University of Wisconsin–Madison

On Clever Products

Oh, Taiwan. While life here is pretty comparable to America, some things still make me smile every time I see them. Call them 小確幸, if you will. Below are some of the best products and features which I’ve found in Taiwan, which we need to institute at home (actually perhaps America has these things, but I haven’t seen them. So, when I say America, I mean Wisconsin. Forgive me).

Humidity Penguins

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Taiwan is very, very humid. Sometimes when I walk outside, I feel as though I’m walking through an actual solid wall of suspended rain-air particles, whose only purpose is to make the evaporation of my sweat impossible. Now this is ok, because it’s only about 70 degrees out. But when hits 100, you know I will avoid non-air-conditioned areas like the plague. The humidity also means it is easy for items to become moldy, especially clothing. Enter in: the humidity-reduction-magic-items (which is obviously the scientific name for products which reduce humidity in a given area).

These items take many forms, but my favorite is my anti-humidity penguin. It absorbs water in the air, and when its stomach turns from pink to blue, it means it is time to microwave the penguin, to evaporate the water trapped inside. It’s environmentally friendly, it’s practical, and it’s shaped like a penguin, what’s not to love?

Retractable Ear Buds
Ever had the problem of your ear buds tangling up within your bag? Not anymore! For about three dollars, you can get ear buds with wires which retract, like a measuring tape or yoyo. We probably have these in the US, but I haven’t seen them. The whole idea is genius, really.

Eslite and Books.com.tw

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Eslite is one of the largest bookstore chains in Taiwan, and if I remember right, has been named one of the best bookstores in Asia. I didn’t think it was possible to find a store that makes you want to buy books more than Barnes and Noble, but I must say, Eslite takes the cake. In addition to books, the company also sells items like stationary and food. Everything the store sells is impeccably designed, so just stepping in makes you feel as though you’ve gained about 300 “fancy points” for the day. The shop is always full of people hiding in corners and leaning on shelves reading. Best of all? All branches are open late, and one is open 24 hours.

However, the problem with Eslite is that is expensive! In comes one of my favorite websites here, books.com.tw! It’s basically an online bookstore, but the prices are reasonable, and they will ship anything you order to your closest 7/11 for free, within two days. Plus, you can pay for the books with cash, instead of sending your credit card information over their website. It’s very nice.

Convenience Store Culture
Speaking of convenience, let’s talk about convenience stores. I know I’ve brought them up about 20 times in my posts already, but I’m still so amazed by them. In Taipei if you stand in the doorway of one convenience store, you can probably see one or two more. More than anything, you can do anything there. You can get a cappuccino, grab something for lunch, print off documents, get train tickets, get concert tickets, pay your bills, pick up packages, you name it, you can probably do it at your local convenience mart. This allows about five trips of errands to be consolidated into one trip down the street. According to my Japanese classmates, this is very prevalent in Japan as well.

Uncrustables
Remember when you were in elementary school, and your biggest fear was having too much crust on your sandwich? For some reason, every sandwich here is already served in triangles, with no crust whatsoever. Which makes me wonder, where does the crust go? There must be a giant pile laying somewhere…

High-tech Talking Machines
Every time I go to use any automated machine, it talks to me. Or, you know, at least plays a prerecorded message based on what I select. I realize that I’m an easy person to impress, but I really do get a smile on my face every time the water fountain informs me that it is “dispensing water at seven degrees Celsius”. Some stores even greet me with an automated 歡迎光臨. I’m ok with the robot takeover of the world, as long as the robots are this friendly.

Pens
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Taiwan’s system of buying pens and pencils is simultaneously the most complicated and the most fantastic I have ever seen. In America, we just buy a pack of pens. Pick black red or blue, and general quality range. However, in Taiwan, each pen bought individually. The pen is available in about six colors and five different widths, and you can try the pen out before you
buy it. And if you don’t like the particular pen you tried, it’s ok, because the entire rest of the room is devoted solely to pens.

Easycard
Easycards live up to their name… they make everything easy! The Easycard began as a multi-trip reloadable card for the metro and buses, but now can also be used to get into some tourist destinations, and even to pay at some stores. The Easycard also works all around Taiwan, not only in Taipei. Although it is limited, I know my Easycard has worked on buses in New Taipei City, Taichung, and Kenting (although not Gaoxiong, they have their own separate card). Convenient, no?

The “inside slippers”
Go to almost any Taiwanese home, and you’ll be offered sandals to wear inside. There is a strong aversion to dirty floors here, so the wearing your shoes inside to many families would constitute a great cultural sin. This actually makes a great amount of sense, considering all the gross things your shoes could harbor after being outside. Homes and businesses here also generally do not use carpet, as A. Taiwan is hot and humid, and no one wants to deal with a molding hot mess, and B. carpets trap all the nastiness on the owner’s feet for ages, no matter how often a vacuum or carpet cleaner is used. I’ve heard stories of some Taiwanese students who go to America being repulsed by the carpets in the apartments they rent, and honestly, although I love fluffy carpets myself, I don’t really blame them.

However, as much as I love these small aspects of Taiwan, I must say, some things thoroughly confuse me. In my mind, they seem annoying and illogical. Let’s call them the anti-小確幸. These things leave me thinking… just… why?

On/Off Bus Confusion
Remember the above-mentioned magical Easycards? Their only downside is that sometimes it is very unclear when to use them. Some buses require you to swipe your card when getting on the bus, some require you to swipe your card when getting off the bus, and some require you to swipe both times. Most buses have signs telling you what type of bus they are, which is all fine and dandy, except some buses change their method halfway through the route, and some simply don’t swipe the way the sign says. Usually I just follow what other people are doing, but I’ve swiped my card incorrectly a couple times, causing
my card to reactivate, the sensor to get confused, and the driver to get angry. Sorry fellow bus riders.

No Heat
When I first arrived in Taipei, it was actually quite cold, especially at night. However, no buildings in Taipei have central heat. Many families have space heaters, but I didn’t want to buy something that expensive only to use it for a few months, so I just made do with my winter jacket from home. However, for those thinking about coming to Taiwan someday, this is something to keep in mind.

Lack of Bug Spray and Sunscreen
Taiwan is a land of bugs and sun. However, every bottle of sunscreen and bug spray I’ve seen has been very small, and very expensive. Granted, I’ve never been to the much beloved provider of oversized goods that is so popular here- Costco, so I’m not sure if you can get sunscreen in bulk like you can in the US. However, I still believe there is great profit to be made by being the company that breaks up the prisoner dilemma of high-priced bug spray.

Shopping
Over the past year, my beloved sandals have been slowly falling to pieces. I naively thought I could easily buy new sandals here, but this was a lie. Shopping in Taiwan is a bit awkward for two reasons. First of all, department stores are many times arranged by brand, not by gender or size. Instead of being one large store, many department stores rent out small spots to independent companies or brands. Second of all, the vast majority of stores (at least shoe stores) require you to ask for what you want to try on, instead of leaving the boxes out. I was not very used to this, and felt pretty uncomfortable to ask for about five sizes of sandals, only to have none of them fit (wow people here have narrow feet!). While these two things aren’t the biggest deals in the world, I have to say I prefer the way of shopping from home. I also have yet to find new sandals. Sad day.

In the scheme of things, the fact that the worst things I have to complain about are small sunscreen bottles and having to talk to salespeople pays homage to how nice Taiwan really is!