Being in a new country the first thing I usually seek is the normal and mundane. Although that seems counterintuitive to visiting a foreign destination, I have my reasons. Yes, I enjoy seeing the sights and sounds, most designed specifically for tourists but I also enjoy the hidden gems that the locals know about, the types of places that I enjoy sharing with others while they visit San Diego.
In San Diego terms: I’ll show people the Gaslamp district, Balboa Park, Coronado/PB/Mission, etc. etc. but I also want to take them to Aero Club, to El Zarape, to that one Salvadorian restaurant in Logan Heights. I want them to experience more than what’s in travel books or websites, I want them to enjoy MY San Diego.
In this sense, I want to enjoy the cities I travel with in the same manner. Where do they like to go and hang out, eat, have a drink? Is there some tiny hole in the wall that make the best dumplings around? Where are the good shows? The cheap local shops where I can get some $6 sneakers?
I’m sure if given enough time I could find out all of this by myself, but when I can meet locals and share stories and impressions, why not do that instead?
I’ve been able to learn a bit more about local customs first hand rather than reading about them only in books.
Not everyone I’ve met has been a local, but even the ones who were from abroad have been living in Taiwan for a few months to a few years. They were able to share with me their own experiences on living abroad, learning the language, eating new foods, and overall just the basics of living here.
It all seems so simple when one is so used to their city and the way that things work there, but when you can’t communicate easily to ask a question, then it becomes very important to observe and learn as quickly as possible.
How do you place a local call? A call to a cellphone? What if you’re calling to a different area code? What are the area codes?
How do you get a sim card? Can you get a “pay as you go”?
How do you take public transportation? Do you need exact change? Do you need a card? Do you pay when you get on or off? Can you get on the bus from the back as well as the front? How do you ask them to stop? Do you have to flag them down so that the bus stops at your stop?
When going up the stairs do you always have to stay to the right? Is it okay to sit in the priority seats when there are no other seats and no one who seems to need them?
Can you use your credit or debit card everywhere? Is it cash only?
Where do you pay your bills?
How late does public transportation run? At what time does it start up again?
What should you expect of the weather while you’re there? Are the dates that you’ve been there typical weather for them or have you been experiencing freak weather?
Do you have different slippers for different parts of the house?
Can or should you drink the tap water?
What’s considered expensive? What’s considered too cheap?
Is there a special brand of food that people prefer over others?
So many questions, some of them pretty obvious once you get here, but others you have to be willing to ask about, and wonder why.