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Travelling to Taiwan

Why choose Taiwan and what has it got in common with Ireland?

Written by Cathal O'Hagan | View this authors Twitter page and posted in opinion

This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for please contact

"One thing Taiwan is famous for is food, as I have talked about previously"

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So why choose Taiwan? I would be the first to admit it isn’t the most obvious choice. As I previously mentioned, I hadn’t decided on moving until after I ran for Vice President in NUI Galway's Student Union. One of the most exhilarating weeks of my life canvassing; I came second in a six person race after the battle of the transferred votes had me at 1435 to Declan Higgins 1600 votes.

As the saying goes - there's no prizes for second place-  and with that I had to start evaluating my options. A friend of mine who lived in Taiwan for a year strongly recommended it and thought I should give it a go; he taught English for a year and enjoyed it, returning to go to college.

I had no interest in applying for the “Big 5” law firms that all lecturers encourage you to apply for. The only interest I had was in the area of international relations, and saying that, living abroad would be a benefit in experiencing if I would enjoy work that would bring me out of the country, so if I was ever to apply for that Masters now, at least I know I enjoy trying different cultures. Better to know now rather than halfway through the course itself! 
Growing up where I did, at the end of the troubles on the Monaghan – Tyrone border, conflict resolution and politics always interested me. A place far from perfect but a great example of a transforming area from divided to peaceful in a relatively short space of time.

That was my main motive in wanting to study International Relations. After my friend Dylan planted the seed of Taiwan in my head, the more I researched, the more interesting it became. It seems to have a remarkably similar history to that of Ireland. Both countries are at the edge of their respective continents, both are island nations colonised by their closest neighbour, their native languages replaced with that of English and Chinese.

While 26 counties in Ireland gained independence in 1922, Taiwan is currently in the position with China that Ireland would arguably have been in with England had WW1 not broken out; i.e. a semi autonomous home rule agreement that Parnell and Gladstone hammered out in 1914. 

It is strange to see but China (mainland) regularly has cars with the Mainland flag decorated over it with speakers chanting and singing through the streets of Taipei encouraging greater ties with the mainland.

While it has its own currency, Olympic team (Chinese Taipei) etc., it is only recognised as a separate country by a handful of countries
(Belize, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Nicaragua, Panama, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome, Swaziland, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, The Vatican and Paraguay)

In Dublin, there is a Taipei Representative Office in which Visas etc. are controlled through, but the closest embassy from here in Taipei is in Beijing.

Its amazing how far you can get without the language. While I have enrolled on a course to learn Mandarin, I only recently started this when I am not working. For 2-3 months, I communicated solely through signing and motions, some working, most not. But you quickly pick up the essentials such as the Chinese symbol for “Men's toilet” as opposed to “Women's toilet”, that was a mistake I only made once.

Even with numbers, they only ever use one hand for counting. So when I was ever ordering 10 of something; even if you show them all 10 fingers and thumbs outstretched, they may not even understand. 

One thing Taiwan is famous for is food, as I have talked about previously. Shark-Fin Soup, Snake Soup, Snake blood, bile and venom have all been sampled.

On one occasion I had thought I knew how to order pork and rice, I had it almost correct, but almost doesn’t cut it, I got pigs ear covered in rice. The nightlife is interesting also. While the Taiwanese aren’t the biggest drinkers, there are a few “All You Can Drink” places. A sharp contrast from Ireland. The main way of socialising is through going to massive night markets that sell anything you can think of, from electronics and clothes to food and drink. 

The only time I really missed home was at Christmas. It was a strange experience in Taiwan for the fact that it doesn’t happen. I was working on Christmas Day; only thought of it as Christmas when I logged into Facebook and saw everyone’s photos. 

I'm still enjoying myself and starting to get better at the language. Chinese New Year is approaching so I have a week off work in which I will hopefully do a bit of exploring. If any of you ever has any questions or are interested in doing something similar don’t be afraid to comment on this or tweet me @CathalOHagan.

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Published January 28th, 2014
Last updated February 12th, 2014
Tags taiwan travel teaching
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