Introducing Taiwan

Taiwan (pronounced táiwān) is an island off the coast of southern China about the size of the Netherlands, or Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. Japan lies to the northeast and the Philippines are directly to the south. Hong Kong is not terribly far to the west.

The Republic of China (Taiwan plus a few minor islands) has a population of around 23 million people (just a few million less than the state of Texas) and most of those people are crammed into a flat plain along the west coast, with a few smaller cities on the east coast. The middle of the island is very mountainous and has a lot of national parks.

The country has a variety of ethnic groups. The Taiwanese aborigines are a group of Austronesian peoples native to the island. Nowadays they make up about 2% of the population. Most of the rest of the inhabitants are descended from various Chinese ethnic groups that have immigrated to the island over the centuries, with large numbers coming over in the 17th century and a more recent wave in the 1940s when the island was ceded to the Republic of China (having been occupied by Japan from 1895-1945), and then became the seat of the government after the revolution in China.

Mandarin Chinese is the official language which everyone who grows up here speaks and the only one that I’ll be focusing on learning, but the majority of the population speaks Taiwanese Hokkien at home, and a significant minority speaks Hakka. Many older people also know Japanese, since they were forced to use it during the occupation. The aborigines of course have their own languages, and you’d be surprised how many people know at least a little English.

I’m here in Nantou, a small (pop. ~100,000) city in the middle of the west side of the island, for a year, teaching English at a buxiban (cram school). The work is not bad, but as someone new to teaching children I’ve been putting in long hours (at the school for 8 hours M-F, 4 on Saturday, and at least an hour or two at home every day while the school is closed, and the other week I had to give up a bunch of my planning time to go to 6 hours of mandatory unpaid training that took a couple of hours to get to and from), so my online presence has been a little scarce. Thankfully I finally got a chance to rest this holiday weekend (Children’s Day and Tomb Sweeping, which only coincidentally happens to be at the same time as Easter this year).