’t hesitate to use your horn for defensive purposes. Keep in mind that there is a law against prolonged horn blowing. People will often tap their horn lightly several times as a preventative measure. Further, if you are going around a winding road with blind spots, don’t hesitate to use your horn to inform drivers coming around the turn from the opposite end that you are approaching as well.
The Kymco shops are great for any scooter repairs. The shop by FoGuang University near the Yamaha store (in Yilan City) is really helpful and have been fair with their prices. When one ETA’s scooter was out of commission for a week they lent one of their scooters to use while they were repairing it. They also have great deals on scooters themselves, so they’re worth checking out when you go scooter shopping.
As a general rule, be sure to communicate with locals you turst or your LET to find the best scooter deal for your needs in the area you commute in. Make sure you have insurance for your scooter.
Depending on who you are and your ethnicity, overt staring is definitely an issue in Yilan and in many places in Taiwan. The ZhongShan Park bus stop (Yilan City) can be especially uncomfortable due to older people (especially older men) gathering here, which can cause problems if you are waiting for the bus. It’s also not uncommon to see people stare at you as you walk by, or as they ride past you on their bikes or scooters. Ignorance about culture can be a problem too: it is assumed here that all Americans celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, and you will likely to be expected to teach about these holidays. If you don't celebrate them, it can be uncomfortable, but it's a chance to educate people about your own background and how diverse the US is. Luodong is one of the smallest townships in Taiwan, so you may encounter ignorance about your culture or skin color. You may have to have a conversation with your school faculty to best address student and staff curiosity. Find the means to create a teachable moment.
Due to the humidity, many ETAs have had moldy clothes or shoes at some point. Buying desiccant beads or getting a dehumidifier can help. Most apartments are equipped with only a washer; however, laundromats that offer drying services are common in Yilan. You can do laundry there if you’re worried about damp clothes getting moldy. If possible, do not pack clothing that cannot be cleaned easily (either at the laundromat or with white vinegar to kill the mold). Dry cleaning services here are slightly cheaper than in the US, but clothing that becomes moldy once will become moldy again after dry cleaning. If you can live without it, leave it at home.
Water in Taiwan is not potable and thus requires boiling before being used. After boiling, it is advised to run the water through a filter. Water machines are widespread in schools and public places like the train station and some major grocery stores. Consequently, it is helpful to carry around a reusable water bottle to refill on water, and boil/filter water at home.
The first and most important piece of advice: have two or three different taxi companies' numbers in your phone at all times. Working hours in Yilan can be a little random, so you might get an automated "We're closed" message. In Luodong, taxis are nearly always ready, waiting at the bus drop-off and pick-up points or at the front of the train station at all hours. Luodong taxis operate at all hours, and you will always get picked up to go to your location.
There are a ton of green taxi signs near bus and train stations where taxi companies have car waiting. If you can speak Chinese well, it is easy to call for a taxi from anywhere you are in the city, as long as you have a street name or location ready at hand.
Proximity to Taipei
Take advantage of Yilan’s close proximity to Taipei! Bus tickets from Kamalan or Capital Star are around $3 USD one way, so it’s not a big expense if you want to visit Taipei for a weekend. If you are a frequent traveler, consider purchasing an EasyCard (悠遊卡). This card is rechargeable at any convenience store, and you can get on Capital Star just by scanning it. In addition to the convenience it provides, an EasyCard provides a 20% discount on the MRT. You can also use it for local trains in most places in Yilan and a variety of other things.
Train and Bus
The general rule of whether to take the bus or the train comes down to distance. If you're planning on going some place close like Taipei, you should take the bus. The bus schedule is great; there is no real need to buy advanced tickets, unless it’s a national holiday or during weekends. There is a bus every five to ten minutes between two great companies (each with free wifi). Additionally, scooter parking around the station is available for a small fee.
Trains are a better option for traveling farther distances. Nonetheless, you can always take the train to places just out of reach for a scooter. The train gets really crowded on weekends and holidays. As train tickets depend on the type of train you take, you will usually get a ticket with a specific seat for anything faster than a local train.
ETAs may be given a desk in the office with the other teachers, which is definitely an interesting experience, or may have an individual office with their LET. Try to get involved with the other teachers and speak to them as much as you can. Practice your Chinese, as 99% of the time they will not approach you because they will think they have to speak English with you (despite demonstrating your proficiency). It will pay off if you make friends other than you LET, so do your best to get to know the other teachers.
In the schools farther away from the city, teachers are bound to use more Taiwanese. This can be frustrating in the beginning, especially if your Chinese level isn’t high. While communication will be difficult at first, over time you’ll be able to tell the difference between Chinese and Taiwanese. You may even pick up a few Taiwanese words.
August will be incredibly hot and humid, and it will stay that way for a couple months. It starts to get more tolerable around the end of October. However, winter can be cold for ETAs used to temperate weather. Even ETAs who are used to cold weather can feel uncomfortably cold at home and at school since buildings are not heated. Consider buying a space heater for your room. Many teachers like to leave all the windows and doors open to let fresh air in, but that also lets all the freezing winter air in. Jeans may be enough for some in the winter; others may consider more layers. Warm socks are a must as well as a thick winter coat.