Life in Taipei: Coronavirus Edition


Since it’s impossible to ignore coronavirus at this point, and things will definitely get worse for us in Taipei, I threw together these random tips for how to get through these very random times.

First, get your news.

There’s a lot going on and it can be a lot of information overload, so it’s a good idea to focus your news consumption.

My advice if you’re looking for news in English is to stick with Focus Taiwan, which is the Taiwan government’s English-language media. They have a new Live Blog tracking the latest updates. They’re also on Facebook and Twitter. The good ol’ Taipei Times is also reporting worthwhile local stories.

The News Lens has this super helpful interactive feature with all the latest information from the Center for Disease Control. Their data tracks Taiwan along with the rest of the world, which is notable since the World Health Organization doesn’t even track Taiwan. (Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations or the WHO.)

Here’s a graphic from the WHO dashboard that doesn’t acknowledge Taiwan. Mmm-hmm.

The new rule for indoor socializing: one-on-one only.

I made that up a few days ago. It’s “OOOO”, for short. Catchy, right?

The vast majority of people in Taipei have already adjusted their daily habits for almost two months now. Including washing hands, wearing face masks indoors and on public transport, getting used to regular temperature checks, and yes, stockpiling toilet paper those couple of days back in early February.

But now we’re seeing a surge in coronavirus cases from people flying into Taiwan. Unless the government starts testing everyone when they arrive at the airport, and making everyone self-quarantine at home for 14 days, I feel we all need to be smarter when we’re out in public so we don’t have a serious outbreak.

The reason I’ll be practicing OOOO and I hope everyone else does too, if possible, is it only takes one person acting stupid to put a lot of people at risk. And it looks like a lot of people are being stupid. Taipei City Government has already fined 70 people in March for breaking home quarantine rules. One guy was even fined the maximum penalty of 1 million NT because he was caught trying to fly overseas.

If you’ve recently arrived back in Taipei and haven’t been tested, please home quarantine. Definitely don’t follow Eddie Huang’s example of fleeing Los Angeles for Taipei and going out for a haircut and beef noodle soup. Quarantine yourself to protect everyone else in Taipei. The beef noodles can wait.

Below is a chart explaining the differences between home isolation, home quarantine and self-health management. The information is still valid but the chart itself is from February 10, a simpler time when the entire world hadn’t gone batshit crazy.

Visit restaurants at weird hours.

Think of it as social meal staggering. I ate at Din Tai Fung recently, but at 2:30pm when it was even more quiet than usual. A couple of times I ate out at 11:30am or earlier to avoid the lunchtime office crowd.

Restaurants have been taking precautions since late February when things amped up here. In lots of places all staff wear masks and they have sanitizer and temperature checks. Last month, I spoke to some people in the hospitality industry to get their take and gathered their responses in this post.

At this point I’ve completely stopped going to the night market.

Shop online instead.

If you don’t know the online shopping scene here, these are the main players:

Get some vitamin D.

On weekends it can feel like literally every family in Taipei is out getting some sun and fresh air. On weekdays, office workers spill into parks to take some time out for themselves. Even I’ve gone on a hike. (I never hike.)

So where can you go besides Elephant Mountain and the riverside parks? Here’s a dumb tip: search “hiking” in Google Maps. You might be surprised with all the little red dots that pop up.

More specifically, some stunning scenery near Taipei can be found at Qingtiangang Grassland 擎天崗大草原 in Yangmingshan National Park and Guandu Nature Park 關渡自然公園 in Beitou.

Further out, there’s Laomei Green Reef 老梅綠石槽 way up north of the island, Shifen Waterfall 十分瀑布 and Bitoujiao Trail 鼻頭角步道 east of Keelung City. Save them all to your Google Maps.

You could also check out some very impressive temples like the Taoist Wuji Tianyuan Temple 淡水無極天元宮 in Danshui, and the Buddhist Dharma Drum Mountain Nung Chan Monastery 法鼓山 農禪寺 in Beitou.

But honestly, the malls aren’t so bad.

They’re basically empty at this point! The food court inside TAIPEI 101 is pretty much a big empty room. And I can’t imagine how slow business is going at the brand new Far Eastern A13 mall and the new-ish Breeze Nanshan in Xinyi District. If you do go to a mall, prepare to have your forehead temperature checked, and use the automatic hand sanitizer machine at the entrance. Also, spend some money to help the economy.

Other things Taipei residents are doing include stuff like using your keys to push elevator buttons and not speaking inside elevators. Naturally everyone is wearing face masks in crowded areas, especially inside MRT trains and buses. But washing hands is the most important thing so stock up on bar soap. It lasts longer and has a much smaller carbon footprint than liquid soap.

Where to get face masks and hand sanitizer.

Surgical face masks need to be purchased through the official rationing system. You’ll need your National Health Insurance card to do that. They also sell masks for kids. Here’s the site with all the apps telling you mask availability at every pharmacy in Taipei. Hand sanitizer and wipes can be found at most supermarkets and convenience stores.

Things to watch, books to read.

Taiwanese-American documentary “Huan Dao” is free on Vimeo. The producer, SueAnn Shiah, has generously made it available to stream or download for free for everyone with promo code: COVID19.

A new Taiwanese revenge thriller, “The Very Last Day“, is being released this week. You can rent it for US$1.99 or download it for US$4.99 on Vimeo.

You can order a copy of “Two Trees Make a Forest: On Memory, Migration and Taiwan” by Jessica J. Lee from Book Depository. Shipping to Taiwan is free.

There’s an updated edition of Good Eye Taipei and a brand new Good Eye Taiwan travel guide. They’re bilingual and the best guides to Taipei/Taiwan that exist. You can pretend you’re out of the house!

Watch performances by Taipei City Orchestra on YouTube. They performed a live stream concert on March 21: here’s the link.

Download all your food delivery apps.

That means Uber Eats, Foodpanda and Deliveroo. A lot of restaurants, especially smaller places, are naturally seeing slower business. Ordering delivery or getting meals to-go will help them through this tough time, so don’t feel guilty about having that second dinner at 10pm when you get the munchies while watching Netflix. You’ll find everything from Din Tai Fung to a million bubble tea shops.

If you don’t have accounts yet, feel free to use my discount codes for Uber Eats and Deliveroo:

Better yet, order takeout so the restaurants keep more money.

As convenient as it is to get food delivered to your building or your door, the delivery apps take a massive chunk in commissions. Which means restaurants are earning a lot less. Industry people have revealed that Uber Eats and Foodpanda take between 35 to 37% in commission out of each check. And they also charge restaurants a monthly fee on top of that. Uber Eats has a monthly fee of 500NT and Foodpanda has a 300NT monthly fee. Ordering takeout and picking it up directly means restaurants get to keep more of the money they earned.

That’s all I can think of for now. If I’m missing anything, please shout it from the rooftops in the comments.

Finally, stay home whenever possible, stay healthy and wash your damn hands.


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