Editor’s Note: Joyce was already living in Taiwan when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. If you are fleeing the states and traveling to Taiwan, or have recently done so, please practice self-isolation for at least 14 days – no matter how much you want to go out! Tricky Taipei has a great guide on life in Taipei during COVID-19, as well as an archive of coronavirus home quarantine stories.
As I write this on April 28, Taiwan has announced its third day in a row of no reported new cases, with only 6 deaths. We are cautiously optimistic about our current situation, while eagerly sharing our strategies with other countries. While it seems like the rest of the world is on lock down, life in Taiwan seems to be continuing almost as normal. So, here’s what it’s like to be living in Taiwan as a college student right now.
Not for us! At my school, National Taiwan University, classes with other 50 students have shifted to distance learning. Our classes take place usually on our school’s own online teaching system NTUCool or through Google. The Ministry of Education has recommended against using Zoom due to security issues, so (unfortunately) no fun backgrounds during online classes for us. Personally, all of my classes are small, with only roughly 15-25 students in each, so we are able to proceed like normal and meet up weekly.
Of course, we are still implementing social distancing measures in classrooms. Officially, we are recommended to stay 1 meter away from others in outdoor settings, and 1.5 meters away indoors. Essentially, in class we sit in a checkerboard pattern to discourage close contact. Large scale events like club and department showcases and the university open house have all been cancelled. In places like convenience stores, you’ll see lines drawn on the floor to keep people from standing too close to each other too.
Sorry Aunties, No More Milk
NTU is often referred to as a public park, where many families will take their kids to picnic on our big lawns and stroll down Palm Tree Boulevard, but for now, the school has implemented a closed-campus policy. We have to flash our student ID”s to enter campus and scan them to enter buildings. At the end of the day, it’s not such a bad thing for the students. There are less giggling children running around outside during class hours, and, as an added bonus, NTU students are actually able to purchase milk on campus more easily. Yes, milk. For some reason, NTU milk is very popular among the older generation and many aunties flock to the NTU Agricultural shop in the afternoon, lining up for a long time just to buy milk.
In order to enter most buildings, both on and off campus, and public transportation, you must wear a face mask. On one hand, you’re less likely to contract the virus but most importantly, if you unknowingly carry it, you’re less likely to spread it! Mask shortages aren’t an issue here, as everyone can claim a ration of 9 face masks every two weeks with their National Health Insurance card or passport. Many people use facemask covers on top of the face masks to make each face mask last slightly longer. I like to think I have finessed the art of the facemask cover as I have three different colors that I can coordinate to my outfits (health, but make it fashion).
Not a Great Time to be Hot
You’ll also find your temperature being taken multiple times a day. While it’s not the most accurate way of screening for the virus, it’s still a precaution that makes everyone actively aware of their health. If you do find that your temperature is too high, you’ll likely be turned around and recommended to a healthcare specialist. At NTU, you’ll get a sticker once you’ve taken your temperature as proof of your ~health~ for each day, but really we just stick them on our wallets and try to collect them all.
The Great Toilet Paper Rush
Just no. Whether it’s toilet paper or cleaning supplies, you can probably walk into any store and find them in ample supply. No one is panic-buying, or hoarding, because no one is, well, panicking. The government has done a great job of making everyone feel safe and reassured, so we don’t feel like we need to rush for supplies. You might find that certain items like instant noodles or canned goods are higher in demand on the shelves, but you probably won’t find them completely cleared.
Let’s Go to the Beach-Beach
Most public spaces, museums, markets, and tourist destinations are all still open! Since we’re not getting any international tourists, there are definitely fewer visitors and the industries are still taking a hit, but the locals are still flocking to the mountains, the ocean, and the shopping centers on the weekends. Most people have the sense to stay away from places too densely packed and wear face masks around others, so it’s generally still quite safe to go out.
An Overall Awareness
The government has been very transparent throughout this entire pandemic, with daily reports of new cases and clear tracking of where the infections have come from. Websites and Line accounts send out texts and update graphics to reflect changes in statistics. Yes, Taiwan is using big data with location tracking, but that seems to be a privacy right that most are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their health. If you’ve been to an area with a reported infection and are therefore at risk, you’ll receive a text telling you to self-isolate and monitor your health for two weeks. They have given the people a sense of control and freedom in a time where it seems like the virus is uncontrollable and unpredictable. So, for now, life goes on and we are still taking it one day at a time.
Guest writer Joyce Chen is from the Bay Area, California. She was a graduate of American High School and Fremont Taiwan School, and is currently a third-year international student at National Taiwan University, studying Foreign Languages & Literature. You can read more about her experiences abroad at joycemchen.com.