Where in Taiwan Do You Want to Live and Study Mandarin?
Now we’re getting to the exciting stuff! Where in Taiwan do you want to live?
This is a difficult subject to talk about without making big generalizations about the different cities in Taiwan. Before reading this, you should keep in mind that this is all based on my personal experience as well as sentiments from others I’ve spoken to. Other people may have different thoughts and preferences so be sure to do a bit of independent research yourself to see which areas of Taiwan sound most attractive to you.
Study Chinese in Taipei:
Benefits of studying Chinese in Taipei:
1. The capital of Taiwan, Taipei is Taiwan’s largest and most metropolitan city. Depending on where you live and frequent, you can experience the local Taiwanese culture or never leave the comfort of more familiar Western-style environments.
2. Surrounded by mountains and rivers, Taipei is in a very beautiful area of Taiwan with plenty of hiking and natural beauty only a few minutes’ drive away.
3. With the largest foreigner population in Taiwan, foreigners are a less a rarity in Taipei than in other cities (you’ll get gawked at less and people in Taipei are more likely to have some level of English ability.)
4. The extensive public transportation system (bus, subway and trains) makes getting around Taipei very easy!
The not so great parts of studying Chinese in Taipei:
1. Taipei, while still affordable by American standards, is Taiwan’s most expensive city. This is especially true with regards to rent! $10,000NT/month (approx $300USD) in Taipei will get you a decent room in a two bedroom apartment whereas $10,000NT/month in Kaohsiung can get you an entire 3 bedroom apartment.
2. Taipei has cold and damp winters whereas winters in the south are still relatively warm and sunny.
3. With the largest foreigner population in Taiwan, it’s easy to mingle and make friends only with other foreigners. Also, restaurants and stores in Taipei are more likely to have English-speaking staff. If you don’t insist on speaking Mandarin with friends and out on the streets, you may not get a lot of Mandarin practice.
Study Chinese in Kaohsiung
Benefits of studying Chinese in Kaohsiung:
1. Taiwan’s second largest city, Kaohsiung is a major port city in the south of Taiwan and is only an hour or two’s bus ride away from Kenting – Taiwan’s beach paradise.
2. Kaohsiung is warm all year round. Winter in Kaohsiung is warm and comfortable with relatively little rain.
3. Cost of living in Kaohsiung is considerably more affordable in Kaohsiung than in Taipei.
4. While Taiwanese in general are very friendly towards foreigners, people in Kaohsiung are even more so. Kaohsiung probably takes the crown as Taiwan’s friendliest city.
5. Public transportation in Kaohsiung is decent. Kaohsiung has an extensive bus network and a new, if still somewhat small, subway network.
The not so great parts of studying Chinese in Kaohsiung:
1. Air quality is not the best in Kaohsiung. The smell of car exhaust, sulphur and other pollutants often seem to permeate the city due the presence of nearby factories and oil refineries.
2. While people in Kaohsiung are fluent in both Mandarin and Taiwanese, most people in Kaohsiung speak Taiwanese amongst themselves. The opportunity to practice your Mandarin by listening to the people’s conversations around you is not as present in Kaohsiung as it is in northern Taiwan cities like Taipei.
Study Chinese in Taichung
Benefits of studying Chinese in Taichung:
1. Taichung (written Taizhong in standard pinyin) is Taiwan’s third largest city and is rapidly growing. While only third in terms of population, it’s first in terms of number of department stores!
2. Taichung is close to two of Taiwan’s most famous landmarks: Sun Moon Lake and Alishan.
3. Weather in Taichung is the most moderate with winters not as cold as in Taipei and summers not as hot as in Kaohsiung.
The not so great parts of studying Chinese in Taichung:
1. There is currently no subway network in Taichung, and the bus network is not as extensive as in Taipei and Kaohsiung. The cities first subway line is set to open in 2014-2015. The transportation problem is made worse by the fact that Taichung is less dense and more spread-out than Kaohsiung and Taipei. To truly get around Taichung, you may need to purchase a scooter.
2. Taichung is not known for having excellent Mandarin schools and training centers, and none of Taiwan’s largest mandarin schools are located in Taichung.
Study Chinese in Tainan
Benefits of studying Chinese in Tainan:
1. The southern Taiwan city of Tainan is Taiwan’s 4th largest city and is often referred to as Taiwan’s cultural capital. Tainan is actually Taiwan’s oldest city, and has the greatest number of temples and historic buildings.
2. Tainan has an excellent Mandarin training center at the National Cheng Kung University.
3. Tainan is known to have some of Taiwan’s best food, and it’s Garden Night Market (花園夜市) is one of Taiwan’s largest.
4. Located in the south, Tainan is similar to Kaohsiung in that winters are relatively warm and comfortable. Summers however are extremely hot and humid.
The not so great parts of studying Chinese in Tainan:
1. Tainan’s public transportation system is not developed to the same level as Taipei and Kaohsiung. There is no subway network and bus service is more limited and less frequent. Most people get around by scooter, and you would need to consider purchasing one if you chose to live in Tainan.
2. Tainan has fewer shopping centers and entertainment areas than larger cities like Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung.
3. Summer everywhere in Taiwan is very hot – Tainan even more so!
Taipei and Kaohsiung are both excellent cities to live and study Mandarin in. They’re large, vibrant cities, and there’s always something interesting to do or some new place to check out.
While still living in Canada, I read other foreigners’ impressions of Kaohsiung – in particular that it’s old and dirty. Perhaps it was 15 or 20 years ago, but the same can’t be said today. Kaohsiung is a clean city (occasional air pollution problems aside) with large streets, lots of new development and a burgeoning arts scene. I personally like it so much I usually head down there once every month or two to escape Taipei’s less-than-stellar winter weather.
The lack of great Mandarin schools in Taichung really precludes Taichung as an option for those wanting a top-quality education in Mandarin.
Tainan has an excellent Mandarin school, National Cheng Kung University, and has the well-deserved reputation of being Taiwan’s cultural capital. That being said, it is a smaller city with a less extensive transportation system. For those not planning on purchasing a scooter, Taipei or Kaohsiung are more convenient cities to live in.