‘Which country is Taiwan’ what a great question! It’s one we are frequently asked. It usually is preceded with questions like, “Where are you at in Thailand and do you like Thai food”? This always brings up a little chuckle inside me. After living in Taiwan for almost 2 years now, these reoccurring questions about Taiwan keep popping up. So, where in the world is Taiwan and is it the same as Thailand? And what is Taiwanese? A language, a people or maybe a food? In this post, I would love to help clear up some of the mysteries of this little-known island.
For those of us that come from the other side of the globe, these two places seem like one and the same. I must admit I actually had the same questions about Taiwan before I came here. Taiwan being assimilated into Thailand, in the minds of many, adds to the confusion about where Taiwan is. Taiwan has been and still is an under the radar travel destination, although the word is finally getting out. But, there continues to be quite a bit of mystery/confusion about Taiwan. So, just for any folks out there thinking about making a visit here, I would like to clear up a few misconceptions about this wonderful travel destination.
I am including a map so it will be easy to see Taiwan is not part of mainland Asia. In fact, it is an island located just off of the east coast of China. And Thailand located in South East Asia is nestled between Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. So other than having the first part of their names sound similar these two countries have nothing in common and they are not related to one another in any way. The food, language, and culture are completely different. Another little-known fact, Taiwan is a well-developed nation, with great infrastructure. Thailand, on the other hand, is still a developing nation.
The country of Taiwan is an ideal location for your first trip to Asia. Western travelers experience very little culture shock and adjust quickly here. Taiwan is a very cultured and educated country. Having all the conveniences a modern country would have including Ikea and Costco. Excellent internet, a bullet train, complex subway system, public buses, and great roads make getting around Taiwan a joy. On our first visit here we traveled extensively and were so surprised to see that Taiwan is a gorgeous island not just some industrial wasteland.
So now that you are clear about which country Taiwan is, (and which one it is not) the other particularly interesting question is “What is Taiwanese”? This question is not one that can be easily answered. For the long answer check Wikipedia. For a simple explanation the original Taiwanese would be the aboriginal population that makes up a mere 2.3 % of the population. The predominant group here are Han Chinese from mainland China. Taiwan has a complicated history being dominated by the Dutch, Japanese, and a few others. These varying peoples some of whom have intermarried with the local aboriginals make up the Taiwanese people we know now.
Rather than being a completely different race of peoples, the term Taiwanese is a description. It is used to differentiate Taiwanese people from the from mainland Chinese and help them to hold their national identity. The term Taiwanese now applies to any Taiwan national as well as the language they speak. Hokkien Taiwanese or “Taiwanese” is spoken by 70% of the population even though Mandarin Chinese is the national language. The Taiwanese language is Min Chinese based and is from the Fujian area of mainland China. It is quite different from the Mandarin Chinese that is spoken by the mainland Chinese population. To my chagrin, Taiwan still uses the traditional characters of the Chinese language, which Mainland China had simplified about 70 years ago.
Even though Taiwanese is spoken throughout the island, Taiwan is a great place to come and study Mandarin Chinese. Most Taiwanese speak Mandarin clearly and there are many colleges that offer generous scholarships to foreigners looking to learn Mandarin Chinese. My husband and I have been in Taiwan for almost 2 years now and after learning many years on our own, we are now quite fluent in conversational Chinese. I would highly recommend Taiwan to those interested in learning Mandarin or wanting to improve their spoken Mandarin. Would you like to earn money while you learn? Well paying English teaching jobs are abundant and the low cost of living expenses make Taiwan a perfect place to become an expat even if just for a while.
The Taiwanese people stand apart as being some of the friendliest, and kind people you would ever want to meet. Many that visit this beautiful island are amazed at how polite and helpful the local Taiwanese are to foreigners. We have come to love Taiwan and the unique people who call themselves Taiwanese. With mountains reaching over 3000m high, miles of beaches, and a rolling surf we invite you to come and see for yourself why Taiwan is an up and coming travel destination. Let us help you plan your trip, contact us for travel itineraries and suggested locations to visit. Interested in learning Mandarin Chinese or living here drop me a line. I can guarantee you will love Taiwan and the Taiwanese people as much as we do!