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General Information About Taiwan


First Impressions:


To be frank, your first impressions of Taiwan will probably be quite negative compared to where you came from, unless you are from a particularly noisy, Mandarin speaking, industrial, densely populated convergence of heavy traffic, air pollution and all-night construction. On the surface, it looks like a pretty daunting place. Underneath all of this however, you will find that Taiwan is an island of huge variety, intriguing local cultures and inhabited by some of the friendliest people in the world.


Geography and People:


Taiwan is located in the Pacific Ocean only 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Mainland China and 580 kilometers (360 miles) northeast of Hongkong. Taiwan is 394 kilometers (236 miles) long, and 144 kilometers (86 miles) at its greatest width. The total area is a little larger than the combined states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, or about the size of Holland or Vancouver Island.

Taiwan’s 22 million people consist of Taiwanese, Han Chinese, and many different aboriginal groups speaking primarily Mandarin as well as Taiwanese and aboriginal dialects. It is a thriving mosaic of tradition, culture and high tech development, merging Eastern and Western influences.

A central mountain range runs the length of the main island of Taiwan dividing it east and west. The terraced tablelands and alluvial coastal plains of the west coast are home to about 80 percent of Taiwan's population.


School Locations:


The main areas you are most likely to work are Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Kaohsiung, Changhua, Chiayi (or Jiayi) and Tainan.

Taipei is the most cosmopolitan and international of Taiwan’s cities, although the smaller centers are rapidly catching up. It is also the capital, and the most expensive place to live. Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second largest city with 1.5 million people and its southern location makes it convenient to the beaches of the Kenting National Park. Taichung is the third major city and supports many universities, and its location in central Taiwan makes it a gateway to many of the mountain areas.

The smaller cities and towns offer a slower, more relaxed, and inexpensive life style. Though smaller, they still have populations of over 100,000 people.


Climate and Weather:


Taiwan is considered subtropical. Summer lasts from May through September and tends to be very hot and humid. The average daytime highs range from 30-35ºC or 86-95ºF. Winters are generally mild, although the high humidity tends to make it feel very chilly at times. Winters run from December through February with average highs of around 16-20ºC or 61-68ºF. Although these temperatures are not particularly low, most houses do not have any heating, so be prepared to bundle up.

Chances are you will get to experience at least one typhoon while you are in Taiwan. July to October is known as typhoon season, bringing strong winds and lots of rain. Standard preparation for a typhoon includes: stocking up on drinking water and food, and being prepared for surface flooding and power or water cuts. People living in apartments on the first floor may have to move furniture and valuables to higher levels. The government will close schools during a strong typhoon.

Another natural phenomenon of Taiwan you may experience is an earthquake. As Taiwan is located on the pacific “rim of fire”, like Japan, New Zealand, and California. Earth tremors can occur at any time of the year in Taiwan, but the majority is so slight that they pass unnoticed. Stronger tremors do occur around once every two or three months, but most buildings are made to withstand the quakes fairly well. The risk from earthquakes is about the same as it is living in LA.

For further info on the weather-related matters, see the Central Weather Bureau website: www.cwb.gov.tw


Politics:


Taiwan democratically elects its government and president every four years. Alien residents (foreigners without citizenship) cannot vote. There are several parties, the most notable being the KMT (Kuomintang, or Nationalist party), the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party), the PFP (People First Party), the TSU (Taiwan Solidarity Union) and the TAIP (Taiwan Independence Party)

Taiwan is quite politically active. Gossip and scandals revolving around politicians dominate the news. Massive rallies and marches are common and getting caught up in one can be quite an interesting experience.


History:


China became a republic in 1911, under the leadership of Sun Yat-Sen and later Chiang Kai-Shek. After civil war with the Mao Zedong-led Communists, Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists retreated the Republic of China government to Taiwan from Mainland China in 1949. Ever since, Communist China has maintained that it is the legitimate government of Taiwan and that Taiwan (ROC) is a renegade state.

Because of the political pressure exerted from China, and the lack of a seat at the United Nations, few countries officially recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Hence you will not find most countries' embassies in Taiwan, but instead, you will "trade offices" performing exactly the same functions. Taiwan’s Olympic and other sports teams compete as "Chinese Taipei."