Relocating abroad is an exciting opportunity, let alone to an island with the cultural breadth of Taiwan. Once the extensive planning stage is over and you’ve officially made the move, the best bit can truly begin – it’s time to explore your new home.
From diverse foods to historical temples and some of the most breath-taking scenery of the Northern hemisphere, Taiwan is a beautiful blend of mountainous calm and bustling city life.
For those visiting Taiwan as a tourist, they are likely to want to make the most of the island’s culinary offerings, indulge and chill out. But when relocating on a more permanent basis, expats may wish to consider ways to maintain a sustainable lifestyle which ensures a balance of discovery and good health.
Food and diet
There is an important philosophy in Taiwan: ‘eat often, eat well’. This is reflected in its capital, Taipei, which boasts more than 20 streets solely dedicated to food. Snacking is socially acceptable – even encouraged – and fresh, gourmet foods are the norm. The Taiwanese have a deliciously diverse mentality to food, blending together the flavours and textures of Chinese communities – Teochew, Hokkien and Min Nan – with the cooking techniques of Japan.
Unfortunately, some of these cooking techniques aren’t great when trying to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, because a lot of the food prepared in a restaurant will be deep fried or cooked in a wok with lots of oil. However, the typical Taiwanese diet is generally free from processed foods, with a focus on the fresh, and ingredients which support a low-calorie lifestyle.
You’re perhaps more likely to indulge in eating out or picking up street food when on holiday, but when you relocate, it is important to consider a more sustainable approach to food for both your health, and also your wallet. You can still eat traditional foods, but make active choices in the ways in which you cook them at home. One simple change, such as boiling instead of frying, can make a significantly positive difference to your calorie intake. If you are heading out for a meal, it is worth asking if they can adapt their cooking method or simply fry with less oil.
Serving sizes in Taiwan are generally smaller than in the West, although it is normal to have multiples courses – or small plates – at lunch. The island has a strong vegetarian presence, with around 14% of the population avoiding meat. At large, this means there’s the opportunity to eat more healthily, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan dining options available across Taiwan and its capital.
The Taiwanese are big on their fruit and offer a large range, with markets, supermarkets and restaurants brimming with fresh tropical fruits such as Tainan mangos, papayas, guavas, dragon fruit and giant Fuji apples. Snacking is very much part of the culture in Taiwan, but that doesn’t mean you can’t snack on something healthy.
When it comes to the more filling dishes, ‘iron eggs’ are a traditional snack providing a great source of protein, made of chewy quails’ eggs dyed black from braising in soy sauce. Ban tiao noodles (rice noodles) are often stir-fried with pork and work well as comfort food when served in a hot soup. ‘Run bing’ is the unfried version of Chinas very popular spring roll. Steamed and traditionally wrapped at the table as a family social activity, the dish allows you to stuff your spring roll with as many fresh vegetable ingredients as you like, before steaming – a much healthier alternative to oil frying.
Fitness on the island
Moving to Taiwan doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to the deep-fried goods it produces. It’s all about balance, and making sure you participate in enough exercise so that you can eat that spicy fried chicken guilt-free. Although there are gyms open in the major cities (Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung and Tainan), ‘hitting the gym’ isn’t as popular as in the West, with a larger focus on more sociable, team-based activities.
Basketball is the most popular sport on the island, with an abundance of courts in every city and many locals playing daily. Joining a group in a game of basketball is also a great way to meet new people. Equally, racket games such as badminton are a popular fitness activity, while Brazilian Jui-jitsu is the island’s go-to choice for martial arts.
When you’re living on such a scenic island, though, you may wish to hit the great outdoors as part of your fitness routine. There are numerous hiking trails among magnificent mountains in Taipei and throughout Taiwan, and it’s very much a cultural norm for people to complete the trails on evenings or weekends. Equally the cities can be ideal for biking, with quick routes out of the city to quiet mountain roads and next-to-river routes such as the Bali Bike Trail, a smooth, scenic ride along the river banks. You can rent cheap bikes at many locations around the island.
Maintaining positive wellbeing
Doing regular exercise – particularly hiking and cycling – which embrace the country’s charming outdoors, will help aid a positive wellbeing for both headspace and a physical release. Yoga is another fantastic way to de-stress, with English-speaking classes or the option to practice at home on a terrace, or on one of the island’s flawless beaches.
When thinking about a mentally and socially healthy lifestyle, it’s worth following the island’s way; Taiwan’s wellbeing was recently rated the best in Asia, with relevance to factors such as work/life balance, housing conditions and health status. When considering physical health, seeing a doctor is a very convenient process in Taiwan, with a no-appointment, walk-in service. Generally, doctors have a good understanding of English medical terms, therefore you need not worry about potential language barriers. Expats who are living on the island for more than four months are required to join the National Health Insurance (NHI), although you may want to think about taking out international health insurance, particularly if you are planning to use any private facilities, which may incur extra costs.
Living in Taiwan has proven to be a great adventure for many expats. With so much to offer, relocating can be an opportunity to make the most of life while maintaining a healthy body and mind.