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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fuel cost in Taiwan

Many foreigners that stay longer in Taiwan eventually decide to get their own method of transportation, being it a scooter, a motorcycle or a car. One of the main question that come up when facing with decision to own a vehicle is: how much money I will spend to put gas to my new method of transportation?
Well, gasoline in Taiwan is actually quite cheap comparing to most of the European countries and almost in parity with the costs of gasoline in United States. The gas is measured in liters (1 gallon is about 3.79 liters,) so folks across Pacific, I hope this won't be too confusing.

Ahhh, confusing, yes, putting gas into your vehicle is very confusing here in Taiwan. I mean I always have no idea how much I am going to pay. First, every single gas station in Taiwan have almost the exact same pricing for gasoline, even if the gas station are competing to each other. I am not really sure how it is done, but I think government is subsidizing for gasoline and dictates prices. However, price quoted on the billboards is not the price you will pay. Every gas station have their own discounts: if you own their membership card (which you can apply by simply asking it) you will be able to either collect points for free gas in the future, or deduct money from your current bill. If you use credit card that has partnership with the specific gas station, you get extra discount. Sometimes when you put gas on specific days, you get 1-3% off, other companies offer free car wash, and or even others give gift like pack of tissues - so yes, it is quite confusing to know how much gas really costs. Every company have their own way of getting customer to tank there.
Most of the gas stations are controlled by staff, so you cannot tank by yourself. You will need to mention how much you want fuel to be added (example, 1000NT worth of fuel) or if you want it full. They will ask you if you want to pay cash or credit card (they ask for that because they need to know what kind of 'discount' to offer,) and if you wish to receive company receipt in addition to the normal receipt.

I will update this post about once every two months with new gas prices, but currently they go for:
92: 31.7 NT per liter
95: 32.8 NT per liter
98: 34.5 NT per liter

I spend around 1000-1500NT a week on fuel driving my SUV in and outside city (approximately 500km per week.)

At the moment I am not sure how much fuel scooters are using, but I'll ask around and update this post as soon as I find this information.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bookstores and English Books in Taiwan

If you, like me, enjoy reading - don't worry when you come to Taiwan. There are plenty of bookstores that offer English novels and non-fiction, comics and pretty much most of important magazines that are published all over the world, from PC Gamer, to Maxim and Vogue. I used to visit local bookstores quite often, but after I got a Kindle from Amazon, I prefer to do my book shopping from home. Nonetheless, I know that many readers still prefer a real copy of a book than eBook format, and with that in mind I decided to add this post to my blog.
So what can you expect to find in Taiwan in regards to English selection of books and magazines? Well, frankly speaking - a lot. You are pretty much guaranteed to have a world-wide bestseller on the shelves and most of the New York Bestsellers as well. Most of the good novels are also sold in Taiwan, no matter when it was originally published. Most popular book genres are drama, thriller, fantasy, detective, personal finance, cooking and self improvement. Depending on the bookstore, you will also find some very specific-target books, such as numerology, computer science, history books and language books.

Sometimes you might need to do a search for the book you are interested with. Bookstores offer a search engine (in English) that let you quickly type the title of the book and then provide some basic information if the bookstore has it currently, if it is possible to re-order, or if they can ship it to your home. I am a great fan of John Grisham and his legal dramas, and I could almost buy all of his novels without any delay, but sometimes a little search helped. This little tool also told me that I will not be able to buy The Lord of the Rings in hard cover  anytime soon, when I wanted to buy it at the time.

Regarding magazines, as mentioned in the introductory paragraph, you can pretty much find a magazine that talks about anything: movies, video games, watch collectibles, fashion, women's and men's magazines, and more, much more. The more famous magazines are also available, such as News Week, Times, or The Economist and there is even a small selection of newspapers, such as Wall Street Journal and New York Times. 

If you are into comics, you are also not limited in choices. All the popular Marvel and DC Universe comics are here, as well as some Japanese comics that are translated into English. Some of the most famous European comics (such as Asterix) is also easily available. If you cannot find comics, go to children or teen section. Do not ask me who decided to arrange it this way.

So, ummm, right, I am writing about that you can buy books, magazines and comics here in English, but I do not even mention anything about where to buy it. There are three most popular bookstores in Taiwan that offer English books, namely: Caves, Eslite, and Page One.

Let's start with Caves. Caves is the smallest company out of the 3 bookstores mentioned, but it has its niche: it mainly targets 'learn English and other languages' audience and has quite a good selection of English books available, and recently, started to add selection in other languages, such as German and French. If you are studying a language, or you are teaching it, it is one of the best places to shop for teaching / learning material. Anything from books and learning magazines to posters and stickers is available here. You will also find most of the current best sellers and some non-fiction books that you can pick up while shopping for teaching / learning materials. 

Discounts at Caves: If you are a teacher, let the cashier know. You will need to show some kind of proof (such as a contract) and you will get a membership that qualify you for nice 20% discount on most of purchases. 

I personally do not shop in Caves, the books before discount tends to be slightly more expensive than other two bookstores that I will introduce now.

Secondly, there is Eslite, which is the largest bookstore chain in Taiwan and the only one that offer a bookstore that is open 24/7 (not all of the branches though.) In Taipei City Hall MRT Station it has a bookstore that takes full 2 floors of the small mall, and it has the largest collection of international magazines in the whole Taiwan. The size of the bookstore is large, so you can expect it to be crowded almost all the time - forget about finding a little spot to sit down and read in advance few chapter of a novel before you decide on purchase. That makes my trip there quite short: Grab something I know I want, and leave. I don't have much patience when there are tons of people around me, so I do not mark this bookstore quite highly, but if it does not bother you - it might be your second home. The magazine section, again pretty large, covers everything, and you can even read magazines that are closed in protective foil. All you need to do is ask staff to remove the foil for you, and in exchange, they ask you that when you finish browsing, return it to them so they can put protection on it again. Eslite also has surprisingly large selection of non-fiction work, anything from historical books, to cooking and numerology. 

Discount at Eslite: You need to spend over specific amount of money to be able to receive a membership card. The last time I checked it was NT4000, which let you gain 15% discount on future purchases and it is usually cumulative (add discount to ongoing promotions.)

Eslite huge magazine section
Also, Eslite opened Eslite Discount Bookstore close to MRT Gongguan Station (near National Taiwan University Main Campus.) There you will find a selection of English and Chinese books at low prices, perfect for discount hunters. 

The last bookstore that I would like to mention here is Page One, where I am currently a member and it is my favorite choice for book shopping. I usually go to the one on the fifth floor of Taipei 101 mall. Here you will find largest collection of English fiction that I know of in Taiwan. Bookstores themselves are divided into different segments offering different genres of books, for instance, Fantasy section will get you from classics such as The Lord of the Rings and Song of Ice and Fire to fantasy-genre specific such as Warcraft or Starcraft universe to modern fantasy books such as Dresden Files, and this is just a warm up. There are large sections that focus on humanity, religion, and philosophy, and another great section for business, management and economics. Travel section and cooking have its own parts, and children section (and again comics there) are also quite large that could be a stand alone store by all means. Lastly, although selection of magazines is not as large as in Eslite, it is still a very large and contain a mixture of most popular topics. This is the only bookstore chain that I think of, which has more English books than Chinese books.
Entrance to Page One in Taipei 101

Discounts at Page One: It usually offers many books on sale, especially bestsellers or new comers that come with 10-20% off the regular price, making it much cheaper than purchase from other bookstores. If you spend over NT4000 in a day, you get a small gift bag, a membership card that gives you additional 10% off books, 5% off novelties, and 15% off from their coffee shop (which is a nice touch.) 

Now, summarizing everything, how much books cost in Taiwan? Or more precisely, how much English books, magazines and comics cost in Taiwan?
Well, 3 bookstores mentioned above have pretty much identical prices, with the differences of 5-15% from book to book, so on the long run, you will basically shop in the bookstore where it has the largest selection of book of your interest and is most convenient to you. Grabbing VIP card or getting any discounts helps a lot to save some money if you plan to buy a lot of books during your stay here in Taiwan. 

One more:
Although I never visited it, I am waiting for any review from readers who live in Taichung and could go and check the English bookstore and publishing house. It's called Wilsen Publishing Books & Cards and it is foreigner-owned. Web address is here: http://www.wilsenpublishing.com/
I will update more info and pictures once I have them.

Here I put few titles of popular books and their prices accordingly:
Nonfiction:
Web Marketing for Dummies: NT906
How to Talk to Anyone: NT563
MicroTrends (soft cover) NT282
Super Freakonomics (soft cover) NT486
Sales Bible (hard cover) NT1100

Fiction:
John Grisham soft cover novel: NT282
Most NY Bestsellers soft cover: NT280
Dan Brown Lost Symbol (hard cover): NT900
Marley and Me (hard cover) NT560
Chicken Soup for Teenage Soul: NT467

Comics: 
Asterix soft cover: NT450

Magazines: 
Prices range a lot, from NT150 per issue to NT600. Best way to buy if you live in Taiwan for longer? Subscribe it and let deliver to Taiwanese address. Sometimes price can be as much as 80% lower than prices from the bookstores.

If you know of any bookstore in Taiwan that offer English books (or you are an owner of one) feel free to write to me. I will be happy to add more choices to the blog in the future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Small Clinics In Taiwan

I just got a bad flu for past few days. Bad, bad flu, combine this with exam week in universities (additional stress) and bad weather (although no typhoon, it keeps raining like all the time) it all accumulate into a really shoot me now, what's the point of waiting. Heh, well there is a point. Surprisingly, Taiwan have a very large number of small clinics that can cure me. They are all private owned, but costs of service is pretty much identical everywhere. So if you have a flu, need to see a dentist, have problem with eyes, ears, or any similar issue, you do not need to worry. In addition, almost every doctor can speak English.

You can visit a clinic with or without an insurance. If you are married to Taiwanese, own a business, work legally or you are a student, it is pretty much mandatory to have health insurance card. The monthly cost of it is about 650NT and it protect you from spending too much in case something much worse than a flu happens. If you are just a tourist, or work illegally and get your visa from visa runs, then you might not have an insurance card. You should not worry about it though - you will still be able to see a doctor.

When you visit a clinic for the first time, bring your ID (ARC preferred if you have one, if not, your passport) and health insurance card if owned. You will need to fill a form with your basic information. If you do not understand it, ask kindly for help and registrant will be eager to help you. This takes about 10 minutes after which you are registered with the clinic. In the future you will just need to say your name when you are going to see a doctor (and show your health insurance if you have one.)

Clinics here are overall clean and doctors are very friendly. You can even ask to get yourself a flu shoot or help you with some medicine that is harder to get to be put with your prescription - nothing illegal mind you, but things like med that can help you sleep better or lower your stress. Some clinics are over popular and there are lots of people waiting, so you might be even waiting for 1 hour and longer if you are unlucky. Entire visit with a doctor just takes few minutes.

Once doctor is finished with you, you will still need to wait for your prescription to be filled. Every clinic has a pharmacy  and all the medicine is included with your visit. You do not need to pay separately for any medicine, which is awesome. You will usually receive medicine for about 3 days, after which you need to visit a clinic again if you do not feel well. I don't like to visit a clinic again, so I kindly ask doctor to prescribe more medicine for me and I just stop using it if I feel better. They usually agree to it, but it will cost about NT50 per day of extra medicine.

Same things apply to other kind of doctors, such as opticians and dentists. I will be doing some check ups with dentists soon, so I will write another post later this year, but it pretty much the procedure applies everywhere in the island, even hospitals.

The overall cost that you are going to spend on clinics:
NT200 - visit and medicine if you have insurance card
NT100 - if you want a shot to speed up your recovery
NT500 - if you do not own an insurance card.
If you are university student, visit your university clinic - usually it is free of charge.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fried Food Stands in Taiwan - Local Specialty

Anyone that live in Taiwan or even been here must have noticed many food stands across Taiwan that are especially open from late afternoons to middle of a night. Most popular food stands are specializing in deep fried food, grilled food, or 'ru wei' or in English 'Soya mixed meat' - it is kind of stew based on the soy sauce with vegetables and meats of your choice. All of them are not healthy, with incredible amount of vegetable oil, worshiped by locals and heavenly delicious - a perfect meal for lazy evenings in front of TV.

For the purpose of this short post, let us talk about fried food stands only. (The grilled and soya mixed meat stands will follow shortly after.) It is very easy to spot fried food stand here - just look for a business that opens late, it is in form of a small steel stand, which displays variety of food - both meat and vegetables, and usually, there are bunch of people waiting for their orders to be completed. To order your food, you don't need to say a word, simply take a basket from the cart together with tongs, and put inside any food that you wish to eat. After you finish choosing your selection, give it to the vendor and you will be asked if you want it spicy or not. You can choose from 'bu yao la - no spice added, yi dian la - little spicy, zhong la - middle amount of spice, and la - spicy.) I usually choose little spicy - you will quickly notice that even little spicy is quite hot.

Fried chicken chunks with basil. One of the more popular choices.
Most of the food is shown in the stand, and it will include chicken chunks, chicken wings, fried squid, fried mushroom, fried cauliflower, fried beans, tempura, french fries and meat balls. There are also local specialties that you might want to try: vegetables wrapped around bacon, fish and squid balls, blood cakes, chicken fingers, chicken necks, chicken hearts and ass (yep, don't ask me that one) and even more exotic food that I would probably find illegal to order in my home country. There is also food behind the main counter that you must ask for, such as fried chicken breast, so if you want to order extras, knowing a little Chinese would definitively help.

Most of the stands offer such a delicious food, that you will quickly wonder why you even bothered with KFC in the first place. It is outstanding, actually dangerously so. It is easy to order, fast and you might find yourself eating it almost everyday, but it is not a food anyone should eat on constant basis (my wife is probably going to say: 'woah, look who writes that! Maybe you should show a good example and eat less of it? Maybe I should...') Food is good, sizes are large enough, if you are vegetarian, you can still enjoy only vegetables, it is everywhere to be found at hours that most of the food businesses are closed, and it is cheap, not dirty cheap, but cheap. If you are only visiting Taiwan, you will probably eat mainly in restaurants. Give it a try - it is something you will probably not find in your country, and you might find yourself hooked with an excuse to come back to visit again.)

The food is affordable and I usually do not spend over NT200 for enough food for 2 and with some left overs for next day. The prices here will vary from stand to stand, but I try to give an approximate averages:
Chicken wings - large 3 wings for 50NT
Chicken chops: Large: 50NT, small 30NT
Chicken breast: 50NT (it is tender, juicy, so good, and usually so large!)
French fries: 20NT
Fried mushroom: 25NT
Fried squid: 50-60NT
Fried beans: 30NT
Fried cauliflower: 30NT
Tempura: 30NT
Meat balls: Depends how many balls, anything from 10NT to 30NT
Blood cake: 30NT
Chicken fingers: 30NT
More exotic: Depends on the stand, but usually from 20NT to 50NT per choice

My normal large order for 2 people would be:
1X Chicken wings, 1X squid, 1X beans, 1X tempura - NT160 - sometimes I add chicken breast, for total of NT210.


Wish you a good appetite.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bungee Jumping in Taiwan


If you are into extreme sports, or you like to do something special, different, amazing - you name it - next weekend, Taiwan have many opportunities to challenge your guts. Bungee jump is one of the ways to challenge yourself mentally and conquer your fear. Do not worry though - it is quite safe; coaches will make sure that you are ready mentally and safe. 

Since it is in the middle of the mountains, you will need some kind of transportation. Best bet is to either take a bus, drive scooter or car)

How to get there (direction by car) - I will update routes by scooter and bus later this weekend.
Start from Taipei Main Station and take freeway no. 3, exit at Sansia interchange, take route 7 and drive for about 1.5 hour (mountain area) till you arrive to Da Ha Bridge, where you will try your guts at bungee jump.

Before you attempt a jump, you must contact one of the coaches or a girl that takes care of paperwork. The easiest way to contact them is by calling: (02) 8666-6019 or sending email at bungy@bungy.com.tw. You will need to fill up some paperwork (insurance card.) If you have a heart disease, hypertension, asthma, or you are pregnant, you will not be allowed to jump. Also, you must be less than 90kg, and if you are under 18, you must be with your legal guardian or at least have a parental consent form.

In case of bad weather, events will be cancelled and your payment refunded, or rescheduled. 

The jump costs NT2000 and this include insurance. After your first jump, you will receive a certificate and VIP card that enables you to make future jumps at discounted price (NT1000.) Also, you will be able to download high quality pictures of your jump from their website free of charge - a very nice touch. Also, once you complete the first jump, you will be allowed to jump head down, where protective gear is put around your ankles. 

The overall experience is amazing. I was personally scared and I almost did not complete my jump, but at the last second I said 'ah screw it' and jumped. It was a... release. For a couple of minutes I could forget about all the stress and problems, and I felt free. Add to this beautiful mountain - forest scenery, and a creek running under you, it is something I will definitively want to do it again. Next stop Macao? :) (Highest bungee jump in the world.)

You can visit their website at: www.bungy.com.tw for all the information necessary (it is in Chinese, so if you have any questions, feel free to write here in comments.) I will also add their site to the 'link' sub-page.

One thing to mention: From Taipei to destination it takes about 2hr drive by car. There are no toilets there, so ladies - do your bathroom needs before going there. For guys it simpler - trees will suffice.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Taiwanese World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft (WoW) - the most popular online MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) has a massive amount of users that posses larger population than most countries in the world. The story takes place in the Warcraft universe, which is not only immerse in the video games, but outside of them as well (countless of novels, comics, magazines, game boards and even soon to be released movie.)

Wow is also hugely popular in Taiwan with endless number of servers. The access to the game is very easy - every convenient shop sells time cards that let you play game.

To anyone surprise, WoW is free of charge in Taiwan - meaning, you do not have to pay for the game and any expansions. You only pay for the time you play. You can buy unlimited hours 30 and 150 days cards, or limited hours but without time frame (10hrs)

10 hours costs NT150
1 month is NT300
150 days is NT1200

You will face one major problem: WoW in Taiwan is in Chinese, and nobody will use English to communicate in the game. You can get English version installed, change few files and get it run on Taiwanese servers, but again, you will need to communicate and play with locals, so unless you have your own group of friends that wish to form a guild within a game, you are either going to use Chinese or give up soon.

Another way to play this popular online game is to purchase European (or US) version through direct download and pay online in EURO or USD, but expect to have some latency issues, unless your internet is really fast and stable.