Tips for Your Taiwan Trip (With Kids)

Taiwan with KidsAlright. Now that we only have 5 eating days left in Taiwan, I’ve been thinking about what I wish I had known (or remembered) prior to coming. (Seriously, I count down eating days because I do not care about touristy or sight-seeing things. I just want to shove as much yummy Taiwanese food in my fat belly as possible without squeezing the baby out.)

So, here are some of my tips for traveling to Taiwan with kids (and some even pertain to the actual camp/schooling process or bilingual support). Here they are in no discernible order:

1) Pack an extra huge, empty suitcase. 

If you’re like me and buy a lot of heavy books/dvds/stuff, you will need an extra suitcase. Or you will be comfortable in packing huge boxes and carrying those to the airport as luggage. It helps that I have so many people in my family that I can have 10 free checked in luggage.

Otherwise, you can always buy a cheapo suitcase at a local market.

2) Bring cereal. Or snacks you know your kids will eat.

American cereal is around $10 a box. I shit you not. I laughed at Guavarama when she suggested it to me in the States. Why would I do that when I can buy cereal or do without it?

Ah, karma. Always biting me in the ass.

I wish my kids weren’t culture shocked and food assholes, but they are and they were. So, I ended up buying $10/box fruity Cheerios because that’s what they wanted to eat.

3) The supermarkets in the fancy department stores are expensive.

If you are lazy, or an expat, or just like clean, bright and shiny supermarkets like they have in the US, you are welcome to go to your local Jason’s or City Super or whatever. But just know that you will pay $50USD for like four things.

I think that’s where half my money went. Buying at expensive supers because it was extra convenient and bright and shiny and I can see things I’m familiar with and not guess as much about ingredients.

But there is a price for all that shiny.

Go to local supers like Carrefour or Wellcome market. Even better, go to the super local markets off Alley 216 (Zhong Xiao Dun Hua MRT) or similar side alley markets that look sketchy but are way cheaper.

4) In fact, go to Costco the first week you’re there.

Obviously, this won’t work as well if you don’t have a Costco membership, but if you do, then know that your membership also works in Taiwan.

Irish Twins went to all FOUR Costcos within the Taipei area (Zhonghe, Neihu, Xizhi, and Beitou) and she says the Beitou one has the most books and DVD sets available.

Costco is a great option to buy a ton of book sets (just like in the US) for a reasonably cheap price (not the cheapest, but not shabby, either) as well as stock up on essentials your family might go through super fast.

For example: apples. For some reason (like importing), apples in Taiwan are mealy and yucky and if you want to pay about $360NT for TWO Fuji apples at the fancy expat supermarket, you should go to the Costco because for that SAME price, you can get 8 apples. I might not be a math genius but 8 >> 2.

In general, you’ll find that prices match US prices. So, if it cost $12USD to buy a product, it will cost $12USD in Taiwan. It’s not that great a deal in a Taiwanese sense, but it is a price that I’m willing to pay because it’s usually for stuff that would cost double elsewhere due to the product being imported.

Bulgogi bake

Bulgogi bake

The best part of Costco in Taiwan is that they have a Bulgogi Bake. It is delicious. I don’t know why they don’t have it in the US. It is YUM. They also have mango/lime smoothies (I think) and they are light and delicious. Also, they have mango shaved ice.

And, if you’re feeling a wee bit homesick, they have a hotdog for a smidge more than $1.50USD.

In fact, walking into Costco during our 3rd or 4th week here felt like walking into the US. A bit of home.

So comforting.

Oh, what was my point? Yes. Stock up on staples because otherwise, you will overspend on things at the local markets.

Of course, it will be a pricey trip because even if you took the bus or MRT to the Costco, you’ll likely need to cab back from the Costco.

5) If you want to buy books, don’t go to Eslite.

Well, GO to Eslite to riffle through all their books. (For some reason, all the bookstores – not just Eslite – like to shrink wrap individual books. I find it environmentally horrible. But they are good sports about opening the packaging for you. If you’re at Costco, just do it yourself.)

But don’t buy there. Eslite is hugely marked up. If you aren’t in a hurry or leaving right away, you can buy books from Kingstone or books.com.tw. If you don’t want to pay an exchange rate or they won’t take your US credit card, you can always have them deliver to your local 7-11 or Family Mart and pay COD. You’ll get a text message when your packages arrive and have about a week to pick up and pay.

Of course, they can also deliver straight to your home, but I don’t think they offer the COD option then.

6) There are also local bookstores from which you can buy.

You can go to Mollie for used books (they also have a location for used DVDs and CDs) and once again, you run into the problem of books being individually shrink wrapped. They will even deliver the books to your address the next day for $70NT (~$2USD).

Here’s my problem with going to any bookstore or CD/DVD store in Taipei: everything is in Chinese.

I mean, no fucking shit. Of course, everything is in Chinese. We’re fucking in Taiwan.

But as a functionally illiterate person in Taiwan, my brain just blanks and hits the overwhelmed button and all I see is that ALL CHINESE BOOKS LOOK THE SAME.

I think I wandered shell-shocked in the Mollie for about 2 hours while frantically texting Guavarama as she was on her two week camping/road trip adventure with Fleur and their combined 5 kids eight years old and under.

She told me to just sit down and look through all the titles and books and see what I liked. I was not about to open up hundreds of hermetically sealed books just to see if they looked interesting.

I felt ill.

I felt FOMO and fear of Buyer’s Remorse and all sorts of shit. Until finally, I gave up and just sat on the floor looking dejected.

(Incidentally, I have a few posts on Taiwanese bookstores so you can either look them up on Google for the addresses and hours – which obviously, they are more accurate – or you can search by my book categories or tags. Here’s the post where I mention a few of the bookstores I mention in this post.)

Eventually, I sacked up and looked at a few more books and ended up buying a set that came with audio CDs. I felt marginally better (that I didn’t end up wasting the whole trip), but it ultimately was very unsatisfying.

Obviously, YMMV. I’m a wuss and hate uncertainty. That’s why I make Guavarama buy everything for me. I just throw money at her. Everyone needs a Guavarama.

We also went to some local bookstores that Tiger Woo’s MIL and another of my friends recommended. They ended up at about 26% from retail price – which according to Guavarama is a really good deal since bookstores barely make a profit at that price point. (I think they break even around 60-70% retail.)

南門書局 (nan2 men2 shu ju2/Southern Gate Bookstore)
Physical Location: 台北市中正區羅斯福路一段南門書局

釆繪星球 (bian4 hui4 xing qiu2/Bookstar)
Physical Location: 
臺北市南昌路一段59巷7號1樓

Again, same problem of OMG IT HURTS US EVERYTHING IS IN FUCKING CHINESE BLERGH and my brain just shuts off.

But at least in these smaller bookstores, most of the stuff isn’t shrink wrapped, it’s super small businessy, and the staff are very friendly and can recommend a bunch of books.

Also, at Bookstar, they had lots of games for kids (and I bought a ton).

But FOMO and Buyer’s Remorse and lack of Guavarama on speed-text are still anxiety producing factors.

Perhaps that is just me.

7) Next year, I’m shortening our trip.

I think I forgot to take into account just how lazy I am in general. I hate doing touristy stuff – why would I think that being in a foreign country where navigating train websites, site websites, and everything being in CHINESE FFS – in addition to being 28 weeks pregnant and towing along three assholish children would change that at all?

I had lofty plans for this last week.

I was going to take the kids to see the crayon factory. Or to Tamsui. Or JiuFen. Or just take them to all sorts of play spaces.

I did not factor in the fact that Cookie Monster (and to a lesser extent, Glow Worm and Gamera) only wanted to get the fuck out of Dodge and would rather veg out in front of the iPad all day instead of leave the apartment.

We have gone to a few silly places for them to eat or do crafts, but for the most part, Hapa Papa has stayed in with the kids (because they are also REALLY FUCKING DONE WITH THE SUN) and I go out to meet Irish Twins and her 2 year old (while ditching my children – because other people’s children are always preferable to dealing with one’s own because you don’t have to keep them and there is a limited duration of suffering) to eat or shop or just be out of the house.

Wow. That sentence is nigh-incomprehensible.

I have no plans to fix it.

Anyhow, my point being, that you really should take an honest stock of who you are as a person before you pay for an extra week of Airbnb housing prices in Taipei.

Next year, (especially since I will have an 8 month old baby strapped to my sweaty chest and belly), I will likely still come about a week early for the kids to get used to the time change as well as play a little.

However, after school/camp ends, I will let them relax the weekend and do some last minute shopping, and then we will likely leave on Monday or Tuesday and go back home.

My kids will likely be just like me and not give a fuck about touristy shit and just go home. If ONLY they enjoyed food to a greater degree. Sigh.

8) I should have anticipated the kids getting a lot of stuff to take back.

I really don’t know why I didn’t expect the kids to bring back a ton of shit from school and camps. After all, two years ago, they brought back a lot of paper crafts and I took a few pics, kept a few items and then tossed the rest.

Call me an unsentimental bitch. Whatever.

This year, the stuff that they’re coming back with are actually interesting. Like fired and glazed pottery thingies or cool robots they made out of Kinex like thingies (I’m really killing the technical terms today) and honestly, they’re kinda keep-worthy.

Also, I paid for a lot of shitty and expensive crafts and I should really take those home, too.

9) Craft activities at the fancy department stores are really expensive.

The majority of these crafts seem awesome. Make super cool playdoh sculptures or shiny glittery boxes and jewelry boxes. They all seem awesome until you realize they’re like $50. EACH.

So, here’s how it works. Depending on the type of craft you want to make, the cost varies. The more complicated, obviously, the more expensive.

Each finished craft is displayed on a shelf and either has a sticker telling you how many 點 (dian3/points) it costs or it’s on a shelf with a sign telling you how many it costs. Then there is a chart that tells you how much each “point” costs.

The majority of places will cost around $500NT per point. (That’s ~$15USD.) Of course, the more you buy, the more you “save” and it’s tempting until you realize that somehow, you’re paying $50USD for a craft you could buy and do yourself at Michael’s for $5 in the US.

Of course, since the classes are taught in Chinese, and the kids were bored and I really wanted to make the kids happy, I told them they could choose only the crafts that cost 1 point.

They were happy enough. So in the end, over a period of a few days, I spent $3000NT (~$90USD) on six stupid crafts. But all my kids seemed happy about it so I guess it’s a win.

Here is a slideshow of the various crafts my kids did:

10) If you are used to living in a space larger than where you are renting in Taiwan, you WILL get on each other’s nerves.

I mean, it could be just that I’m an asshole and have bred asshole-ish children. But quite frankly, we are at the point where my kids are cooped up all day because they refuse to leave the house and I want to murder them all by dinner time.

I know. It’s not that different than when we are in the States.

But the problem is that there are just far fewer things for them to do in our Taiwan apartment – and SO MANY PEOPLE who can hear me yell at my shitty kids and cussing them out.

For instance, just now, I coldly told Cookie Monster to stop being an asshole. And in case he didn’t understand what that is since he is only 6.5 years old, I explained that an asshole is a butthole. And I really would like him to stop being something poo poo comes out of.

Win.

11) Essential oils are great but NOT FOR INSECT REPELLENT.

Hey. I love essential oils. In fact, they came in very handy for much of the barfing and coughing and heat rashes and heat strokes and mosquito bites. But what they were TERRIBLE at were actually PREVENTING bug bites.

Maybe they work great in the US.

But these Taiwanese mosquitoes are NOT fucking around.

I was eaten alive.

Use the insect repellent with as much DEET as possible without giving you or your children or your unborn fetus birth defects.

Hapa Papa's shoulder looking like raw meat after I gua sha'd. That's what happens when you walk over 50,000 steps in two days during the hottest parts of the day.

Hapa Papa’s shoulder looking like raw meat after I gua sha’d. That’s what happens when you walk over 50,000 steps in two days during the hottest parts of the day.

12) I will need to 刮痧 (gua sha) my kids almost every day or every other day next time.

I am very susceptible to heat stroke and heat rash. Apparently, so are my children.

In fact, almost Glow Worm’s entire body is covered in heat rash. It’s so sad. He also had an unexplained fever that would disappear and reappear for a period of 4-5 days. As soon as I used gua sha, his fever stopped.

So, I tried it on my other kids, and sure enough, the telltale signs of prickly heat showed up and I regret not using it earlier. Also, all my kids like it and find it comfy.

But definitely bring stuff for heat rash. Pretty much every single member of my household has some form of heat rash (with Glow Worm being the most serious).

This does not contribute to my kids enjoying Taiwan.

13) However much Benadryl I think I need, I should double it.

Due to everything being in Chinese and the fact that in Taiwan, people are not as familiar with food allergies and “forget” ingredients in food all the time, pretty much every child of mine, (even the kid with no known allergies whatsoever) has broken out in hives at least once.

But again, poor Glow Worm has suffered the most. He has pretty much needed to take Benadryl at least once or twice a week. First for food allergy reactions and then for the unbearable itchiness of heat rash.

14) I really need to pay attention to my limits.

I know I am stubborn. I know I am a ridiculous planner and want all these lofty things. But I really need to know my limits and pay attention to how I’m doing.

It’s tempting to think I’m invincible or to stick through something just to prove my mom or other people wrong or whatever.

But really, there is no prize for stupidity and or stubbornness. (Or at least, I don’t think there is.)

So, there really is no award for never taking a taxi (even if it would be physically better for me) or for forcing the kids on death marches (even if it kills me).

There is no prize for purposely choosing a more difficult path.

15) Eat only foods that make me happy.

Corollary: Do NOT waste a meal (or calories) in Taiwan.

So: kids didn’t finish their McDonald’s chicken nuggets? Fuck the nuggets. Go eat something you want like more shaved ice.

Leftover udon from a food court restaurant that you feel guilty leaving because hey it was not cheap? Fuck it. Your kids are not going to eat it again and it just takes up space in the fridge and then you have to figure out how to dispose of its rotting remains in a place that does not have garbage disposals.

Rotting food in the garbage smells about as appetizing as it sounds.

Already have shaved ice today? WHO CARES? Have it again.

Like something a lot? EAT MORE. Preferably soon.

If you don’t want a real meal and only want to eat dessert? DO IT. For instance: instead of having lunch today at Modern Toilet with the kids, I watched them eat mediocre fries and nuggets and then I had almond tofu shaved ice at Yu’s Almond Tofu and fried mochi (one dipped in black sesame sauce and one dipped in chocolate) at Okinawa Japanese Grilled Mochi.

Tonight, instead of having dinner, I am likely going to go buy these fried sesame balls with salty gooey egg yolk in the center from Kitchen Pucci and then have another shaved ice.

Why? Because I now have only FOUR eating days left in Taiwan and my kids are utter shits and I want them to go home ahead of me and if Cookie Monster pisses me (or Hapa Papa) off one more time today I swear he is not going to make it back home in one entire piece.

16) If you need to go to the bathroom in a public space, the cleanest bathrooms are in the MRT station.

I mean, sure you could use a restaurant bathroom or a mall bathroom. They’re not always horrible. But they are not always great, either (even if it’s a fancy place).

So, when in doubt and you can make it to the MRT station? USE THAT ONE.

This holds especially true at the Taipei Main Station. Are you in the HSR/train/bus station? Those bathrooms are disgusting. They’re not dirty or in disarray, but they FEEL gross. If you’re heading to the MRT station anyway, HOLD IT. Wait. Your entire body will thank you.

17) If you use a taxi to frequent a particular route, PAY ATTENTION if a driver happens to be WAY faster than other drivers.

Then ask him how he did it. Memorize it. Then from then on, TELL the other taxi drivers how to do it.

It will save you a lot of time and money.

18) Explore the smaller alleys and streets. 

Now, I’m totally not the type of person to wander small alleys and streets. I am definitely the person who sticks to major thoroughfares (the better to find my way back) as well as go to either places I have been before or a place that has been recommended and is locatable on Google Maps.

I HATE wandering aimlessly on side alleys. Especially with kids and in the heat.

But, if you can manage to set aside some time to do so at the beginning, you will find a lot of small hole in the wall places that likely, you’d enjoy very much.

Alright. This post turned out much longer than I anticipated. Whoops. But I hope I find it helpful next year when I’m remembering how to do this travel in Taiwan thing with the kids and a baby in an ergo.

Have a great day!

Why Non-Speaker/Speaker Chinese Playdates Are Probably Not Going to Work

**You can find an updated version of this piece, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

I read a lot of articles on language and helping kids become bilingual. And over and over again, I see the same advice telling non-Chinese speaking parents to set up playdates with Chinese speaking parents and their kids.

I get why.

It seems to make sense. Want your kids exposed to Chinese? Let’s play with kids who speak Chinese! Win!

Except, no. Not really.

Here are six reasons why as nice as it sounds on paper, non-speaker/speaker Chinese playdates probably are NOT going to happen. (Oh, and it perhaps helps if you pretend I’m not an angry ranting person on the interwebs and more so like a constantly grumpy older sister giving advice.)

1) No Chinese speaking parent who wants their kids to speak Chinese fluently is going to want their kids to play with your non-speaking Chinese kids. At least, not for the purpose of a Chinese playdate.

What’s the point, really? Your kids won’t speak Chinese – not through lack of desire, perhaps, but definitely due to lack of ability and range.

So then, if my kids are just going to speak English to your kids, and I want to maximize my kids’ playdates with people who actually speak Chinese, let’s be real. I am not going to accept a playdate with you.

Truthfully, this has also likely happened to me from recent immigrants or fellow Chinese emphasis parents who don’t want their kids to play with my kids because my kids’ Chinese aren’t good enough for their standards. I don’t know. But I’m sure it has happened.

Is that mean? Maybe. But you know what? This brings me to the next reason.

2) If the only reason you want a playdate with my kids is so your kids can practice their Chinese at the expense of mine, you’re rude. And quite possibly racist.

Using people for their language and what they can do for you is awful. And assumes the fact that your mere presence is doing me a favor or is good enough recompense for my kids teaching your kids Chinese.

I mean, it might. But probably not.

3) As I mentioned before, the kids will most likely play in English anyway. Why? Because your kids can’t speak Chinese. Oh. And because even when Chinese speaking kids play together, they usually speak English.

Now, that’s not always the case, but often, when Chinese speaking kids play together in Chinese, it is only because every kid’s Chinese is at a similar level. This will not be the case if even one Chinese speaking child feels as if their Chinese isn’t up to snuff and doesn’t want to use it. As soon as a kid starts speaking English, they’ll all switch (either out of ease of communication or politeness).

Getting Chinese speaking kids to play together in Chinese often takes constant nagging and reminding from either a really obedient kid or annoyed parents.

4) If I, as an ABC/T who actually speaks and understands Chinese, already have a hard enough time getting recent immigrants to relate to me and my children and invite us over to become good friends and playmates, good luck with you on your endeavor. (Or it says a lot about me, which is totally possible. But that doesn’t mean they will also like you.) At least, for the purposes of a Chinese playdate, anyway.

5) Most recent immigrants want their kids to maximize their English. In general, I have found that though they want their kids to speak Chinese, they are really afraid their kids’ English will behind due to them not speaking English at native level. And because of how America treats people who don’t speak native-level English (or at least, non-European accented English), it is a totally legitimate concern.

So, on the chance that recent immigrants would like to have a playdate with you, it’s more than likely because they want to use your children for their English abilities. And if they do happen to want their kids’ Chinese to improve, they certainly would not want a Chinese playdate with your children (confer Reason 1).

6) And finally, just because people look Chinese, doesn’t mean they speak Chinese.

To assume so is racist and rude and all sorts of things.

Why do I include this?

Because if you’re a non-speaker, likely most Chinese speaking people will not reveal themselves to you. There is still a stigma in the US for speaking any language other than English. (I mean, FFS, people are killed for not speaking in English here. I cannot tell you how often recently I feel somewhat worried when I speak to my children in Chinese in public. That makes me incredibly angry.)

Thus, I’m not sure how you would go about finding families with children who speak Chinese to have playdates with your children unless you go about purposely finding people to do so.

And often, people go about this in an incredibly bumbling, horrible, and unintentionally (but still incredibly) racist way by assuming people who look Chinese speak Chinese and then asking a whole slew of likely friendly intending (but really, again, horribly racist) questions and thereby ruining these innocent people’s day and perhaps inspiring rants on blogs and twitter.

Look. I know I talk about race a lot. But quite frankly, race matters. And it matters in learning Chinese because the Chinese language does not exist in a vacuum. It is connected to a people, many of whom speak it and live in the US and are US citizens.

Anyhow, as a bonus, I will also give you GuavaRama’s excellent take on the situation. Perhaps her reasoning will be more appealing.

It’s been my experience that from a language perspective it works as follows:

1) When you can’t speak [Chinese] you need a native speaker who can only speak the language and will not switch. Usually this means adult.

2) When you can understand but can’t speak it due to rustiness you need a native speaker who will not switch. That also usually means an adult unless you have a well trained child.

3) When you have bilingual kids, then you have to find kids who are at same level of speaking and who are trained not to switch.

All of this means finding a Chinese speaking child who will only speak Chinese to your low Chinese level speaking child. That requires their Chinese to be so strong. But then why would someone play with someone else who can’t speak the language?

Alright. I’m amazed I wrote anything and we can thank the internets for annoying me so much that I had to write something. YAY! Have a great day.